The Devils jumped over two spots in the Eastern Conference after their win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night.
This much needed win places them closer to the finish line, but still six points out of reach.
Advancing to the 10th spot in the conference — just four points behind Carolina and six points behind the Buffalo Sabres — makes everyone question if it really can happen. Can the Devils make it to the finish line by the last day of the regular season? NHL experts believe they will and the media also believes it.
The Devils currently have only 13 games remaining in the season. With a possible 26 points up for grabs, anything is possible.
Fortunately for the Devils, they just finished game 69.
The two teams that have only 69 games under their belts are currently at the top of their division, which means that the Devils don’t have to worry about those two teams right now. It also means that they have some games in hand over the other teams they are currently competing with for those last two spots in the East.
Not so long ago, they were the worst team in the league with only a .268 winning percentage in the first half of the season. Now, they are .888 in the second half.
The Devils are creating history in sports (not just in hockey) as they are setting the pace for the biggest turnaround in sports history.
“It’s nice the way we’re playing right now to get these wins and to battle back the way we have,” said forward Travis Zajac. “For us, I guess it’s some sense of achievement that the way we’re playing we’re getting to where we want to be. I think if we continue that, we’ll still be able to make it interesting here in the end.”
This turnaround has helped build up the one thing that the Devils were lacking in the first half of the season…confidence.
“Once you start winning games, you start [building] confidence,” Zajac said. “You start knowing that you’re good players, you can win games no matter what the situation.
“I think it’s just knowing that we’ve done it before. We’ve got the feeling of winning now. We want to keep that.”
A win over Atlanta was a crucial point for the Devils on Tuesday night. They were sitting in the 12th spot in the East. With Atlanta and Toronto both tied with 70 points, a win over the Thrashers would guarantee that the Devils would head straight into 10th place, ahead of both Atlanta and Toronto.
“We definitely knew where we were in the standings and how big this game meant,” Zajac said. “Not only [was it] a chance to move ahead of some teams, but getting to over .500 was big for us too. We knew what it meant and we were fortunate that two periods of hockey were good enough to win this game.”
This victory was a big accomplishment for the Devils. It showed that they were finally gaining ground…and that the chance to make it into the playoffs was a realistic dream.
On Tuesday, that dream was momentarily disrupted after Atlanta’s back-to-back goals from Tim Stapleton at 15:24 and Chris Thorburn at 16:29 in the first period.
The Devils didn’t panic after Atlanta’s second goal.
Instead, they rallied back when Zajac sliced the lead in half at 18:52.
“I think we did a good job of not panicking,” Zajac said. “We’ve got some veterans in here that knew we weren’t playing our best and took it upon them[selves] to get us back in the game.
“We knew we had to play our best. We knew that if we do, we can get back in this game. I think no one really panicked. You can tell because we came off the second [goal]…we got back in it pretty quick.”
“We’re a strong team,” said fellow forward Jacob Josefson. “We came back. It was a huge goal from [Zajac] too. It helped us a lot.”
Patrik Elias tied the game with his 16th os the season at 2-2 at 5:10 of the second period.
Josefson put the Devils ahead at 4:14 in the final period with his second goal of his career.
The Devils got a lucky break when an Atlanta goal was waved off after Evander Kane deflected Tobias Enstrom’s shot on goal with a high-stick with just 37.4 seconds remaining in regulation.
Ilya Kovalchuk finished the night off with an empty-netter at 19:43, ensuring a Devils win, 4-2. This concluded Kovalchuk’s scoring vengeance against his former hockey club. In all four contests this season, he has scored a goal in each of the meetings.
“Right now, its fun,” Zajac said. “We’re winning games. We know what it takes to win right now. We’re all giving the effort. The whole team is contributing which helps win games.”
Tuesday night was also an important night for Zajac. He tied Ken Daneyko’s record for most consecutive games played at 388. Daneyko’s record was set from November 4, 1989 to March 29, 1994.
“It feels the same as 387,” Zajac said of this accomplishment.
On Thursday Zajac will pull into first place and create a new record to distance himself from Daneyko’s record when the team travels to Ottawa. At the rate he’s going, there’s no stopping him.