Devils Legend Lou Lamoriello Is Joining The Islanders Front Office, And It Feels Weird Not Really Caring
There was a time, not as long ago as it feels, in which the news that Lou Lamoriello was taking up employment in the Metropolitan Division would have had me anxiously holding my breathe tighter than he grasps to socially repressed ideals and antiquated traditions. I remember my heart sinking when I heard that someone whose legacy will always be synonymous with the success that he had in building the New Jersey Devils from the ground up to the rafters that became more and more populated throughout his tenure was joining the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fortunately, as is a credit to the nearly irreproachable work of his replacement, that memory is starting to fade. So much so, in fact, that coming across the increasingly inevitable news of Lou's move to the opposite side of an all-too-familiar river barely evoked a reaction from me. Hell, for the split second in which the idea of bidding against one of most highly decorated General Managers in sports history for the services of John Tavares failed to cross my mind, I actually wished him the best in cleaning up a defensive hellscape that comparatively makes the Devils' blueline look as though it's in the black...
While still being insanely grateful for everything that he did in crafting a winning culture in New Jersey for over two decades, I'm a little less likely to give a pat on the ass and a "go get 'em slugger" to a franchise figurehead turned division rival. However, I'm not desperately praying that he falls face-first into freezing the salary cap with a Kovalchuk-esque contract while trying to melt the glacier-sized missteps of Garth Snow, and that's a lot more than I could say had he done the unthinkable by joining the Rangers or Flyers.
The truth is, I'll be more than happy to honor Lou Lamoriello when his career comes to an end. Unfortunately, I get the sneaking suspicion that will require the work of the Grim Reaper, as he has undoubtedly made a "til' death do us part" agreement with his executive chair. Still, I'll be excited to show the type of unwavering appreciation that every Devils' fan should have for the man responsible for almost every one of the organization's many positive memories. Until then, however, he can do as he pleases (within reason, see above) free of harsh feelings, as his former franchise has become trusted in the meticulous hands of someone like Ray Shero, who has already shown huge signs of being just as adept and crafty in molding it to his liking.
So, to clarify, the bottom hand of their most skilled forward, the back of their most physically imposing forward, and the hip of a player whose job is entirely reliant on lateral movement. I didn't know that I could find myself more impressed by the late-season run the Devils went on to will themselves into the playoffs, but this news does a pretty good job of highlighting all that they overcame.
I don't really know that there is all that much left to say in praising Taylor Hall, but turning a great first half of the season into a dominant second half of the season while nursing an injury that he was able to keep completely unnoticeable transcends all sorts of logic. Not only was he the Devils' best player on a nightly basis (as evidenced by the point streaks), but - considering they made the playoffs by a single point - he absolutely had to be. How he was able to take his his game to such an unforeseen level with literally anything laboring him, never mind his shooting hand, is so incomprehensible that you just have to tip your hat to both his talent and his tenacity and recognize that your average, everyday asshole will never truly understand either of them.
I can't say I knew how badly Cory Schneider was banged up throughout a losing streak that overshadowed his excellent start and came to define his season, but I'm certainly not shocked that his hip required a fairly significant surgery. It was pretty obvious something was off, so if there's anything surprising about this injury it's that he was able to fight through it and give the Devils more than enough chances to win any of the last three games of their series against Tampa Bay. Five months is quite the recovery time, but it basically ensures that Keith Kinkaid will be sticking around while also delegitimizing any judgements that might have been made about his play since the start of 2018. His health is a bit of concern going forward, but apparently his head isn't and that's what a lot of people figured was ailing him down the stretch. There's now even more reason to believe that the Cory Schneider we saw in the playoffs returns in October, and this time with a fluid and full range of motion.
I don't know that Pat Maroon will be back with the Devils, though the mutual interest appears to be very real. If the money and term end up being reasonable, it's pretty easy to envision a scenario where he's even better at taking the abuse necessary to position himself in front and winning/protecting pucks in the corners. After all, the only way that job could be made more thankless is by quietly doing it through the type of back pain that typically keeps people glued to their bed 20 minutes longer than they'd like. In case you were unaware of just how absent his skill set was in the Devils' lineup, consider that the insertion of it was obvious to the naked eye all while the person who possessed it was left painfully sticking a protruding disc in the face of opposing goaltenders.
Since Last Checking In On The World Championships, Keith Kinkaid Has Posted Back-To-Back Shutouts And Will Butcher Had A Multi-Point Game
While this does leave me worried for the mental health of the sector of fans that are, for some reason or another, made more comfortable by always have a goaltender to shun, I can't help but enjoy every second of Keith Kinkaid proving that the stretch run of his season wasn't solely the product of having some undiagnosed horseshoe up his ass. Of course, with each passing overseas save and/or shutout, his trade value will go disproportionally up in the eyes of those that are approximately one month removed from treating Cory Schneider as the antichrist, but I couldn't possibly feel any better about the Devils rostering two goaltenders that look to be heading into their respective offseasons at the top of their games.
Other than his accolade-worthy performance against Canada, he hasn't exactly been facing world beaters while beating the world, but it's tough to argue with perfection between the pipes. I don't know whether an offer that is impossible to refuse ultimately lures Keith Kinkaid out of New Jersey or not, though I have my doubts given the league-wide devaluing of netminders. I do, however, know that the type of player who makes the most of his opportunities is one that serves as quite the insurance policy in net. As this tournament has rolled on, the co-pay on that insurance policy has looked like just as much of a bargain as it did when it was being heavily leaned on en route to the playoffs, and that should only reinforce the belief that there's no clock that's getting ready to strike midnight on Keith Kinkaid's capabilities.
UPDATE: Take your trade proposals and shove 'em...
Two weeks ago, the only reason to remain cautiously optimistic about Will Butcher's ability to noticeably improve in the offseason was that, as a 23-year old rookie, he was already further along in his development than most first year prospects. Two weeks later, and I'm already testing the direction of the wind with a little bit of caution. I haven't even watched every minute of Team USA, but throughout the little that I have watched? The shot that he prioritized improving hasn't only been on full display, but appears as though it's undergone some seasoning with how much of a kick it's had. The kid simply has "it", and "it" is only becoming more well rounded by being given a top-4 role and time on the penalty kill. Getting a little international acclaim should do wonders for his confidence, and there is more room for confidence on the Devils' blue line than I'd like to admit.
