|Brodeur sees reason for optimism after difficult season.
With the playoffs now clearly a longshot, Martin Brodeur
reflected recently on the Devils' improbable second-half run.
Buried at the bottom of the Eastern Conference by the season’s halfway point, the Jacques Lemaire-led club had many believing they were a team of destiny after a two-month climb out of the cellar.
But back-to-back losses to Ottawa and Washington 11 days ago started the current 1-4-1 stretch that restored a double-digit gap between New Jersey and eighth place.
Saturday’s defeat in Buffalo left the Devils 12 points out of a postseason berth with seven games remaining. The Islanders visit Prudential Center on Wednesday. Any combination of Sabres wins or Devils losses totaling three points will snap New Jersey’s streak of playoff appearances at 13 seasons.
“You wish, I think, to continue the same way we’ve been doing and not look back, but there’s going to be a bump in the road eventually,” Brodeur said. “I wish it could have happened later on so we could still be in it and play for [the playoffs], but I think we’ve come a long way.”
In January, they trailed the final playoff spot by as many as 27 points. Twenty-three wins in 28 games from Jan. 9 to March 15 slashed the gap to six.
Brodeur was a key part of the revival despite a knee injury that kept him out of eight games. He’s 16-6-2 since a 5-18-1 start and has made 14 straight appearances.
Two setbacks to Ottawa in nine days proved costly – then the schedule got tough. Teams vying for postseason positioning were bringing their “A” games nightly.
“Now it’s playoff-gear time,” Brodeur said. “People are picking up their game and you’re playing against teams that they don’t give you anything any more. Especially us, the last 11 games we had left were against mostly playoff teams.”
Offensively, the Devils hit a wall. They went 6-0-1 to start the surge, outscoring opponents 28-13. By the end of the run, goals were at a premium. The team went 7-1-0 over the final eight games, seven of which were decided by one goal, and four of which went to overtime or a shootout.
Brodeur emphasized that “the compete level has been there.” The scoring just wasn’t, however.
“Early in our streak, we were winning 4-1, 5-1, 3-1,” he said. “Now everything was always a battle until the end. We pulled a lot of tricks out of our hats to get those, and now teams are clamping down a little more because of the time of the year. They’re tougher to pull off now.”
He enumerated some of the positives from this season, focusing on the play of rookie forwards Jacob Josefson
, Nick Palmieri and Mattias Tedenby
, and defenseman Mark Fayne
“We’ve given chances to kids that, probably if we had a great season, they would never have a chance to be in the NHL,” he said. “Now we know who’s capable of what and that’s going to make Lou’s [Lamoriello] job interesting this summer to put the puzzle together again and go back at it.”
It’s likely that some number of games to end this season won’t count for much in the standings. That won’t stop the Devils from giving it everything they’ve got.
“We just have to play,” said Brodeur. “We’re paid to play hockey and just give our 100% of what we can give out there. We’ll do that for the last part. It just kind of [stinks] when you do it for nothing. We have five games at home, so we have to make a good show for our fans. I think, if we do well, it just continues what we’ve accomplished. I think going into next season, there’s a lot of positives.”