Devils Win Season Finale/Lemaire’s Last Game

Devils 3 Boston 2

The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins played a game on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, but all of the talk following the game wasn’t so much about how much of an epic failure this season was for Jersey’s Team, it centered on their coach who was retiring again and stepping away from the Devils bench for the third time.

Jacques Lemaire ended his second stint as the team’s coach last season after the Devils were eliminated in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers; he cited his age and family as reasons to step away from the game. New Jersey started this season poorly under first-time bench boss John MacLean (9-22-2) and when GM Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire the week before Christmas looking for a coach to save the season, the 65-year-old couldn’t turn his back on the franchise. “I’m going back to where I was before this year,” said the coach at his farewell press conference.

“(The job) demands a lot. I want to enjoy life; I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year. I’m happy I took it, I took the job for the rest of the season; I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me; I thought the guys responded well. Like I mentioned this morning, the only regret I have is not making the playoffs.”

Lemaire came in and, although it took a few weeks, he was able to get the team back on track to their usual winning ways. Many of the players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, responded almost immediately and started to live up to the backs of their hockey cards. “Kovy really likes him, there’s no doubt about that” said Martin Brodeur. “They got along real well right from the get-go last year. So I’m sure he’d like to see him back; I think a lot of guys would like to see him back also. “Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, Lemaire’s Devils (27-17-3) gave a valiant effort that included a two-month stretch of the season where they reeled off eight consecutive wins and an incredible 20-2-2 record in 24 games to pull them back into contention for a playoff spot.

Ultimately the season was a failure, but the team never gave up and had some fun over the final 41 games — including the last game where they sent Lemaire out a winner with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Vladimir Zharkov scored his second career goal, breaking a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, beating goalie Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. Rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom’s first career goal came 5:10 after Zharkov’s tally and proved to be the game-winner when Boston’s Chris Kelly scored with 3.1 seconds left.

Urbom (who appeared in seven games earlier this season) was recalled from Albany earlier in the day along with Adam Henrique — who was making his NHL debut. Henrique, the Devils’ 3rd round draft pick in 2008, became the tenth Devil (team record) to play his first NHL game this season: Mark Fayne, Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Oliver Magnan, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Mattias Tedenby, Urbom and Alexander Vasyunov. Lemaire really liked what he saw from the 21-year-old Henrique, “He didn’t look like he played in his first game in the NHL. He’s going to move the puck, can skate, sees the ice well and I’m sure he’s got a touch for scoring. So, all these kids that are either with us or came up, this is the future — and the future up front is bright, there’s no doubt about this.”

Johan Hedberg made 24 saves in front of the sellout crowd at the Rock and finished the season with a solid record of 15-12-2 (three shutouts) in 34 games; Brodeur’s season ended under .500 for the first time in his 16-year career, 23-26-3 (six shutouts).

Patrik Elias scored his 21st goal of the season 1:47 into the game and with his 62 points he led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career. Kovalchuk led the team in goals with 31. Four players played in all 82 of the team’s games: Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson; Kovalchuk appeared in 81 games — only missing a game when MacLean suspended him for missing a team meeting.

Lemaire admitted he was unsure up until two days ago, but was confident he made the right choice. “This is exciting, this is fun; especially when the team wins, and it’s a great atmosphere. You love a lot of things, you get really upset, you get mad about what the players do, not at the individual but at what they’re doing. But as soon as they do something good, right away you feel good. I said this today when I talked to my wife; I said if I was younger, I would be coach because I love it.”

Game Notes: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg led all skaters in ice-time with 22:54 while Greene led the Devils with 22:18. New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley and Clarkson led all players with five shots on goal each; Milan Lucic led Boston with four. Clarkson’s assist on Urbom’s goal was the 100th point of his career. The Devils will be in the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 1996 and will find out where they pick in the first round on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Vladimir Zharkov (NJ) – goal (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (15)

#3 – Tuukka Rask (Bos) – 29 saves, loss (14)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

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Eriksson & Stars Spoil Opener, Beat Devils in OT

Dallas 4          Devils 3   — overtime

The New Jersey Devils lost their season and home opener on Friday night, falling 4-3 in overtime to the Dallas Stars. Loui Eriksson was the hero for Dallas (who rallied from a two-goal deficit) with two goals – including the game-winner in overtime that sent the sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center home unhappy. “It was fun game to play in,” said Martin Brodeur who made 24 saves in defeat. “It was disappointing to not get a win for the fans because they supported us real well. It was playoff hockey out there, it’s the first game, there’s a lot of excitement building up for the opener and it was fun to be a part of it.” The Devils led 2-0 just 7:13 into the match, but Stars coach Marc Crawford used his timeout to settle his team down and the move paid off.

