Friday, April 9, 2010

Devils Can Secure Atlantic Division in Final Two Games

By: Tim Brennan

The New Jersey Devils are an elite team in the National Hockey League and there is no question about that. They've dominated the Atlantic Division year after year, capturing eight division titles since it's establishment in 1993. If you take a look at the standings during the course of any season, the Devils will be most likely in the top 4 because of their consistency and winning pedigree. The Devils are close to claiming another division crown and can do so by winning their final two games of the season.

Throughout this season, the Devils have battled with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, with the lead flip flopping almost every other game. This race for divisional pride, if you will, has intensified with every matchup between the two teams, turning into a playoff atmosphere. Although the Devils and Penguins have the same record and same amount of points, the Devils have the edge after sweeping the season series against Pittsburgh. With the Penguins nipping at their heels, the Devils take on the New York Islanders Saturday and the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.

A recent Southeast road trip led to shutout wins over the Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers before hitting a brick wall in former teammate Scott Clemmensen and the Florida Panthers on Thursday, dropping a 3-2 decision despite grossly out-shooting them 44-18. Despite missing an opportunity of closing the deal on the division lead, the Devils can push themselves ahead with a win over the Islanders, whom they've enjoyed plenty of success against this year posting a 3-2 record. The more daunting task will be when the Devils face off against the Sabres, who are a hard team to beat due in large part to the team's franchise player and MVP, Ryan Miller.

In order to avoid a letdown, New Jersey must play with urgency so that they end up on top of the division and face teams that will be worn down from battling until the end of the season to clinch a spot, like the Bruins or Canadiens. The pressure will be on the top guns like Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and of course Ilya Kovalchuk to continue to produce and keep the offense flowing. There's no doubt that Martin Brodeur will more than likely start the final two games and will be looked upon to provide the help necessary to secure a division win. If they fall behind and can't get the points needed the Devils will more than likely face the Ottawa Senators, who have been on a tear lately going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and are equipped with a highly talented offense, bruising defense and impressive goaltending. Not something the Devils want to face in the first round, especially after the last few years of finishing high in the season and bowing out early.

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