Devils 5 Lightning 3
Let’s revisit, for a moment, our “ifs” from our prediction post:
If Patrik Elias’s heart can grow three sizes, back to where it was last year when he came back from the Hep, if Gionta can find his hidden store of scoring sticks rather than the slumping sticks he’s been using for the last three months, if Marty, miraculously, isn’t as tired as he looked in March, and if our boys can stay healthy, then maybe the Devils have got a shot.
Well, what do you know? Every single one of those things happened. And the team won. And looked awesome doing it. Aside from two exceptionally ridiculously terribly awful penalties courtesy of rookie Johnny Oduya, top-to-bottom the boys were playing exactly how we want to see them playing. Sure, they could tighten it up a bit, but for a first game of the playoffs, we’ll take it. What’s especially encouraging to see is the way the boys were backing each other up. Once again, we find ourselves remarking, “Oh, so that’s why Julien was fired.”
Specifically, Patty, Gio and Gomer showed a tenacity that was completely absent from their collective game all season. On the fifth goal, was that the first loose puck that Patty beat an opponent to all year? They could still stand to learn from the ZZ Poppers how to follow up on their scoring chances, but baby steps, baby steps. Speaking of the Poppers, our very own Zach Parise has clearly been studying at the feet of Jamie “Screw This ‘Being Tied’ Crap” Langenbrunner. That game-winner was a thing of beauty, and very much like a classic clutch Langer. Is that a good sign for the Devils that they’re now fielding a Langer and a Baby Langer?
It’s less of a good sign that the Devils are going to need to stop the force of nature that is Vinny Lecavalier. This just in: that dude’s scary good. What we find most frightening about the Lightning is that you can give them literally nothing, and they can and will still score against you. Tonight, though, Madden and Pando, who have at times looked overmatched by Tampa’s top line, came up big for the most part. Moreover, the team PK was back in masterpiece form — it’s so nice to be a fan of a team that makes you calmer when they’re playing down a man than when they’re at even strength. It’s also nice to be a fan of a team that blocks shots with their sticks rather than leaving their feet, getting out of position and risking unnecessary injury; Paulie Martin really set the tone for the game in the first few minutes with a monster block-and-clear. PaulieMartinNation rejoiced as Paulie seemed to be channeling Nieder’s unruffletitude.
All in all, we are tickled by what we saw tonight: a Devils team playing with professional pride, hunkering down on D, taking advantage of shaky goaltending, and looking like they might be tough to beat. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can keep it going.