New Jersey’s new top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise started the new season with a bang scoring the first two goals of what is expected to be a successful campaign for the trio. Zajac and the 100-million dollar man (Kovalchuk) worked a nifty give-and-go before Zajac’s soft shot slid under Stars’ netminder Kari Lehtonen’s pads for a 1-0 Devils lead 2:45 into the first period. “We came up the ice on a 3-on-2 and Kovy made a good pass to me in the middle,” explained Zajac. “I kind of fanned on the shot or it got tipped or something and I got lucky and the puck got through the goalie.”

Minutes later when Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric stumbled in the neutral zone, Kovalchuk and Parise had a 2-on-1 and quickly extended the lead to 2-0. On the scoring play, Parise patiently held the puck on his stick as Trevor Daley dove to the ice to take away the passing lane. But the defenseman’s momentum carried him into the crease, essentially negating Lehtonen and allowing Parise to easily score with a wrist shot into the gaping net. “I was originally going to try and pass it back to Kovy,” said Parise, “I kind of picked my head up and saw that Lehtonen was down and out so I had some net to shoot at.”

Just over four minutes after Parise’s tally, Dallas’ captain Brenden Morrow gave his team some life when he rifled a one-timer past Brodeur after a nice pass from Mike Ribeiro. After one period both teams had fired eleven shots on goal.

Eriksson tied the game 3:02 into the second period, pouncing on a loose puck at the edge of the crease and flipping it over Brodeur’s outstretched arms along the ice. The Stars controlled most of the play during the period but fell behind when the Devils converted on what would turn out to be their only power play of the night. Jason Arnott, playing his first game in a Devils uniform since 2002, blasted a long slap shot past Lehtonen’s stick side at 10:22, to give New Jersey a 3-2 lead.

That lead was short-lived as the Stars tied the game again 1:16 later when Brad Richards flicked a shot past Brodeur for his 31st point (5g-26a) in 32 career games against the Devils, converting a pass from James Neal who was behind the cage. Dallas out-shot New Jersey 12-5 in the period. “I thought we played well in different parts of the ice,” said Brodeur. “Defensively I thought we did a good job, just little turnovers here and there that were not really necessary and they capitalized on it.”

Neither team budged in what was a fast-paced, exciting third period – featuring almost ten consecutive minutes of uninterrupted hockey; very reminiscent of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final overtimes that the two franchises collided in that spring. Despite out-shooting the Stars 13-4, the Devils were unable to muster up any more offense as the game moved into overtime.

It took only 1:36 to end the game as Eriksson scored unassisted on a 2-on-1, snapping an accurate wrist shot past Brodeur’s glove hand. “It was a tough shot, a tough play for everybody. It’s pretty rare that we practice that — a 2-on-1 from their zone — the guy had lots of time,” Brodeur said. “I think Richards was well covered and it became almost like a breakaway; he was able to pick a corner.”

The Devils did gain a point in the standings, which means the performance wasn’t a total waste. “I thought we competed really hard,” coach John MacLean said afterwards. “As I said to the guys before the game, it’s the little things that kind of make the difference and unfortunately we paid. But you know what? The work ethic was there. We had some chances, but also little mistakes were made. They’re all correctable. We’ll just keep plugging.”

Up next for New Jersey is a game in DC Saturday night against the Washington Ovechkins and then a late afternoon tilt with the Pittsburgh Crosbys on Monday at the Rock. “Hopefully it will get easier later,” Brodeur said with a chuckle. “That’s the way it goes usually. But it’s pretty rare that we start (the season) with so many games, like six games in ten days. Usually we trail teams by three games after the first week in games played, so this will be a little different look; we just have to get going quicker.”

Game Notes: With New Jersey needing to make a move by the end of the month to get under the NHL salary cap, the proverbial sharks are circling in the water as there were 12 teams represented with scouts at the game on Friday night: NY Islanders, Philadelphia, Detroit, Florida, Calgary, Nashville, Chicago, Phoenix, Colorado, Anaheim, Vancouver & Ottawa. For the Devils defensemen Alexander Urbom and Matt Taormina made their NHL debuts. Zajac has eight points (4g-4a) in seven career games versus Dallas; Arnott played in his 1,100th NHL game. Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 23:27 and Stephane Robidas led the Stars with 22:42. Arnott and Benn led all players with five shots on goal each. The Stars won the face-off battle by a 24-15 margin. This game was the first time that Dallas started a season without anyone from their 1999 Stanley Cup winning team on their active 23-man roster.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Loui Eriksson (Dall) – 2 goals, gw (2)

#2 – Travis Zajac (NJ) – goal (1), assist (1)

#3 – Brad Richards (Dall) – goal (1), assist (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.