Keith Kinkaid Shut The Door In The Shootout, And Was Selected Team USA's Player Of The Game In Their Win Over Canada
There seemed to be some sort of prevailing school of thought that whatever magic Keith Kinkaid captured in playing the mid-wife to the Devils' first playoff berth in six years ran out once they got there. As it turns out, someone might want to check the availability of Alice Cooper, because that school is all the way out for the summer.
Two underwhelming postseason outings behind an overmatched team aside, the insurance policy turned opportunist is still very much at the top of his game. One preliminary victory over the odds-on favorite to win a tournament of arguable importance might not serve as all that much evidence, but it highlighted exactly why there's plenty of reasons to think of Keith Kinkaid's success as much more than a flash in the pan. The four goals against don't do justice to how imperative his performance was to a team with objectively inferior talent, for there was very little debate as to whose name was coming when it came time to announce Team USA's 'Player Of The Game'.
I think everyone's feeling approximately 35x times better about Cory Schneider's future with the Devils after he triumphantly took back his starting job in playoffs. If Keith Kinkaid finishes the World Championships anywhere near as well as he started them then hopefully the calls to trade away half of what could make for an excellent goaltending duo will be sent directly to voicemail.
I have absolutely no idea if Will Butcher is going to develop into the type of player that can fill a role as top-4 defenseman for a contending team, but I do know that he hasn't given me a single reason to think that he won't. As was the case towards the end of the year, he had moments where he stood out for all the right reasons against Canada. The shot he rang off the post after creeping in from the point was the result of him breaking up a 2-on-1 moments earlier. He's still got growing to do in his own end, but his calmness with the puck, as well as his overall instincts are second to none. The following feels like a weird thing to say about someone that broke the Devils' rookie record for points by a defenseman, but it's pretty easy to envision a scenario where he's able to contribute more on both ends of the ice next season. I didn't need to see him do so today to come to that conclusion, but it certainly didn't hurt my perception of him as a player.
Huh, Blake Coleman quickly forced his way up through a lineup that he just barely made? Why does that sound feel so...so...so...familiar?
Well, I guess the good news is that this isn't really news at all.
Seeing as I just want to put my feet up and silently enjoy the rest of the weekend, it would truly be awful if I had to go about the same old song and dance in explaining how Taylor Hall, at times singlehandedly, altered the weather forecast during the time of year in which dreariness had come to be expected by those associated with the Devils. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do is remind everyone that it was his dominance that helped ease the indoctrination of two of NHL's three youngest players into first line roles for a competitive team, so thank god this nomination was basically written in the consistency with which he was one of the 'Three Stars'. I think every hockey fan already knows how impressive a 26-game point streak is, so prattling on and on about how it put Taylor Hall in both exclusive and historic company would have really been overkill. Could you even imagine how annoying it would have been of me to go back to the game logs to confirm that his 9-game point streak, that came pretty damn close to the heels of the previous one, featured multiple game-winning goals and almost directly coincided with the Devils clinching a playoff spot for the first time in six years? Man, I'd hate myself for turning into that much of a fanboy, so I'm breathing quite the sigh of relief that I don't have to point out that if there were a hypothetical person in the lineup that made up the difference between Taylor Hall's point total and that of his next closest teammate then that person would be the leading scorer on any Devils' line other that wasn't Number 9's. An individual season that is arguably the best ever by a member of a storied franchise with three championships and a fistful of Finals appearances under its belt speaks for itself, and therefore I don't have to pick apart the definition of "value" on its behalf...
I just wanted to for the fuck of it.
In all seriousness, I'm not sure Taylor Hall will win MVP. With all due respect to Anze Kopitar, I imagine it'll basically come down to the flip of a coin between the Devils' Hart-and-soul and Nathan MacKinnon, and - while the failing of tails would leave me disappointed - cooler heads say both are more than deserving. That said, the fact that Taylor Hall's status as a finalist was all-but-finalized well before the season finale tells you everything you need to know about how valuable he was to a team that rode his coattails a lot more often than he'd ever admit. During a year in which there were more people in the Hart Trophy conversation than ever before, a New Jersey Devils' forward made it so that he absolutely could not be excluded. The only surprising part about that is that it somehow stopped being surprising awhile ago.
Be Still, My Hart: Taylor Hall Has Officially Been Nominated For The Ted Lindsay Award, As Voted On By His Peers
Here's what I am going to need you to do. Take those notes that you've used to carefully outline Taylor Hall's argument for the Hart Trophy, and push them to the side of your desk. Don't throw them out because you're probably going to need them pretty soon, but just remove them from your line of vision. Now take a deep sigh of relief, seeing as it has to feel pretty damn good not having to refer to them for the umpteenth time in a circular, never-ending internet argument that dissects the word "value" as if were some foreign concept that, much like Player Safety, somehow evaded the entire hockey community for decades.
You see, for the first time in a long time, the qualifiers and caveats aren't necessary. Never mind the team specific point differentials and short-lived playoff berths that could be used as signs of relative worth. If only for this discussion, even the irrefutable advanced analytics aren't worth the Excel program that was used to tediously type them out.
We're talking the three most outstanding players in the NHL, as voted on by players in the NHL, and - alongside Connor McDavid and Nathan McKinnon - Taylor Hall is officially one of them. Not Nikita Kucherov. Not Claude Giroux. Not Evgeni Malkin. Not Anze Kopitar. Taylor Hall, and if you've got a bone to pick with his inclusion then I sure as shit hope you've got a signed NHL contract lying around, or else your discretion in this discussion means about as much as your failed hockey career. Those paid to put him on his ass, as opposed to those paid to sit on theirs, determined that Taylor Hall was, at the very least, the player third most worthy of both their attention and respect. That not only speaks volumes about his sky-high standing throughout the league, but also the consistency with which he displayed his dominance.
Now, it would be crazy to assume that athletes that are far more focused on their own season than those of their opposition are the most educated of voters, but - despite being an unquantifiable stat - earning an award-worthy appreciation from your peers in the span of one standout season is quite the accomplishment. Even if he doesn't end up taking any of the accolades he's up for home, Taylor Hall deserves each and every acknowledgement of a season that apparently couldn't even be ignored by those that it came at the expense of.
As It Turns Out, Nico Hischier Played The Majority Of His Phenomenal Rookie Season With A Chronic Wrist Injury
As most things tend to do, this makes a whole lot of sense in retrospect. The agonizing grimaces and post-shift slumping that were a staple of his on-screen presence seemingly every time he came back to the bench. The hesitancy to shoot that, while becoming less and less of an issue throughout an otherwise unbelievable year, was definitely one of the few noticeable flaws in his game. The lack of power on a snap shot that somehow had the accuracy to get him to 20 goals in his first NHL season despite not being intimidating enough scare a fly off the crossbar.
