Coming into the season, nobody expected the Devils to be any good. Most had them in the bottom five in the NHL. A few eternal optimists thought they could grab a wild card spot and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. Well, none of that happened. The Devils fought hard all year but came up just a little bit short. In the end, they did miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season however this year had a different feel to it. With a new regime in place as well as some new impact players, along came new hope and ambition. Any year you don’t lift Lord Stanley’s Cup is a disappointment on some level, but the Devils took large steps to building something special this year. It took 78 games to eliminate them which is mighty impressive considering where they were pegged to finish. I’m so proud of the way this team battled all season long and cannot wait to see what Ray Shero, John Hynes and the rest of the organization has in store for us next year.
As I mentioned, no the Devils did not make the playoffs… but wow did they end the season in style. On the surface it was just meaningless game #82 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but deep down there was so much importance to it. To start things off it was the NHL debut for three of the Devils’ top prospects. Center Pavel Zacha, the #6 overall selection in the past draft and the team’s top overall prospect, was called up after his Sarnia Sting were eliminated from the OHL playoffs. Defenseman Steve Santini (2nd round, 2013) and left wing Miles Wood (4th round, 2013) were both signed on Friday after Boston College was beaten by Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four. Nobody ever wants to lose in the playoffs, but those losses did allow this final Devils game to be extremely memorable for all involved.
All three debutants played really well, but it was Zacha who stole the show. He was on a line with Czech countryman and Devils legend Patrik Elias as well as new fan favorite Devante Smith-Pelly and maaaaan did that line do some damage. Zacha and Elias had immediate chemistry creating chance after chance in the first period. Halfway through the first, Zacha would pick up his first NHL point as he won a faceoff and poked the puck to DSP who swatted it into the net. If that was the only thing to happen last night, that would’ve been plenty of excitement. However the Devils had more in store for their devoted fans.
Entering the final contest of the season, the Devils had a pair of players on the cusp of 30 goals. Kyle Palmieri had been stuck on 29 for what seemed like the longest time and Adam Henrique was sitting at 28. Everybody was hoping like hell that at least one of them could hit the magic number. In the second period, Henrique knocked in the rebound of an Adam Larsson point shot for his 29th – also assisted by Elias, yay. Then moments later he would take a feed from Tuomo Ruutu (his first point of the season) and backhand it home for the big three zero. It was awesome, but they weren’t even close to being done. As the clock was winding down in the third, the Maple Leafs pulled their goalie and left the window open for Palmieri to net his 30th as well and that’s exactly what he did. Zacha and Elias worked hard to set up Palms and you could see the relief on his face. Seeing both Adam and Kyle get to 30 in the final game of the season was just fantastic.
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL FOLKS. I know what you’re thinking. “There’s more???” Oh yes there is! The only way the game could get better was if Patrik Elias was able to grab a goal. Nobody, not even Patty, knows if he will be coming back next season or what his future holds. This game could very well have been Elias’ final NHL game or final game as a Devil. It was only fitting that Palmieri stripped the puck behind the Leaf net and found Elias all alone in front with 16 seconds left. The puck hit the twine and the sold out Prudential Center went nuts. Our hero, our legend, our own Patrik Elias just scored to cap off the season and perhaps his Hall of Fame career. Naturally he was the first star of the game and the crowd serenaded him with chants of “Patty!” and “One More Year!” It’s clear the fans want him back and he wants to return if he’s healthy. Make it happen Shero.
Lost in all the frenzy was a real touching tribute to former general manager Lou Lamoriello to which he got a standing ovation and a chorus of “LOUUUUU” which is only fitting. Jersey will always love ya Lou. Cory Schneider also set his career high in wins (27) with the victory which was nice to see. Cory was a rock all season and there’s no doubt he’ll set another career high next year.
It was the perfect ending to a fun regular season. Paying homage to the past while getting a glimpse of the future. Next year should be even better. One more year, Patty. One more year.