Game 81 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Detroit Red Wings
New Jersey Devils (46-28-6, 98 points) vs. Detroit Red Wings (48-27-5, 101 points)
7:30 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus
Radio: WFAN 660 AM
Thursday night will be the first and only meeting of the 2011-12 season between the Devils and Red Wings. Of course, Devils fans remember this matchup from the spring of 1995, when the Devils swept Detroit en route to the first Stanley Cup Championship in Devils’ history. Last season, Detroit won both meetings between the two teams: a 4-1 decision in New Jersey and a 3-1 final in Detroit. The Devils last beat the Red Wings on December 5th, 2009, a 4-3 shootout victory for New Jersey.
All of the sudden, the New Jersey Devils are heating up at the end of the regular season. This is probably the best hockey a playoff-bound Devils team is playing since the infamous 11-game winning streak at the end of the 2005-06 regular season. They haven’t won 11 straight (yet), but they’ve won a slightly-more-modest four in a row, although the schedule did ease up a bit. Playing the Red Wings in Detroit will be a big test for the Devils. Although the Devils only scored two goals on Tuesday against the Islanders (plus an empty netter), the team looks to be playing well right now, as they’ve netted 14 total goals in the last three games, and held the Islanders to just 20 shots on Tuesday, following a shutout of the Hurricanes over last weekend.
The Devils also practiced holding a third period lead on Tuesday, which has been a trouble-spot at times this season. They allowed the Islanders just four shots on Johan Hedberg in the third period, and played a disciplined, smart game in front of him. Hedberg came away with his 17th win of the season and his second straight “Player’s Player” award at the team’s awards ceremony on Wednesday. Adam Henrique and Bryce Salvador shared the “Unsung Hero” award, while Zach Parise picked up his third “Team MVP” award.
Life without Josefson:
The unfortunate loss on Tuesday didn’t happen on the ice for the Devils. Well, it did, but not on the scoreboard. After what seemed to be a harmless collision at center ice, Jacob Josefson left the game and went to get medical attention. As it turned out, his left wrist was fractured. He won’t have surgery, but he’ll miss 4-6 weeks, which means in a perfect scenario, he’d play the tail end of the second round of the playoffs for the Devils. If all goes well between now and game-time Thursday night, David Clarkson will return to the lineup after missing Tuesday’s game, so the Devils will be one forward short. Barring a late call-up, Cam Janssen will most likely play on the fourth line, and Ryan Carter will move back to center.
One more for Brodeur?
After taking Tuesday off, Martin Brodeur will return in goal in Detroit, and likely play Saturday to close out the regular season. Marty enters Thursday with 29 wins this season. He’s one win short of his 14th thirty-win season. Only Patrick Roy has 13 seasons with as many as 30 wins to date. February and March were kind to Brodeur, as his save percentage was over .918 in both months, and he picked up all three shutouts of his season during that span. Marty had a rough stretch between shutouts (over Colorado and recently Carolina), allowing three or more goals in five of six starts, but a 22-save shutout over the Hurricanes last Saturday put him back on the right track.
The playoff picture:
With two games to go, there are few playoff-bound NHL teams that know who they’ll be playing in the first round of the playoffs for sure. The Devils are certainly included in that category. Here’s what we know: the Devils can only finish 5th or 6th in the Eastern Conference. If the Devils win both of their remaining regular season games and the Flyers lose both of theirs in regulation, the Devils will finish 5th and face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. If not, the Devils will remain 6th and face either the Florida Panthers (if the Panthers pick up one or more points or the Washington Capitals don’t win their games) or the Capitals if they win out and the Panthers don’t pick up another point. In summary, the Devils will probably face the Panthers in round one of the playoffs. Two more points by the Devils would also guarantee them 100 points in the standings for the 13th time in franchise history, all of which would have come since 1993-94.
Latest from Hockeytown:
It’s been another strong season in Detroit, particularly at home. They’re 31-6-2 at Joe Louis Arena, including a new NHL-record 23 consecutive home wins earlier in the season. They’re actually under .500 on the road this season, but they’ve dominated at home, despite injuries to several top players throughout the season. They’re just 4-4-2 in their last ten games, and they were slumping in the second half of March, but a late third period comeback against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night from 2-0 down gave Detroit a big 3-2 shootout win, as the Wings try to clinch the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
The Wings now have their 12th consecutive 100-point season, and their 20th straight season with a playoff berth. I’m guessing that top goalie Jimmy Howard will go again for the Red Wings, as the Wings have battled plenty of injuries in goal, and current backup Ty Conklin has been inconsistent of late, to say the least.
Devils’ projected lineup:
Parise – Zajac – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Zubrus
Ponikarovsky – Henrique – Clarkson
Bernier – Carter – Janssen
Greene – Fayne
Salvador – Zidlicky
Volchenkov – Harrold*
Red Wings’ projected lineup:
Filppula – Zetterberg – Hudler
Nyquist – Datsyuk – Franzen
Cleary – Abdelkader – Bertuzzi
Miller – Emmerton – Holmstrom
Lidstrom – Ericsson
Kronwall – Stuart
Kindl – White
*(No word on Larsson’s status at the time I wrote this)