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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Offense Vanishes Again as Rangers Blank Devils

NY Rangers 3                Devils 0

The New Jersey Devils found yet another way to lose at home — this time it was via the shutout — making matters worse it was against their most-hated rivals, the New York Rangers by a score of 3-0 on Friday night. Henrik Lundqvist made 33 saves for the Blueshirts before a sold-out crowd at the Prudential Center, the fifth time in his career that he has shutout the Devils over 32 games (20-7-5). New York’s Brandon Dubinsky scored two goals (including the game-winner) in the game giving him ten, which is surprisingly tied for the NHL lead through the first month of the season.

For New Jersey, they fell to 0-5-1 at home this year, which is a major factor in their gruesome 4-10-1 start to what appeared to be a promising season in September; they have scored an NHL-worst 25 goals this season. “We played hard. We competed hard; we just didn’t generate enough offense,” said Devils coach John MacLean, who may soon be on the hot seat. Once again the injury-bug hit the team as goalie Martin Brodeur (bruised elbow) and defenseman Colin White (flu) sat out the contest; one bright spot was the return of defenseman Anton Volchenkov who hadn’t played since game number two when his nose was broken blocking a shot in Washington.

Backup netminder Johan Hedberg played okay in the crease for the Devils, but the lack of offensive and defensive support didn’t help either as he surrendered three goals on only 20 Rangers’ shots, one in each period. Hedberg’s teammates took five penalties in the game and it was the second goal, a New York power play goal that really broke the back (and spirit) of the entire team.

Five seconds after the goalie made a nice glove save on Todd White’s shot from the deep slot, Brian Boyle deflected a long shot into the back of the net, staking New York to a 2-0 lead at intermission. “I just tried to stay in front (of the goalie) and put my stick in a spot,” Boyle explained after the game. “Danny (Girardi) shot right at my stick, I didn’t move my stick. Just a little redirection like that — even if he does save it he has no idea where the rebound is going. All around it was a great play by everybody; I just kind of stood there, and I got the goal, so it was nice.”

Dubinsky started and ended the Rock party for the Rangers — first opening the scoring with a rebound goal 7:35 into the game — and then notching a shorthanded goal 3:41 into the third period; ensuring the goal-starved Devils would be unable to catch up. Lundqvist made sure he was going to get his second shutout of the year when he snatched Travis Zajac’s wrist shot out of the air with 7:50 left in the game.

Game Notes: The Devils have now called up an eye-popping 11 players from their minor-league affiliate in Albany and the season is only 28 days old. Boyle, in his fourth NHL season, set a career-high with his fifth goal; he had four in each of the previous three seasons. The Rangers played without one of their best players — Ryan Callahan — who sat out because of soreness. Dubinsky led all players with six shots on goal; four Devils had four shots on goal each, including Stephen Gionta (younger brother of ex-Devil Brian Gionta) who was making his NHL debut…wearing the same number 14 that Brian wore. “It’s just a great honor to put that sweater on and go out there and play a game you’ve been playing your whole life and dreaming of,” said the 27-year-old Gionta. “It’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win.” Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi led all skaters in ice-time with 27:33, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:44. New Jersey (4-10-1) is off until Wednesday when they host Buffalo (3-9-2), while New York (7-5-1) returns to MSG to host St. Louis (7-1-2) on Sunday.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) – 33 saves, win (6), shutout (2)

#2 – Brandon Dubinsky (NYR) – 2 goals (10), gw

#3 – Artem Anisimov (NYR) – 2 assists (8)

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