Now, I'm sure a lot of those observations can also be attributed to the nerves that might be felt by a post-pubescent boy playing in a grown man's league while having to work harder to limit the inherent disadvantage that is being built like a middle school distance runner. Still, dealing with a chronic injury to the wrist of a shooting arm that would have needed a whole lot more than a high-protein, spinach-heavy diet to rival Popeye's regardless certainly couldn't have helped.
All jokes aside, the fact that throughout his first full season - of which he was the only Devil to play in every single game - not once did anyone consider that Nico Hischier was banged up is a testament to him having a hockey IQ that's wise beyond its years, a skill set that impacts the game in a variety of ways, and a tenacity that never had him shying away from the tough areas of the ice. As if I needed any other reason to be optimistic about the bright future of a kid that swimmingly assumed the role of number one center for an eventual playoff team, the mere thought that we have yet to see at him at full strength when that's sure to be added to over the summer has me ready to put myself to sleep until October.
Nico Hischier easily surpassed expectations and he did so while likely having to use his off-hand to masturbate. I don't know that that last part is relevant but it's definitely not a claim that can be made by members of a fanbase that largely found themselves aroused for the first time in years because of the first part.
You know what, in being a good enough sport to reprise a character he already looked absolutely ridiculous playing a good 20-some-odd years ago, the actor officially known as Patrick Warburton and cult figure known as David Puddy really hit the nail on the head with one of his signature lines...
The New Jersey Devils can, in fact, beat anybody. They damn near proved it in taking down a gauntlet of great teams en route to their first playoff berth in six years. That's why it's a little disappointing that "anybody" currently has a huge upper hand in a series that's starting to look like nothing more than a learning experience.
Now, unexpected is something it's definitely not, but I really can't help but feel like the Devils didn't just owe it to themselves to take this thing back to Tampa Bay tied at two, but also owed it to the 53 year old man that gladly painted both his face and his chest in maniacal support of the team. Granted, he probably basked in having both a non-obnoxious opportunity to go topless given his stunning amount of upper body definition. Still, that was a shocking amount of dedication to method acting from someone whose decades removed from having to do it to break into the industry. If for no other reason than it was at least deserving of a win in return, the Devils need to bring this back to New Jersey so Puddy can get his payoff.
My first inclination was to start off talking about the questionable Nikita Kucherov hit that left Sami Vatanen in the locker room, and - unfortunately - that speaks volumes about how ordinary the Devils' effort was in being pushed to within a loss of their offseason. There were certainly things to like about a flawless penalty killing performance that highlighted the work of a depleted defense that was without its most important player for the final forty minutes, but there were just as many things not to like a pitiful powerplay that low-lighted the work of an impotent offense that couldn't get much going after coming up empty on a couple point blank chances. Nico Hischier looked much like his bathroom scale reads and, on first glance, Taylor Hall appeared to fall victim to the Lightning's much more concerted effort to not let him beat them. While I think that considering New Jersey a one man show is insanely stupid, the Devils don't exactly have multiple headliners and their main one wasn't as much of a rockstar as he usually is. Like any top-end team would, Tampa Bay made adjustments that flustered an inexperienced group and coaching staff that's still learning the intricacies of the chess match that is playoff hockey.
Now, having their two-way defenseman that, mostly out of necessity, admirably carries their top defensive pairing and mans both special teams units available to them probably could have aided in creating some offense, and for his absence we have Nikita Kucherov to thank...
Honestly, if you had asked me last night then a stoning in the public square would be the only acceptable form of justice, but - having had time to digest the disappointment - I actually don't think the hit was all that dirty. Of course, "dirty" isn't supposed to be the only grounds for suspension, but that's neither here nor there...
At this point, I would be the most annoyed if I were Drew Doughty, for it's clear that the NHL just scapegoated the front-runner for the superlative Most Likely To Deserve It in trying to convince people that they really, really do give star players the same treatment. Seeing as I don't think Sami Vatanen spent two periods in the locker room with a bruised bosum after having his head jerked back in a fashion fitting of a fender bender, I think we've already begun to let semantics decide suspensions. Nikita Kucherov should have been temporarily sent to timeout for no other reasoning than the NHL's own goddamn reasoning. That fact that he's not going to be, during a series that has gotten increasingly out of the hands of the officials, is just another sign that the NHL values its predictable unpredictability over player safety.
I suppose it's also of note that someone who knows a thing or two about in-zone coverage decided to examine the lack of it from the player you'd most expect to get picked on during film study...
In turning his full back on one of the most dangerous snipers in the sport while he sat in the slot, Damon Severson basically displayed the situational awareness of someone trying to answer an e-mail while at gunpoint. What he was thinking? Well, much like the logic behind every decision that's forced the Devils to send one of their two most talented defensemen to a luxury suite, the world may never know. Scott Stevens broke down exactly why he's just as polarizing as he is both promising and infuriating. He's just as likely to be brilliant as he is to be braindead, and sometimes being flat out bad is easier on your teammates than being bipolar.
That's not to say that one blind box out or one uncalled hit to the head cost the Devils the game. They merely played pretty good against a great team, and - especially when you're not opportunistic - that's not going to cut it in the postseason. They've played their best hockey when their backs are against the wall, so counting them out completely - no matter how bleak things currently look - is a fool's errand. That said, if Sami Vatanen is out for any amount of time and the powerplay and penalty kill don't start clicking in conjunction, then that wall is going to give way pretty damn quickly.
Twenty four hours ago, the Devils were averaging five goals against during two straight losses of which they spent exactly zero seconds with the lead. Now, you could legitimately envision a scenario in which existing pieces could be put together to solve the puzzle that is the Tampa Bay Lightning, so I guess that's why you should wait until both teams get an opportunity to play at home before writing one of them off. Every small victory that could be taken from the games in Tampa Bay was moral in nature, but - in instilling a little bit of doubt into the heavy favorite - the Devils stumbled upon quite a few avenues to get this thing back to Tampa tied at two.
First and foremost, Cory Schneider was excellent in a way that makes me want to waterboard myself for questioning the decision to start him. I think the rap he's gotten since his return from injury has somehow been worse than every mumbled musical abortion that has been released in 2018. Still, the truth of the matter is that he was undeniably struggling and when his team needed him the most he battled through both the physical and mental bumps and bruises to give them a chance to win. The problem with making the call on goaltending controversies is that it's largely up to the 18 players in front of them to make you look like either a genius or an idiot with absolutely no in between. Continuing to ride Keith Kinkaid was the safe choice in that it would have made smaller that disparity, so credit to the selfless veteran whose ups have always been undeservingly overshadowed by his downs for making everyone look smart with a stellar performance. He was given the chance, but he earned back his net when a failure to do so would have effectively ended the season. The rest of the book remains unwritten, but Cory Schneider penned a hell of an opening chapter to his redemption story.
