Zach Parise thought that the Devils had clinched a playoff berth simply by reaching overtime against the Islanders tonight. It wasn't until after he scored 29 seconds into the extra session to give the Devils a 2-1 victory that he learned otherwise.
With Washington defeating Carolina, 4-1, tonight, the Devils needed two points to clinch a playoff spot for the consecutive season. Parise's goal gave them the second point they required.
"I forgot," Parise admitted. "I thought maybe because we had already gotten the one point that we were already in. I didn't know. But it feels good to be in there, for sure."
Parise's goal came on the Devils' 47th shot -- a season-high for them. Joey MacDonald, a career minor leaguer with only three NHL wins to his credit (though he did defeat the Devils last season with Boston), stopped 45 of the first 46. But Parise deflected Johnny Oduya's shot left point for his 32nd goal of the season -- a new career high. He scored 31 last season.
"I always think and say you want to do better than you did the year before," Parise said. "It's a nice number, a nice number to have."
With a two-point lead over the Rangers for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with three games to go, the Devils are now thinking about holding on to home-ice advantage in the for the first round of the playoffs. Sunday's game at Prudential Center could end up being for home-ice advantage in an opening-round series between the Hudson River rivals.
The Devils have not been mathematically eliminated from winning the Eastern Conference or Atlantic Division yet, but it's a long shot. To win the conference, they need to win all three of their remaining games and hope that Pittsburgh and Montreal don't get more than one point in their last two games. A Devils' non-victory (regulation, overtime or shootout loss) would also eliminate them from finishing first in the conference and the division.
"We needed to win tonight and we found a way to win again," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "The last 40 minutes we played very well...There's three games left now in the season and we're fighting for home ice. We see the standings. We've done the first step by getting ourselves in there (the playoffs). Now, we have to take the next step and we can't let any bad habits creep in. Trust me. They'll be aware of it if it does."
Sutter had to yell at his team during the first intermission after a breakdown led to Josef Vasicek's goal with 51.8 seconds left in the first period. "These guys are professional and then they've got to be reminded about a few things," Sutter said.
**With his assist on Parise's game-winner, Patrik Elias tied Scott Niedermayer for the team record for most assists with 364.
**Defenseman Sheldon Brookbank didn't play after the 12:49 mark of the second period. When asked if it was because of his part in the Vasicek's goal, Sutter replied, "Perhaps". Brookbank let Vasicek go wide around him to take the puck by Billy Guerin, who dove to chip it past defenseman Andy Greene.
"We didn't play the play in the neutral zone like we're supposed to play it," Sutter said. "We did something that we haven't done all year. It's not what we're supposed to do in the neutral zone. Our defensemen got caught on it. The defenseman is supposed to have the wide guy. It was just a misread on our part to allow them to go in like that. It was not a sharp play and yet it was kind of reflection of the way we were in that first period."
Greene got more ice time in the last two periods and was able to redeem himself.
"I thought he settled down after the first period," Sutter said. "I thought for his first game back after he got into it, he played pretty well. He was steady. We need that from him."
**Center Travis Zajac said he got hit in the left thigh by a low hit by and Islanders defenseman (I think it was Rob Davison, but I'm not sure) with 3:08 left in the second period. Zajac stayed on the bench for the remainder of the second, but played in the third without any problems.