The New Jersey Devils score a goal against Ottawa in a NHL game.
(Photo by Bobby O'Hara - JSN)

New Jersey Devils clinch playoff berth for first time since 2018

On Saturday night, the New Jersey Devils (46-19-8) took on the Ottawa Senators (35-33-8). While they initially were playing to clinch a playoff berth,  the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers so the Devils clinched a berth automatically. However, the Devils are now competing for the No.1 seed to have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Devils and Senators were in a back-and-forth game throughout the matchup. The Devils were coming off a back-to-back so Lindy Ruff started goalie Mackenzie Blackwood in the net to give veteran Vitek Vanecek some rest. 

Throughout the tight contest, the Devils managed to pull out the victory over the Senators, 5-3. The Devils played inconsistently throughout the game. However, when they needed a big play or stop, they managed to execute it to perfection. The Senators were playing with a form of desperation as they are on the cusp of being eliminated from the playoffs. With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the intensity of these games continues to increase and this game was no different.  

“Really have to wrap your arms around the opportunity and take advantage,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff emphasized. “You’re part of 16 teams who are going to make a run at the Stanley Cup. However, now, we have the opportunity to hunker down and do something more special than just make the playoffs.”

In the first period, both teams came out with high energy, however, it appeared it took a bit longer for the Devils to find momentum than the Senators. The Senators were able to strike first within the first five minutes of the period as they were able to capitalize off one of the Devils' giveaways leading to a breakaway goal by left winger Brady Tkachuk.

In spite of giving up an early goal, Blackwood appeared to be much more settled and relaxed as the period progressed. Center Jack Hughes answered the Senators' goal with a goal of his own. He called his own number and tied the game up with nine minutes remaining in the first period. 

The remainder of the first period was stagnant as both teams had opportunities, yet nobody could capitalize. At the end of the first period, the contest was tied. 

Momentum Built and Lost for the Devils

In the second period, the Devils appeared to take off but couldn’t sustain the momentum throughout the period. Within the opening minutes of the period, they struck twice to take a 3-1 lead. This was answered by the Senators towards the end of the period by scoring twice, which led to a 3-3 tie at the end of the second period. The Devils could have put the Senators away, but they allowed them to get back into the game with penalties and giveaways.

"Yeah, I mean we want to play with the best feeling as a group as we can," left wing Jesper Bratt said.  “We’re gearing up against the Islanders. Now, it’s kind of for us to set the tone and standard heading into the playoffs.”

The Devils Finishing the Game Strong

The Devils began to find some momentum toward the end of the game. Although the majority of this period was stagnant for both teams, the Devils stayed patient and got a bounce from the puck to go in their direction. Four minutes into the period, defensemen Dougie Hamilton found the back of the net and gave them the lead, 4-3.

Oddly, the rest of the period was played extremely close. In fact, the Devils didn’t score another goal until the Senators took out their goalie Dylan Ferguson as they tried to tie the game. However, this led to an empty net goal with 46 seconds remaining by Tomas Tatar securing the 5-3 win in a very hard-fought battle. 

The Devils continued to prove how special and dangerous this team can become at playoff time. They continue to get better and improve on the small details of the game.

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