The New Jersey Devils stunned the hockey world by making the playoffs. Now, the upstarts from the Garden State begin their assault on Lord Stanley.
On Saturday, the Devils played Game 82 of their regular-season slate. It was mostly meaningless, with New Jersey resting many of its star players. If you told someone this before the campaign began, they would have nodded, realizing the Devils had nothing to play for. They never would have dreamed it was because New Jersey had already locked up a playoff spot.
The Devils and head coach John Hynes have been the NHL’s Cinderella story this year. Behind a virtuoso performance by Taylor Hall, New Jersey was able to capture the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, racking up 97 points.
So how long can Cinderella stave off midnight? There are reasons to think the slipper truly fits with this group.
5. The East feels wide open this year
In the first round, the Devils will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, a preseason favorite loaded to the hilt with talent. Tampa Bay won the Atlantic Division with 113 points and have five players on the roster with more than 60 points, including Nikita Kucherov and his team-best 100.
Still, Tampa Bay has struggled down the stretch. The Lightning are averaging 3.56 goals per a game against since March 1, and own a record of 11-6-1 in that span. It’s a good record, but nowhere near the pace Tampa Bay set back in October and November.
The rest of the conference also has warts. The Metropolitan Division saw the first and fifth-place teams separated by eight points. The Boston Bruins might be the most complete unit in the East, but finished just 7-5-4 over their final 16 tilts.