The run the Devils went on the second half of the season was something incredible -- still it was not enough to dig out of the massive hole they dug themselves in the first half. While I'm just as big of a believer as anybody else, it's safe to say the Capitals all but ended the playoffs dreams tonight. For a large part of the end of this streak, the Devils have certainly been living on the edge; it was only a matter of time before playing in all those one goal games caught up with them.
Walking out of the building tonight, I can't say I was disappointed as I thought I would be. I was much more upset last week after the Sens game last week which really was a bummer. Getting plenty of chances, it was clear what the Devils have been missing in the last few games - a top notch finisher. Lucky for the Devils, they will not have to go out and acquire one, as they already have him in Zach Parise. After such a season of difficulty, I would have never thought it would close giving us more hope than ever, especially seeing the Devils not make the playoffs for the first time in my life (well, following the team at least).
We have seen the team transform and give us hope for years to come. Ilya Kovalchuk hit rock bottom after whiffing on a shootout attempt against Buffalo early in the season that provoked one fan to toss his jersey on the ice. In the very next game, Kovy blasted home the overtime game winner vs. Edmonton, finally winning over the crowd. The Devils did not make much of that, but it gave all of us hope. We witnessed the struggles of Martin Brodeur, just as we witnessed his turnaround. Some of the goals he gave up were so un-Brodeur like plenty questioned if he was done after this season.
There was a clear changing of the guard as Langenbrunner was traded and Johnny MacLean was fired. Regardless of the return, it was time to move Jamie, he was no longer an asset to the franchise. Jacques Lemaire returned to coach and I believe his impact will be felt for years to come on many of the younger players in the system this year. Lemaire taught the Devils how to win again by getting back to the basics. It's like watching two different teams in terms of responsibility now.
Following a home and home with Philly, things really started to heat up, with an extended home and home with Tampa. The Devils found a short span of success prior to the All Star break which everyone thought would pass. It didn't.
We saw Kovalchuk become the monster we all knew he could be in the month of February, going on tears with six game winning goals in 12 games. Personally, I like his goal against the Rangers that was the only tally in a 1-0 win. Mattias Tedenby gave us a glimpse to the future on February 8th, scoring two, including the OT GWG against Carolina. Beating Carolina three times that month was satisfing. Even Brian freaking Rolston looked like a passable NHL'er during this late season push. Johan Hedberg drew a ton of 'Moose' chants by playing great at times, and it was good to see another goalie step in and see success as the dreaded day of Brodeur hanging up the skates gets closer.
We have seen how great of a defensemen Anton Volchenkov can be. Many forget he was out of the lineup early in the year after getting hurt. Henrik Tallinder completely turned his season around just as the Devils did. Mark Fayne surprised us out of nowhere, after years of waiting for Corrente/Eckford to step in, Fayne filled a back pairing role very solid and may stick around for a while. He reminds me of a better skating Mike Mottau.
This 'lost' season has us Devils fans excited for next year, even with games left to play. By no means am I giving up, I'll still watch every game and probably make it to about two more. Not having the playoffs to look forward I thought was going to be depressing, but how many seasons can you not make the playoffs and still end on a good vibe? No Devils team, maybe no team in NHL history has gone through such a mid season turnaround. Walking out of the Rock tonight was just a sacrafice we will all have to make to watch this team succede for the next 10 years. After the last three playoff failures, everyone of us was calling for changes - they don't happen over night. This season was tough at times but I think will go down as one of the most important in this franchise's history. The excitement is back, the players are enjoying success. After making the playoffs for so long I think a lot of them forgot - or just didn't know what it's like to have a down year. They're hungry again.
Thank you, Devils for not quiting on us, although some of us may have given up on you at times. There's no doubt that this season ends on a high note. With the return of Parise and impact of others, there is no reason why this team cannot contend for the Stanley Cup in 2012. Here's to a high five furing next years playoff run. Lets Go Devils.