Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Devil of a Playoff Push

My continuation of my top 10 Yankees at each position will have to wait. In other words, We interrupt this broadcast to bring the following special announcement:

One-nil! We beat The Scum, one-nil! We beat The Scum, one-nil! We beat The Scum, one-nil!

Devils 1, Rangers 0, last night at the Prudential Center in Newark. The only goal came midway through the 2nd period, thanks to Ilya Kovalchuk, who is now living up to his $102 million, 17-year blockbuster contract: Points in his last 9 games, including 7 goals. Johan Hedberg was phenomenal in goal, showing that, while we all want him healthy for the Playoffs should we make it, the Devils do not HAVE to rely on Martin Brodeur.

The Devils have won 14 of their last 17, and since 2 of those 3 losses were in overtime, that's points from 16 of our last 17. ("Their"? "Our"? I know, "What do you mean WE, white man?")

The Devils complete their "three-game series" with the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in the Your Company's Name Here For the Right Price Center in Raleigh. If the current standings hold, the Canes would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference... the Rangers, the 7th.

Having taken the first 2 games of the "series" with the Canes, the Devils are now 12 points out of the last Playoff spot, with 24 games to go, including a game in hand on the Canes.

If the Canes go .500 the rest of the way -- winning 11 of 22 and getting an overtime loss and thus a point in the 23rd -- it will give them 87 points. To get to 88, the Devils would have to get 36 points -- roughly, winning 18 of their last 24, or 3 out of every 4.

That's going to be tough. The schedule shows the following:

Home games against Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Ottawa, the Islanders twice, Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto and Boston; and visits to Carolina, Dallas, both Florida teams (the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers), the Islanders, Atlanta, Ottawa, Columbus, Boston, Pittsburgh twice, Buffalo, and the home regular-season finale against the Rangers (who suck).

Of the home games, we play 6 out of 11 against teams that would make the Playoffs if the current standings held. Of the road games, 7 out of 13 are against prospective Playoff teams.

I can see the Devils taking 8 of 11 at home, which would give us 16 points. I could see them taking maybe 8 of 13 on the road, which would be another 16, for a total of 32. We'd need another 4, unless the Canes go into a tailspin -- or the Rangers, currently 14 points ahead of the Devils, would would require an even bigger tailspin, which I would love to see happen.

What Jacques Lemaire has done, getting more out of the veterans than they'd previously been giving and getting the kids to show they're ready for the big time, is remarkable. Especially with the kids, who don't remember him as a player (even the veterans probably never saw him play, and he was a legitimate Hall-of-Famer with the 1970s Canadiens), and may not even be old enough to really remember him as the coach of the Devils team that won the 1995 Stanley Cup.

Yet, "Quebec combover," gum-chewing, and all, Lemaire has turned a horrible team into the hottest team in the League -- if only, for the moment, the 13th seed and well out of the Playoff hunt. A case can be made that he should get the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year, even though he did not start the season as a head coach. (He previously won the Adams Trophy in 1994 with the Devils and 2003 with Minnesota.)

Whenever he leaves, the Devils have got to hang a banner in the Prudential Center honoring (or "honouring," as they'd write it in his country) for this man. Either with his number of victories as Devils' coach or with the Number 95 for the '95 Cup.

The Hockey Hall of Fame does not elect a man twice if he's been Hall of Fame quality as both a player and a coach -- which has produced the oddities of men better known as "Builders" (as the Hall would say), such as Lester Patrick Art Ross, Jack Adams and Conn Smythe, the 4 men for whom the League's divisions were named from 1974 to 1993, being elected only as players even though there were, at the time of the Hall's establishment, few people alive who'd seen them play. (The College Football Hall of Fame has elected Amos Alonzo Stagg and Bobby Dodd, but not the deserving Johnny Majors or the still-actively-coaching Steve Spurrier, as both players and coaches. The Basketball Hall of Fame has done it for John Wooden, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkens.)

Jacques Lemaire is a Hall of Fame player. He should be recognized as a Hall of Fame coach. If you doubt this, look at where the Devils were before he took over: Totally pretenders, not contenders. And he practically built the Minnesota Wild franchise from scratch, and got them to the Western Conference Finals in just 3 seasons.

He is also a Hall of Fame man. A class act. A good soldier for the game that made him rich and famous, and one of those who has paid his debt to the game in full.

But if he can take the Devils from 30th in the NHL during Christmas week to the Playoffs in April, he will have done something beyond any of his previous accomplishments. The team may be called the Devils, but Lemaire has been heaven-sent.

*

Speaking of Lemaire's previous accomplishments, a film based on Mordecai Richler's novel Barney's Version is currently showing in New York. One of the scenes, that of Barney's 2nd wedding, takes place in Montreal on May 14, 1977, when the Canadiens were on the verge of sweeping the Stanley Cup Finals, and Lemaire scored the overtime goal that won it.

The footage is not shown in the film, but here's a link to Lemaire's winning goal, at 2:35 of this clip, and, yes, I know it's in French, deal with it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9gjMZ91cXc

Barney (played by Paul Giamatti, son of former Baseball Commissioner Bart) seems more interested in the game than in his bride, even though she looks like Minnie Driver (who plays her). The movie takes a few liberties, such as combining the characters of the cop who investigates Barney for murder and the former friend who writes a book basically saying the jury that acquitted Barney got it wrong; and moving the time periods up (instead of 1955 to 1995, the film takes place from 1977 to 2010). But it's a really good film, and Rosamund Pike is a dream as Miriam, Barney's 3rd and last wife.

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