It certainly is do or die time for the New Jersey Devils. Otherwise, the team that went all the way to last year’s Stanley Cup Finals will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
With 12 games remaining, the Devils are now tied for the eighth spot with the New York Islanders. Both teams have 39 points. Their Hudson River rivals, the New York Rangers, may be down, but they are not out of it either. The Rangers are only two points behind.
Nine of the 12 games left will be played against teams that are currently in playoff spots, giving the end of the regular season a different and somewhat desperate spin in the Garden State.
For the Devils, it is playoff hockey because if they don’t win, the team will be hitting the golf courses and making vacation plans a little earlier than anticipated.
“They’ll be fun to play,” Devils’ forward Patrick Elias said in an interview with The Star Ledger. “It’s not going to be easy, but they’ll be fun games to play. It’s going to be a playoff mentality.”
After Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Islanders, the Devils’ held a team meeting at their Prudential Center practice facility yesterday. Unlike on the Rutgers University basketball court down the Turnpike, there weren’t any profanity-laced speeches or intimidation.
Coach Pete DeBoer explained in The Star Ledger that it is vital that the team focus on “the opportunity in front of us.”
“We’re in a playoff spot,” he continued. “We have to take care of business and get some wins. You have to have that stick-with-it-mentality. A lot of nights we’ve out shot and/or out-chanced the other teams. If you do that on enough nights, it’s going to translate into wins.”
Even with today’s trade deadline looming and some major question marks in the lineup, DeBoer strongly feels that he has the players in the room who will make the plays come crunch time.
“As a coach, you coach the guys you have in the room,” DeBoer reiterated. “I like the guys we have in the room. I believe the group in the room can get the job done.”
However, the bottom line is the guys in the room have not been getting the job done even though they have had the opportunity to. The descent to the remaining playoff spot has been a slow and painful one for their fans. Now that they have arrived at the crossroads, the question is which way will they go?