That said, acting as if a goalie switch was the only thing to turn the tides on Tampa would be quite the disservice to the rest of the team. Marcus Johansson's puck carrying ability was a breathe of air that was as fresh as his legs seemed to be. The endorsements of Travis Zajac rung louder and louder with each face-off leading to yet another even strength shift in which Steven Stamkos name went without mention. The dominance of Taylor Hall continued to be predetermined, even in the postseason. Guys like Blake Coleman and Pat Maroon spent just as much time annoying the opposition with their in-your-face styles of play as they did with the non-stop motors on their mouthes. For as strategically limited as Will Butcher's role is, both his goal and his blocked shot were necessary in making sure the Devils' powerplay didn't work against them at the worst possible time. The rest of the defense, while not exactly reminiscent of those that currently line the rafters, did an admirable job in avoiding the half-forced disasters that doomed them in Tampa Bay.
All in all, it was an effort that was a lot more like what we grew accustomed to seeing from a team that's makes up the length they are from perfect with perseverance. The Devils needed to be a difficult team to play against, and look no further than Tampa's temper tantrum for proof that they got back to that last night. A player who typically remains unfazed in playing a Norris Trophy-caliber brand of defense doesn't stick a 19 year old in the dick for no apparent reason because he has an elementary sense of humor....
Rather, he does so because he's clearly frustrated, and a hard-fought, fast-paced game devolving into a laugher complete with death threats was proof that he was far from the only one...
It won't matter much if they continue to take penalties against a Lightning team that treats powerplays like magic mushrooms, but the Devils clearly found their way under the skin of the superior team last night. If that was a precursor for Wednesday then there's no reason to think their relentlessness won't be relevant in a series that's more than likely going to be a hell of a lot tighter than the first three scores would lead you to believe. The Lightning can outscore the best of them, but they certainly aren't the type of team that excels at being forced to grind out victories. The Devils did just that in fighting their way off the mat that they were complicit in pinning themselves to, and - in a building whose raucousness has been six years in the making - they have a chance to reaffirm that they now have a better command of the postseason ropes.
Just listen to that reaction and tell me it's not amazing the difference a day can make...
After Months Spent Battling Concussion Issues, Marcus Johansson Is Making His Much Anticipated Return To The Devils' Lineup And Not A Moment Too Soon
I think I speak for almost every New Jersey Devils' fan in saying that a smile shot across my face as I read that Marcus Johansson was finally making his return from his second head injury of the season. Never mind what he brings as a player, because this is great news for him as a person, and I think he would agree that it feels long, long overdue.
Now, that said, I have absolute no idea what to expect out of him tonight. The optimist in me says it should be an infusion of experience, puck skills, and creative on the left side of the second line, as well as a desperately needed puck carrier and playmaker for the second power play unit. The pessimist in me says someone who looks like a shell of the player whose compromised health never allowed him to carve out a consistent role in a lineup that didn't truly take shape until well after Brad Marchand got a 5-game slap on the wrist for trying to end his career.
Considering that he's been skating for awhile now and John Hynes isn't currently in a position to be handing out pity plays in the Top 6, I'm inclined to believe it's closer to the former than the latter and that should bode well for a team that could benefit from any and all forms of offensive firepower at their disposal. I have no choice but to speak theoretically until he takes a shift or two, but the lineup should be one that's both deepened and improved by the presence of a proven playoff performer like Marcus Johansson.
More so, I wouldn't discount what this means in the locker room. If the decision to start Cory Schneider is at least partly an attempt to light a fire under this team, then seeing a guy that's been doing everything in his power to get back on the ice finally have the chance to lace them up when it matters most has to serve as at least a couple dozen squirts of gasoline.
I don't think that a lack of inspiration is what cost the Devils two games in which they reverted back to being disaster-prone defensively. That said, it'll be impossible for them to take this opportunity for granted having just got their MoJo back for the first playoff game in front of a fanbase that has been itching and scratching like Tyrone Biggums to finally, after six long ass years, turn home ice into a meaningful advantage. This Devils' team has proved they can play with the Tampa Bay Lightning for prolonged stretches, so the one thing this wealth of internal motivation doesn't provide them is an excuse if that next prolonged stretch isn't 60 minutes (and possibly +). They should be familiar with the concept of do-or-die hockey by now, and they should be more equipped to breathe some life into this series than they have been at any point this season.
After A Rocky Reality Check On The Road, The Devils Desperately Need To Find Their Poise At The Prudential Center
Not so coincidentally, it's never the team that's used and, in the case of Tampa Bay fans and their mind-numbingly obnoxious children's toys, abused their home ice advantage that is left banging the drum and loudly repeating to anyone that will listen that a playoff series doesn't truly start until a team loses in their own building. I don't think that overused phrase was coined solely to give hope to the hopeless so there is probably some merit to it, but if the Devils' confidence and consistency doesn't match their urgency then that well of wishes will run dry very, very quickly.
If there's one thing that could be said about a young team that was resilient in its constant surpassing of expectations it's that, even when the standings appeared the bleakest and the schedule looked the most daunting, they never let one mistake lead to another. The Devils may have been short on experience while desperately clinging to their playoff spot all season, but they were also short on memory. The exact opposite could be said about the last two games in which stretches of play plagued by tentativeness, indiscipline, disorganization, and a lack of focus have dug them into meteoric holes that would have Chilean miners considering the ensuing uphill battle a pointless one.
The first period may have been better this time around, but it was much of the same in regards to quickly crumbling due to self-destructive plays. Instead of an egregious turnover or two, it was a poorly-timed change that left Andy Greene and Damon Severson staring at each other like two kids who knocked into a vase while playing ball in the house and were more concerned about figuring out who was going to take the rap for breaking it as opposed to grabbing it mid-wobble. Instead of Miles Wood selfishly taking an unnecessary slashing penalty, it was Ben Lovejoy's rushed and nervous taking of an unnecessary delay of game penalty. Instead of Mirco Mueller whacking a puck waywardly into a wide-open one timer, it was Sami Vatanen providing an even more "helpful" hand in stopping at no amount of rebounds while stuffing the puck into his own goddamn net.
