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 firstname.lastname@example.org