New Jersey Devils: March Was A Month Full Of Responses

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 14: Jonathan Marchessault
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 14: Jonathan Marchessault /

The Eastern Conference playoff race really heated up in March.  A review of the month shows how each of the contenders for the last few slots offered frequent responses to the other clubs’ fine play.

During March, the four Eastern Conference teams competing for the final playoff slots really ramped up their level of play. The New Jersey Devils were, of course, one of the clubs, and our hometown heroes were joined by Columbus, Philadelphia and Florida as organizations who really raised the bar when they most needed to do so. I don’t usually do a lot of scoreboard watching, but it’s impossible not take a peek this time of year.

Responses are a huge part of sports. Watching great competition is part of what makes it all fun.  Ali and Frazier, Martina and Chrissy, Affirmed and Alydar, Tiger and Phil, they were all memorable foes providing us with moments we will never forget.

Why is this?  Well, a lot of it are those responses. Martina hits a great approach shot, but Chrissy whips across a better cross-court backhand passing shot.  Affirmed punches it on the backstretch while Alydar stays hot on his trail. Prost blows by Senna on a straightaway, but Senna gets him right back in the chicane. We’ll all seen the battles. You get it. They’re part of sports lore.

March of 2018 in the NHL will never rise to that level, but it’s sure been great. Columbus ripped off a 10 game winning streak. Florida seemingly can never lose, except for last night, for which I gratefully thank Mike Babcock and the entire Toronto Maple Leafs organization. Philly seems to have a propensity for the third period comebacks and last second goals to eke out more points. Everyone in the race is playing exceptionally well.

That characterization clearly also includes the New Jersey Devils. Our boys have answered the bell in a big way. Wins against some of the elite clubs in the league (Nashville, Vegas, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay).  A thrilling, gut-it-out, win-without-playing-your-best evening against the ‘Canes. Whitewashing the Kings at Staples Center. 7-3-0 in their last ten matches. A lot of high points.

The Eastern Conference playoff race is quite breathtaking this year.

Individually, many Devils have stepped up, too. Nico Hischier is scoring more. Kyle Palmieri has transformed himself from the king of the meaningless goal to a super-clutch scorer. Where would be Devils be without him? Blake Coleman has found his scoring touch, and the play of Taylor Hall speaks for itself. He’s stepped up all year. What a horse.

All of that being said, it’s fairly obvious that the most improved player on the Devils in the month of March is Keith Kinkaid. He’s gone from an incredibly suspect backup with a sub .900 save percentage to a beast. I don’t know what is going on there, but without Blockaid and his tremendous play in March, the Devils are toast. Perhaps it’s the positive impact of his newfound relationship, recently made famous on Twitter, with Taylor Acorn. If Taylor Acorn is indeed an uplifting influence on the Devils new number one, perhaps it’s time to recruit Sandy The Squirrel to chat it up with Keith as well to continue that trend. I wonder if Sandy likes Chipotle? I hear she’s a vegetarian. Whatever works!

You know, one of my favorite sporting rivalries of all time has to be the epic duels between Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, the outstanding English middle distance runners of the 1980’s.  They were a contrast in styles in virtually every way, who, somewhat shockingly, bested each other in the other’s specialty at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow (Ovett winning the 800 meters, Coe the 1,500 meters).

In a way, the Devils remind me of those two. The Red and Black swept the Lightning and have a chance of sweeping the Penguins. Yet, sometimes they befuddle us, such as the night they were smoked 5-0 in Arizona. One never really knows exactly what to expect from the Devils.

Tonight, the penultimate game of March presents yet another huge challenge. The Pens come to town for the last time (at least in the regular season). You know the battle on the ice is going to be like a classic Hagler-Hearns match-up in the squared circle. Malkin and Kessel are going to land some shots, and the Crybaby is going to land some cheap shots. That’s a given. But I’d bet dollars to donuts Mr. Hall and all of his buddies are going to stand toe to toe with the two-time champs. That’s what we’ve come to expect from Jersey’s Team. I’ll be there tonight sweating it out, as always, hoping for the best.

Next: New Jersey Devils Schedule

Let’s hope the Devils are kind of like Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett at the end of the season, that is, standing a top of a proverbial podium clutching one of those precious playoff invitations in their hand. Wouldn’t that be awesome?