In living up to their name, the Lightning are no strangers to striking quickly, but the Devils have turned themselves into the most prototypical of victims by drowning deep in their own end of the talent pool while the skies are at their darkest. The opponent is quite obviously a formidable one, but their job is being made a hell of a lot easier by a team that's doing the hockey equivalent of standing under a tree and tightly clutching a metal flag pole during a thunderstorm. Tampa Bay is deadly enough to make even the best teams in the league look dumb in their demise, but there have been periods in which it looked like New Jersey was actively campaigning to win a Darwin Award. Those periods are only made more frustrating by the amount of fight they have shown in making things look as respectable as their effort outside the mental bathroom breaks that have flushed their odds of an upset.
To be honest, I'm not too concerned with the personnel decisions, because the last two games haven't been close enough to be decided by the absence of one particular skill-set or an over-reliance on another. Those losses were team efforts no matter who was on the ice, just as the wins that that got them into the postseason in the first place were team efforts regardless of who was on the ice. John Hynes will always be the scapegoat because that's one of his top 2-3 responsibilities as the head coach of a professional hockey team, but - much like one healthy scratch isn't to blame for them coming out the gates slow - the inevitable changes to the 4th line or the 3rd pairing, in and off themselves, aren't capable of getting the Devils back up to speed in this series.
Therefore, there's really only one upcoming choice that's worth debating, and boy, oh boy, is it a doozy...
The truth is, there is no definitive answer when it comes to who to start in net for Game 3. It doesn't matter who it ends up being, if that person puts forth a better then average showing in victory then it was the right decision, and if that person puts forth a subpar showing in defeat then it was the wrong decision. That said, I think I'd stick with the guy who, since dragging the Devils into the playoffs, has done nothing other than been hung out to dry by the team in front of him. The worst goal Keith Kinkaid gave up last game was a Brayden Point-blank shot that got pinned perfectly under the crossbar, so - while he's been lit up like a Christmas tree - he certainly hasn't been most responsible for the abundance of red lights flickering around him.
I'm generally a Cory Schneider apologist in that I don't think he was nearly as bad as some would lead you to believe in the first two starts he made after returning from the IR, nor do I completely dismiss what was a hell of a first half to his season due to some circumstantial losing streak that spanned both a sickness and an injury. Still, thinking he should start means thinking that one very good period in one of the least pressurized situations the Devils have faced in the last month and a half completely cured what's been ailing the combination of his groin and his psyche.
Cory Schneider is the more talented net minder, but that was also true when he was forced to the end of the bench like he stole something during both ends of a back-to-back against bottom-feeders like the Islanders and Canadiens. Maybe he's found his game, but the entirety of the organization better know that to be the case if he's the choice, because one early goal against is much more liable to kill his confidence in cold blood than it is the person who has earned a reputation of being able to recover in willing the Devils to the playoffs.
Long story short, if the reasoning is nothing more than "maybe a team that prides itself on self-starting will be magically sparked into playing less stupid by benching the player that saved their season" then it's purely a desperation move, and that line of thinking runs directly contrary to the idea that this series is still very much undecided.
I tend to agree with Taylor Hall in believing that goaltending is the least of their concerns, but that doesn't change the fact that going away from Keith Kinkaid before he even got a well-deserved postseason start at home is much more likely to create questions than answer them. It's a tough decision that will undoubtedly be judged too harshly or praised too adamantly in retrospect, so let's hope the person making that decision is taking every possible ramification into consideration as opposed to making a change for the sake of making a change. This Devils team didn't get where they are by panicking, and - as inevitable as a Cory Schneider spot start would be during an sort of significant playoff run - they damn sure aren't going to get where they want to go by doing so either.
The truth is, despite believing that New Jersey had a decent chance of winning this series before it started, I thought it would have taken an upset of epic proportions for them to go into Tampa Bay and steal home ice advantage in Game 1. After a head-scratching season series, they were owed one by a team that finally had the motivation to match their level of desperation. If you've been building their case by telling yourself that the Devils have been playoff hockey against top-end competition for the last month then I welcome you to the club, but admitting to yourself that - for the most part -their opposition wasn't is a response that's required of this membership. Not that anyone thought that beating the first overall seed in the Eastern Conference after scratching and clawing to retain their playoff spot was going to be easy, but everything should be a little bit harder come mid-April. Defensively, the Devils didn't act according to the latter half of that cliche, and that's largely why the are looking at a one game hole headed into Saturday.
While I'd love to take up residence in a perfect world where the Devils are capable of breaking the spirit of even the most ferocious of forechecks, the fact of the matter is that the Lightning are too goddamn good not to turn them over every once and awhile. Limiting those giveaways and breakdowns while making sure they don't result in one of Tampa's handful of 20-goal scorers standing unencumbered in front of their net is a much more realistic expectation that a young team failed miserably in meeting last night. It wasn't entirely unpredictable that they were overwhelmed and outclassed in the first period of a series against a team that's been there before, but fixing the issues in their own end are paramount if they want to instill even a little bit of doubt in said team. Long story short, now more than ever, you absolutely cannot beat yourself if you're looking to also beat a team that is, top to bottom, better than you.
And that's where Mirco Mueller comes in, or - more accurately - should come out. He wasn't the only player whose mistakes cost the Devils (See: Maroon's tape-to-tape offensive zone turnover) but he's one of the only players whose mistakes looked to have effected his play over the course of the game. Theoretically, he's only playing because he's the "safer" option, but after his overhanding of the puck turned into the most untimely of two goal deficits he was about as cautious as juggling a live grenade while trying to weave your way through traffic to get to the nearest shitter. The haphazard clear turned perfect one-timer pass wasn't as egregious a decision as watching the result in slow-motion would lead you to believe, but it was fitting of player that played like...well...someone who struggled to take his game to the next level after spending merely eight games back in the lineup getting used to the previous level. I was already skeptical of the Devils scratching their second or third most skilled defensemen against a team with which they are dealing from an obvious talent disparity, but if that was an example of the "smarts" they are prioritizing then get Damon Severson's dumb ass in the lineup ASAP. Sink or swim, his offensive prowess and right-handed shot probably give the blue line their best chance of staying afloat in stormy waters.
All in all, the score didn't reflect how well the Devils played for some stretches. After Miles Wood's moronic and unnecessary penalty rightfully got him benched and ultimately pushed Tampa's lead to three, the final 38 minutes and change were a pretty good portrayal of how close this series can be if the Devils avoid defensive disasters. Zajac and friends put quite the kibosh on the Stamkos-Kucherov line, the powerplay looked fantastic (and for potentially the first time all year I say that of both units), Taylor Hall proved that he probably should have started doing this whole postseason ages ago, and the resilient team we've all come to know and love actually made a game of it. If they do that from the outset then, win or lose, you're likely looking at a much more competitive game on Saturday. The Devils got their kick in the ass and it didn't leave them flat on their face. I think that bodes well for a team that's very much learning what it takes to win this time of the year on the fly.
