SUNRISE, FL - The New Jersey Devils season will come to a close on Saturday night in Florida after the final whistle sounds on their matchup with the Panthers.
Game 82 will mark the end of the year for New Jersey but there have been valuable lessons along the way that will guide this group into a bright future.
"Obviously it has not been on the ice results wise what we wanted," Head Coach John Hynes said. "But this is a good group and we have some really good things going on behind the scenes and in our building. Any time you come to the end of the season, it's definitely disappointing."
"We've had some real adversity, particularly the last 10-15 games," added Hynes. "But one of the things we can take pride in is that we came out and worked, we pushed through the injuries and a lot of the lineup changes. Lots of nights you can't control the end result, but we liked our effort, how guys played for each other. We like what our culture has been and we want to make sure we continue that tonight. Let's be proud of the way that we play and make sure we're plugged in physically, mentally and emotionally and we give ourselves the best chance to win a game."
That disappointment rings true throughout the locker room. For Nico Hischier, his first year in the league was marked with a playoff run, while his second did not have the same results. Reflecting upon the season, Hischier offered insight into how this season may help him more than his first.
"For sure it was a whole different year, for us," Hischier said. "And especially for me in just my second year, it was a lot more different than last year. I think I can even take more out of this season than last year. If you learn from the mistakes, if you've been through the things we've been through this season, this will make you a better hockey player. I just have to try to use that as my advantage and become a better hockey player."
"There are obviously going to be bad seasons but there shouldn't be a bad season where you can't take any [lesson] out of it," he continued. "I've been trying to learn throughout [this season] and move ahead, it's going to prepare me for next season."
Everyone was quick to remind the media this morning: the season is not done yet.
One game remains on the schedule and it is an important one.
"Everyone wants to go into the off-season with a good feeling," Hischier noted. "And you do that with a win, with putting together a good game. So that's what we'll try to do tonight. For us, our season's not done, we've got one more game and obviously everyone in here wants to win that game. You can ask anybody, it's always better to feel good going into the off-season than have a bad game."
That type of attitude speaks to the brotherhood atmosphere that Hynes, his staff and the Devils management have attempted to cultivate in their team at the helm. This is a group, despite the results, that care and are prideful.
"We like what our culture has been and we want to make sure we continue that tonight," Hynes said. "Let's be proud of the way that we play and make sure we're plugged in physically, mentally and emotionally and we give ourselves the best chance to win a game."
Against the Panthers, Andy Greene and Damon Severson will suit up for their 82nd game of the season. They become the only two players this year to play in all games, after Saturday night the two will have been defensive partners for 78 of those games on the Devils top duo.
Mackenzie Blackwood will be in net for New Jersey, appearing in his 23rd game this season. A victory Saturday night would mark his 10th of the season, an opportunity to become the fourth different goaltender in franchise history to win 10 games in their rookie season. He would join Martin Brodeur, Sean Burke and Alain Chevrier.
For Blackwood, it's a final opportunity to get touches on the ice in competitive NHL play. And though it's one final game on the schedule, these are competitive athletes with just one thing on their minds and it's not that it's the end of the season.
They want that win.
"No one ever wants to be in this position as a team," Travis Zajac said. "Playing your last game and not having a chance in the playoffs. We still have to go out, put in a good effort and play for each other. You still get the chance to end the season on a win. That's important."