A Playoff Race For The…Dogs?

Coming off a sweep at the hands of the pretty much untouchable Norfolk Admirals (22 in a row and counting…will somebody win already?), the Devils returned to a full week of home games, hoping to jump back into the playoff race. After earning 4 out of 6 points, they…well, didn’t advance too much past the log jam of teams still in it as we begin the homestretch. A look back at the week that was:

3/28 vs. Rochester: 2-1 W

Things got started with a Wednesday morning (have to love the school day games) tilt against Rochester, a team fighting for its own playoff life in the Western Conference. Not being in attendance that day, I really can only go by the boxscore and the Daily Gazette when summarizing this one. First period no goals across, but the Devils outshot their visitors 14-8. Second period, things got a little dicey for Albany, when they were forced to play with 4 defensemen after Dan Kelly,just back in the lineup after a foot injury, took a puck to the forehead and had to leave to get stitched up. Then Alexander Urbom sits for a fighting major after an Amerk ran into Jeff Frazee and the net. The Amerks took advantage of that and took a 1-0 lead halfway through the period on a power play tally. Third period the Devils got some momentum on a Eric Gelinas goal to tie it as the period was just beginning. Then the curse of Jeff Frazee struck again, when on a play around his net, Dan Kelly’s stick blade somehow got under Frazee’s facemask and knocked it off, cutting up his face in the process. Keith Kinkaid had to come out of the bullpen cold while Frazee was tended to. Considering the circumstances, he did well, only having to stop 4 Amerk shots the remainder of the game. Steve Zalewski became a hero with 4 and a half minutes left when he got the game winner past Amerks goalie (and former college roommate) David Leggio for a 2-1 Devil win…and a temporary hold on the 9th place spot (till the night games got over with). Before leaving the game, Frazee didn’t have a bad day in net, stopping 19 of 20 shots.

3/30 vs. Providence: 4-3 W

Friday the Devils faced off against the Bruins, a team they swept both road games from earlier in the season and one of the teams also in the log jam battle for the last playoff spot. It didn’t look too good early as Providence took a quick lead just a minute and a half into the game. David Wohlberg, in his second pro game, had a chance to tie it up on a penalty shot, but just couldn’t get it past Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin. Kory Nagy tied the game with 4 and a half minutes left (should be noted that Corbin McPherson received his first pro point with an assist on the goal). The game stayed tied until Maxime Sauve scored his second of the game with 3 and a half minutes left in the period. But Dan Kelly matched that goal with one of his own just 36 seconds later to retie it at 2. Third period, the Devils jumped ahead for good thanks to an early Stephen Gionta goal early on, then Wohlberg officially got his first pro goal about 3 minutes later. The fourth goal was definitely a big one, as the Bruins drew to within 4-3 with 1:03 left in regulation. But the Devils shut the door and held on for a much needed second straight win. Not a bad night all around…Keith Kinkaid stopped 35 of 38 Bruin shots and Eric Gelinas contributed two assists.

3/31 vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton: 5-2 L

To close out the week, the Devils hosted the Penguins along with 128 four legged friends for the annual Pucks and Paws night. Not many scoring chances between the two teams in the first, as Albany elected to use 7 defensemen on this night. Alex Grant started off the scoring late in the first, seven seconds after a Matt Corrente elbowing call. He added his second goal early on in the second period (with assists from Street and Walker…you seriously can’t make this stuff up). Two minutes later Mike Hoeffel put the Devils on the board with his 5th goal on the season (fun fact: 3 out of his 5 goals have come against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), then Matt Taormina tied the game at 2 with a power play tally. But Paul Thompson broke the tie with 5 and a half minutes left to give the Penguins the lead for good. Ryan Craig added a power play insurance goal less than a minute into the third period (one a few of us were questioning because of where he was in the crease when he poked it in), and Nick Petersen sealed it with an empty netter with 1:55 to go. Keith Kinkaid stopped 16 of 20 (a couple of those goals he really never saw coming, I’ll admit), and Joe Whitney assisted on both Devil goals.

Notes:

Playoff Standings: As of this afternoon, the Devils have sole possession of 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 71 points. Right now they stand 4 points behind the 8th position, currently occupied by Manchester (75). Between them are 9th place Portland (73) and 10th place Adirondack (72). Springfield is one point behind in 12th (70), followed by Providence (69) and Worcester (67). Six teams are still in the race for that last playoff chance and the privilege of being steamrolled (or pulling off the massive upset) by Norfolk in the first round.

Roster Moves: Timo Pielmeier came up from Elmira for the weekend to back up while Jeff Frazee recovered from a broken nose after Wednesday’s freak accident. Matt Taormina finally returned to Albany on Friday after hardly seeing any game action in New Jersey. And with the return of three defensemen from injury, Eric Baier was released from his PTO and returned to Trenton.

Walking Wounded: Big comeback week for the defense corps, as Dan Kelly, Matt Corrente and Jay Leach all returned to the lineup, Leach making his first appearance since December on Saturday after knee surgery. That leaves six players on the injured list: defensemen Mike Banwell and Harry Young and forwards Mike Sislo, Darcy Zajac, Chad Wiseman and Bryan Haczyk (freak accident during a practice earlier in the week sidelined him).

Looking Ahead:

April begins with three big games (what am I saying? They’re ALL big games now). Wednesday the Devils travel east to Worcester to face the Sharks, who stand just 4 points behind them. Then a huge weekend home and home with the Phantoms (in Glens Falls Friday, in Albany Saturday) to close out the regular season road schedule and the Time Warner Cable Cup series. Only 6 games left in the regular season, and I’m hoping for a fight to the finish.

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