My only problem with this harmless and mildly clever act of fandom is that it didn't come later in the series. To be quite honest, I chuckled a little bit when I saw it, and that has everything to do with he fact that I didn't see it at some point during the two week war that's about to be started at 7PM EST. I'm about two hours and change from despising everything about a relatively nondescript city in a state whose secession would bring an abrupt end to the American epidemic of inventing new drugs out of household cleaning products, and that includes the airline employees and their silly senses of humor.
So touché, funny man, but try this shit again a week from now and I'm hoping on the next flight to the poor, drunk, and homeless man's California and bolting you to the runway I landed on. It's New Jersey Devils Vs. Everybody. Keep thinking your slick by hanging those flags and soon they will be gently laying one across your casket.
In A Move That Is Poetically Nonsensical, Ilya Kovalchuk Is Reportedly Signing A Multi-Year Deal With The Rangers
Normally I would be a bit more skeptical of breaking news that's preceded by nothing more than "per source", seeing as that's become the sports media's way of implying that they've finished exchanging whispers and their game of telephone has reached it's conclusion.
However, this particular breaking news actually makes so little sense that I'm feeling more and more inclined to treat it as fact. After all, Ilya Kovalchuk and the New York Rangers currently make for such a horrific match that no one, in their right mind, would comfortably presume that they were getting together unless they had verification that was the case.
In theory, the team whose organizational philosophy has always revolved around acquiring shooting stars as their brightness begins to fade is the perfect destination for a soon-to-be 35 year old that, while still very talented, is well past his prime. Adding him to a list of names that's awe-inspiring when you consider how little they accomplished in New York actually seems fitting. Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure, Bobby Holik, Chris Drury, Brad Richards, Scott Gomez, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle, Rick Nash. Those underwhelming additions could use a self-serving left winger to continue the Blueshirts' rich history of bolstering aging players' bank accounts.
That is, if it weren't for the recently publicized priorities of the two parties in question.
First and foremost, Ilya Kovalchuk, who - despite shredding his contract and up and leaving the NHL to play for a stacked team in an inferior league - is now apparently dying to hoist a trophy that actually has some prestige...
And then, the New York Rangers, who - after decades of doing almost the exact opposite - made a mid-season insistence that they will be changing the direction of their franchise by way of "young, competitive players that combine speed, skill, and character"...
The only scenario in which those two thought processes could possibly meet is in the VIP section of an upscale NYC club after relapsing on their drug of choice. In this particular instance, the substance they allegedly chose to abuse is the spotlight. I don't know which entity is more desperate for attention, but I've seen far too many headlines hijacked by the player in question and too many offseasons won by the organization in question to believe there's nothing suspicious about the timing of this announcement. The Devils officially have a playoff matchup to call their own and the Rangers don't for the first time since his abrupt departure, and Ilya Kovalchuk almost immediately calls for the dropping of this bomb? Kudos to him for being able to build up a senseless grudge against the organization that he (in retrospect, thankfully) wronged, but this is the one time, throughout the last six years, in which Devils' fans have an immunity built up to the ghosts of untimely retirement's past.
Seriously though, it this is indeed true, there are people whose gym memberships became nothing more than a monthly, directly-deposited donation by Valentines Day that have clung more tightly to their resolutions than either Ilya Kovalchuk or the New York Rangers. The former finally wanted to win now, the latter finally dedicated themselves to winning later, and instead of sticking to those goals they both reportedly made a relatively long-term commitment to their kryptonite during their first withdrawal.
In a laughable way that's best encapsulated by every relationship that's either motivated by money or bred out of convenience, this marriage is almost poetic in how doomed it would be to fail. The Rangers are trying to shift the entirety of their culture, and in doing so they are trusting a proven mercenary with a fully-guaranteed, multi-year contract to presumably provide veteran leadership, or something very, very unlike it, to a team that's admittedly a ways away from competing? Might as well hire Patrick Roy to bring a calm, trusted voice behind the bench, because if that's supposed to be an example of parallel thinking then it runs perpendicular to any sort of building process.
You can call me a salty Devils' fan, but I have been seasoned by nothing more than historically supported facts that show that the Rangers, in conjunction with Ilya Kovalchuk, don't stand to have any real success in the next 2-3 seasons. As far as I'm concerned, this makes New Jersey's undeniable upward trajectory that much sweeter in that there's only one team to wish the worst upon going forward.
Kovy may have taken the money, the Rangers may have taken the bait, and both of them may have sacrificed what they actually wanted to satisfy their incessant need to be newsworthy. With the playoffs on the Devils' horizon, the sun could already be setting on the Rangers' rebuild. If the repetition of a predictably disappointing history was the plot line, you honestly couldn't write a better script.
To be honest, I wanted no part of a first round matchup with a Bruins team that's spent the last few seasons making the doldrum-dwelling Devils look stupid even before all their picks panned out and made them look smart. Despite the latter going winless, the two teams actually played some pretty compelling games this season, but there was nothing enticing about going against a deep team whose special teams are semantically accurate that is led by the most dangerous two-way line in hockey for two whole weeks. In that sense, I temporarily got what I wished for, even if a seven game series against a team with five 20-goal scorers, the Norris Trophy front runner, and a Vezina Trophy candidate is the least careful thing that has ever been granted.
The truth is, Florida didn't just help New Jersey avoid Boston with a victory last night. They also proved that each and every point that the Devils picked up in their heart-wrenching quest to secure a playoff spot was absolutely necessary. Obviously they wouldn't have handicapped themselves in Game 82 if Game 81 didn't reach such a celebratory conclusion, but the New Jersey Devils narrowly evaded their nightmare scenario as opposed to their nightmare scenario narrowly evading the New Jersey Devils. That can't be understated as the 'must-win' games against highly skilled competition somehow become more frequent going forward.
Their reward for playing their best hockey at the most important part of the season is a series against one of the most dangerous teams in the sport, but their decision to put forth a half-hearted effort against the Capitals serves as proof that, in the battle of the New Jersey Devils Vs. Everybody, 'everybody' is actually nobody in particular. What the Devils lack in top-end depth, they make up for in desire and determination. Those are traits that play well against anyone, and apparently anyone was exactly who they were hoping to play.
