So much for Saturday’s showing.
One day after blasting the Florida Panthers by a 6-2 count, the New Jersey Devils were eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention for the second time in three years with a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The setback, New Jersey’s 11th in its last 13 games, dropped the Devils eight points behind the rival Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this spring. The Devils, who won the conference last season after eliminating the Rangers in the 2012 conference finals in six games, have just three games remaining in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
“You don’t like to make any excuses but there are a lot of different reasons we’re not there,” said goaltender Martin Brodeur afterwards at nj.com. “There are better teams than us that are going to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
On Saturday at the Prudential Center, the Devils spotted Florida a two-goal lead in the first eight minutes of play before roaring back with six unanswered goals, their greatest single-game output since a 6-4 win over Tampa Bay on March 29, 2012. Patrik Elias scored twice and David Clarkson and Stephen Gionta contributed a goal and an assist each, while Brodeur made 11 saves and also notched an assist.
It was a different story on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden against a team that, while not exactly a league powerhouse, was definitely better than the Panthers, who have recorded the fewest number of points in the NHL this season. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan banked a loose puck in off the skate of Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur just 34 seconds after the opening faceoff to give New York a lead it would never relinquish.
“It’s tough. We’ve struggled with that,” said Devils head coach Pete DeBoer, who was ejected with 16.2 seconds left after taking issue with the officials over a pair of misconduct penalties issued to New Jersey. “That’s been kind of our Achilles the last 25 games. We have a hard time responding to that.”
Derek Stepan, Taylor Pyatt and Callahan added the Rangers’ next three goals before Andrei Loktionov broke up Henrik Lundqvist’s shutout bid with 6:30 remaining in regulation, with Peter Harrold assisting.
It was too little, too late for the Devils, who suffered through a 10-game winless string (0-6-4) that concluded with a 3-0 win at Philadelphia on Thursday which effectively ended the Flyers’ campaign.
Henrik Lundqvist notched 26 saves Sunday for his 26th win head-to-head against Brodeur, who made 22 stops and will now miss the playoffs for just the third time in an NHL career that started back in 1992.
It was also a long way for the Devils to fall after an 8-1-3 start to the abbreviated season in January that put them at the top of the Eastern Conference. Injuries to both Brodeur and star forward Ilya Kolvachuk at different times underscored a thin lineup, with the Devils going just 4-14-6 when both stars were sidelined.
“It’s never easy,” said Kovalchuk, who just returned from a shoulder injury Saturday after sitting out 11 contests. “What are you going to do? We still have three games left. We have to go out there and try to play our best.”
Adding insult to proverbial injury was the fact that, in the 10-game winless skid that began Feb. 25, the Devils often outshot their opponents, only to score a total of 16 goals in that span.
After winning a league-leading 12 games via shootout last season, many with since-departed homegrown scoring forward Zach Parise, who may or may not be going to the playoffs with his hometown Minnesota Wild this year, New Jersey has gone just 2-6 in the extra session this season.
For Parise’s former NHL club, Sunday’s debacle just punctuated its hard-luck results of the past few weeks.
"For sure it wasn’t our best game,” said Devils forward Travis Zajac. “For the circumstances of the game, I don’t know if we played well enough to win that game.”
They didn’t—and now it’s going to be a long offseason. Again.