For those of us that are overly concerned about match-ups, however, one that should have a young, energized group confidently going up against a team they beat all three times they played them is certainly preferable. There are no shootouts in the postseason and they'll need a hell of a lot more than 48 saves if, for some odd reason, they end up thrusting Eddie Lack into action. However, the one benefit of an inexperienced team entering their first postseason is that they only know what they learned during the regular season, which happens to be that they can beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Whether or not they will is a much different story, but whatever intimidation factor a conference leader might typically possess over an "8 seed" has been minimized by a season series in which the roles were reversed.
And, from a hockey perspective, why wouldn't the Devils be confident? Not only are they riding a 10-3-1 finish despite the most unforgiving of schedules, but they are now riding a Top 9 that appears to be solidified for the first time all season. A loss to the Capitals that was meaningless in theory, was encouraging in the continued execution of a line that features the oddest of combinations of speed, skill, and size. Add Wood-Zacha-Maroon to the relentless, two-way efforts of Coleman-Zajac-Noesen, and Hall is given his best chance to make his long-overdue playoff debut a successful one playing alongside Nico and Palmieri. Whether or not Marcus Johansson will return to join Grabner, Gibbons, and Bratt as potential flanks to Brian Boyle is still very much up in the air, but the Devils actually look as though they've achieved some semblance of offensive continuity in preparation for a team that, if nothing else, is certainly willing to trade chances.
Defensively, things are still very much an adventure as the Devils have been disproportionally led through the dark by Sami Vatanen while Keith Kinkaid has acted as the most thoroughly overused of insurance policies, but it's not like they aren't familiar with focusing their efforts into bending without breaking. The 'avoid-the-disaster' defensive philosophy is probably what's had their second most skilled blue-liner sitting in a suite with the season in jeopardy. So while they are at high risk against a Lightning team whose leading scorer can create highlights without even touching the damn puck, they know a thing or two about remaining safe instead of ending up sorry. Hopefully the player who was deemed the badder apple of the rotten second pairing that was John Moore and Damon Severson summons his Dr. Jekyll so he doesn't have to Hyde in the shadows of the stadium, but his prolonged absence from the lineup is proof that lazy turnovers and lackluster in-zone coverage won't be tolerated.
Full disclosure? Other than a hell of a lot of effort, I have no idea what to expect from the Devils as they enter what's unchartered territory for the majority of their roster. After all, the playoffs are a whole different beast. Seeing as they've proven successful at playing an urgent brand of hockey over the last month, I think I envision a Stanley Cup contender being made uncomfortable by a fast team with nothing to lose. Worst comes to worst, they get struck by the Lightning, but they've earned every bit of this opportunity and it will be interesting to see what they are able to do with it.
The tough is about to get going, but - for the Devils - the going has long been tough. So, bring on the Bolts, because - against all odds - whatever seed of doubt might exist isn't planted in the minds of the team whose postseason hopes were still very much hypothetical as of a week ago.
If I had given you only the fun, almost unbelievable fact above as a description of how the Devils' regular season went it would be like telling you that Saving Private Ryan was merely about a successful trip to the beaches of Normandy. In a way, it's a credit to how incredibly resilient they have been when it's mattered the most, but making it sound like there was merely a couple speed bumps on an otherwise clear path to the playoffs does a laughable disservice to the highs and lows of what is comparable to only pregnancy as an emotionally exhaustive adventure.
The players, as they are known to do, said all the right things in battling inexperience, inconsistency, injuries, incompetent officiating, and the plucking of asshole hairs that is the reviewing of offsides and/or the challenging of goaltender interference. However, the expressions on their faces last night told a much more exasperating tale of what's transpired between October and April. And why wouldn't they? In coming back from a one goal deficit that was the result of a bad bounce after a mind-blowingly piss poor call, last night was a nice little microcosm of a season that has had the most pessimistic and the most optimistic of fans running into each other en route to the next overreaction. The sense of long overdue elation in the Prudential Center air was as ever present as the sense of relief, and that's because every damn person in the building was taking their first deep breathe of 2018.
In every sense of the word, a young Devils team - that just as easily could as easily counted "almost" as a moral victory - refused to give in to early expectations and earned the right to play in the postseason. There was no margin left for error. No backdoor left unlocked. Hell, if anything, that proverbial backdoor was getting beaten down, and while it was? New Jersey simply took to task a murderer's row of opponents in front of them because a failure to do so would have cost them their playoff lives. There were times when it was far from pretty, but almost as often it was poetic the way in which a team that continually had the bar raised remained unrelenting in reaching it. 97 goddamn points, and only after game 81 were they able to bust into the room to breathe.
I'm happy for John Hynes. I think he's remained rigorous in keeping his finger on the pulse of a team that's heavily reliant on rookies and once spare parts, and that wouldn't have gotten anywhere near enough attention if they flatlined. I'm ecstatic for Taylor Hall. I legitimately would have put together a GoFundMe to rent the Hart of the team a padded room during the offseason if, despite keeping the team afloat with his seemingly endless excellence, he still failed to shoot his shot with his white whale. I'm appreciative of Keith Kinkaid, for tomorrow's game would be nothing but a fatality of a formality if it weren't for his overnight growth into a whole new player. I'm proud of the rest of a team that trusted itself, even when no one else would, and pissed on every antiquated, overdone narrative about a franchise that's having as much fun as ever before.
If absolutely nothing goes right from here on out, a promising group of pesky and improving players has a feather to put in their cap. With their confidence at an all time high, I doubt they are resting on their laurels, but there is nothing left for them to prove to a fan base that collectively looked as though it had just lost its virginity when the clock hit zero last night. The Devils have nothing to lose and I expect them to play like it going forward, but they've already won over everyone whose bated breaths have been given a few days to normalize as their acceptance of what's less than a year removed from being an unreal reality sets in.
I feel guilty saying the following, because - prior to the season starting - a complete thrashing of an irrelevant Rangers team by the playoff-bound (::knocks on wood::) Devils team was but a pipe dream. However, I can't shake the feeling that last night's win was kind of...you might want to sit down for this...boring.
Don't get me wrong, pulling within two points of a postseason berth by way a start-to-finish shellacking of a self important rival whose championship window closed when the trade winds proved too strong for a frail foundation was entertaining, but it damn sure wasn't intriguing. In fact, after the initial 25 seconds it basically felt like I was watching a skills competition. Will Butcher handled the accuracy portion, Keith Kinkaid exerted a semblance of energy in stopping a couple dozen pucks, and Taylor Hall took good care of just about every other category in turning the Rangers into glorified parking cones and The King's throne into a goddamn shooter tutor.
Maybe it's due to the fact that every goal scored in every game played over the last month has either felt like a dagger to the heart or a sniff of cocaine to the brain, but waiting out an inevitable conclusion that was reached prior to the first TV timeout served as reminder that Rangers games are a lot more fun when the aren't a late 90's-level of incompetent.
Trust me, I truly appreciated them doing (or not doing) all they could to make sure Taylor Hall took home the Hart Trophy prior to the second intermission, but it felt a little wrong that he was flexing his muscles at the expense of a dead horse. Considering all he's done following his unofficial 26-game point streak is increase in value to his team when they've needed it the most, he really didn't need to continue beating a once (undeservedly) proud organization into submission to prove what's become the most obvious of cases...
I guess what I am trying to say is that I would really appreciate it if the Rangers could keep things a little more interesting as they move forward in their rebuild. Pulverizing them is fun, but pitying Henrik Lundqvist just feels like a huge disservice to all the heavy lifting he's done as a perennial puck-stopping pain in the ass. To put it bluntly, see below...
What were you hoping for out of the Devils this past weekend?
To see them put an end to the scratching and clawing by hitting the pesky Panthers with a tranquilizer dart while kicking the habit of playing both up and down to their competition in a fashion fit for a bi-polar drug addict? To see them put pressure on the teams that precede them in the standings so as to not be the ones left sweating the result of every out-of-town scoreboard like it might flash the test results for an unplanned pregnancy?
To see their upstart goaltender continue to save everything including the daylight in pushing back midnight on his Cinderella spring? To see if Blake Coleman's offensive awakening had eyes for the opposition when it wasn't clad in black and yellow? To see if Nico Hischier and Will Butcher would make a conscious and deliberate effort to force maturation faster than a 19 year old giving his first fake ID thee old college try? To see if Sami Vatanen could stomach the very same minutes that kept triggering the gag relaxes of Damon Severson and John Moore whenever they had the puck on their stick? To see if Taylor Hall could recapture the magic that had the hockey world in Hart Trophy hysterics for weeks on end?
I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that you'd have to greedier than the all-too-ambiguous y'all that's had DMX barking up a storm since his debut album if you were left wanting more out of the Devils this weekend. That's not to say they played some flawless brand of hockey because they most certainly didn't. However, when Mirco Mueller is leading soon-to-be game-winning shorthanded rushes and late-game 5-on-3 penalty kills are merely setting the dramatic stage for a goal unlike any Taylor Hall has ever scored in the NHL you tend to realize that the fake grass ain't greener on the other side of the Easter basket. The team that's had its fanbase in and out therapy by trending higher than a Snoop Dogg video shoot and lower than an episode of Intervention has (::knock on wood::) maintained some sort of consistent equilibrium that has them in a place that could only appropriately be referred to as Cloud 9.
No need to put up the Do Not Disturb sign, because apparently no distraction can deter the dominance that more than likely has Taylor Hall playoff-bound for the first time in his career. He made an entire Islanders' line look like it was sucking wind during triple OT of a dek hockey game, and I didn't even stand up to celebrate the goal because my legs were tired from the 3-4 times he had nearly completed plays that were just as impressive the period before. There aren't many times that he's touched the ice in which his case for MVP hasn't been strengthened, and the Devils have needed each and every rep to bulk up their point total to a place where they no longer have to hold their breath nightly.
Sidenote: You're really pushing a nonsensical agenda if you're criticizing John Hynes for making Damon Severson the sacrificial lamb of a defensive pairing that needed to be put out to pasture weeks ago by healthy scratching him instead of John Moore. I'd presume the better player sat because the better player has been playing just as poorly as his worse counterpart and needed a fire lit under his ass. I can't believe a guy that has gotten career years out of castoffs, seamlessly infused a bunch of rookies into the lineup, and is well-respected throughout an incredibly cohesive locker room that surpassed expectations by mid-season still gets shit for every unpopular lineup decision. A young, inexperienced team with crappy coaching would have fallen apart during a season-defining 6-game road trip. It most certainly wouldn't have come together and ridden it's backup goaltender to the verge of a playoff spot following a come-from-behind win that was preempted by stellar situational awareness from behind the bench...
My apologies everyone. I'm afraid I may have misled you with the picture above. There's no doubt that it was quite awe-inspiring to watch Sidney Crosby, once again, flash Neo-esque hand-eye coordination that made you question whether you were under the influence of the red pill or the blue pill while staring at the replay in disbelief like it was the work of whoever produced the NFL's Fantasy Files commercials. Unfortunately, the following feat is not the one of which this blog pertains...
You see, no matter how hilariously ironic it might be, I just can't find it in me to laugh at yet another super original "he hit a walk-off on Opening Day!" joke. In fact, those of you that are in hysterics over a high-level hockey highlight should be ashamed of yourselves for overlooking the clear and distinct hazard to the health of the man responsible for it. Sidney Crosby will still be a person when his playing days are over. Therefore, I refuse to focus on a regular season overtime goal as opposed to the attempted murder that preceded it...
You might say that the porn industry would have long been bankrupt if lightly prodding a breast with a stiff object truly caused such a visceral amount of pain and suffering, but I say we give the benefit of the doubt to someone whose proven that the only thing that needs embellishing is his personality. With a record that's sooooo clean of unnecessary dramatics, I'm forced to assume that batting a puck out of mid-air for the umpteenth time wasn't the most noteworthy thing Sidney Crosby did last night, but rather that he was able to get back on his feet to do so after absorbing such a brutal stabbing. So continue to heap praise if you so choose, but you won't catch me writing about a silly little goal. Not when I'm still sweating out the fact that I was so close to writing an obituary.
In all biased seriousness, Crosby's game-winning goal is only taking home the bronze in most re-watchable clips from last night's feisty contest between the Devils and Penguins. Diving due to the mild dirty work of someone who is the furthest thing from scummy is one step up on the podium, and - sorry Sid - but taking home the gold is Blake Coleman's mimicry of Phil Kessel in a hot dog eating contest...
P.S. I truly am not concerned with who the Devils play if they happen to get in to the playoffs, but - oddly enough - it would be awesome to see a series between them and the back-to-back champs. Not just because they are 3-0-1 against the team that turns Blake Coleman into a human highlight reel, but because the matchup makes for highly entertaining hockey games that have gotten more and more chippy as the season has progressed. It's almost definitely not going to happen in the first round, but it would be a lot cooler if it did.