NHL

The Devils must now prove that their historic winning streak was no fluke Politician

The Devils must now prove that their historic winning streak was no fluke  Politician

The Devils must now prove that their historic winning streak was no fluke Politician

They had created an atmosphere on this random weeknight in late November that felt more like the Stanley Cup Finals, chanting “LET’S GO, DAMN IT!” and insulting the referees until their collars were raw and even throwing beer bottles on the ice to protest the unthinkable series of calls that had gone against the home team.

Then finally devils Fans watched the puck float harmlessly across the ice one last time as time expired Wednesday night. Maybe they could appreciate the wild hockey game they just witnessed as soon as they hit the Prudential Center exits. Perhaps, given the controversy and disappointment, it would take a few days to sink in.

The Devils lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1, ending a 13-game winning streak that tied for the best in franchise history and surpassed all but six streaks in long NHL history. In some ways, given the circumstances, his first loss in over a month was more impressive than the string of victories that preceded it.

This may sound like hyperbole. But when a team has three goals disallowed in the same game — each one a little more controversial than the last — and still responds with a furious finish that makes a draw feel like an inevitability, it speaks to the character of ‘a team that can’t. be measured on the stat sheet.

Or more succinctly: If you didn’t think so the devils were real before you saw this and you still didn’t when the final horn sounded, well, you’re just trolling.

“I’ve seen teams deflated by one (disallowed) goal, let alone three,” defenseman Brendan Smith said. “We just kept coming. I’m proud to keep doing that. Sometimes it’s tough. The hockey gods are interesting. The bottom line is the playoffs and winning the last game of the year, and we just want to get better “.

Coach of the devils Lindy Ruff, a man who has witnessed the idiosyncrasies of hockey for nearly half a century, seemed to know that this night might come. He responded to a question after the team’s morning skate about how difficult it is to beat a team twice in a short span — the Devils beat the Leafs last week in Toronto — with a wry smile.

“You may find this hard to believe: I think it’s hard to win every night”, he said.

Even Ruff couldn’t have imagined, however, what would happen a few hours later. The Devils, down 2-0, had already seen a pair of goals disallowed when veteran Erik Haula appeared to score in the third period. But the officials ruled that Haula had thrown the puck into the net even though it had deflected off the skate of a Toronto player before crossing the goal line.

The crowd threw water bottles, beer mugs and other trash onto the ice as Toronto players retreated down the tunnel for cover. The scene was ugly, unacceptable and (forgive me) downright refreshing. When was the last time Devils fans cared that much about their team?

“I love passion,” said Haula, acquired from Boston in an offseason trade. “You live for it. I don’t care if I spill a beer. I tried wave to stop so we could keep the game going, but I think I was also given a goosebump during that time.”

It was wild. And think: it’s still November.

“It was definitely something I’ll never forget,” Devils captain Nico Hischier said, making it clear that what matters most now is how this team responds. It travels to Buffalo on Friday before hosting Washington on Saturday. The NHL schedule is a grind, and the best teams never let one bad night turn into two, or three or more.

The 13-game winning streak is over. This Devils team, however, is not the same. These last 29 days should not only change the perception of the Devils around the NHL, but also alter how the players are viewed. This is not a bold group of overachievers.

Oh sure, there are still doubts. Former NHL defenseman Keith Yandle went on Canadian TV this week and predicted that the Devils still wouldn’t make the playoffs, and his reasons were… well, he didn’t actually. to give none It doesn’t matter how you measure it: modern analytics, the old eye test, or just plain old the strange classification – the Devils are one of the best teams in the NHL.

Barring a catastrophic run of injury bad luck, they’ll comfortably make the playoffs for just the second time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012. The question now is this: Will they be ready to do something special when they get there?

That, of course, is a long way off. For now, it’s shaking off a wild night at the Rock and beating Buffalo on Friday night. How the Devils respond at the end of their streak will be the next piece of information to store as we learn how good they will be this season.

We know the fans are ready. If they can make the Prudential Center feel like it’s the Stanley Cup Finals in November, imagine how the place will feel when there’s a playoff game here this spring.

MORE FROM STEVE POLITI:

The untold story of how Rutgers crashed the Big Ten

How a former Rutgers athlete ended up accused of murder in Tijuana

I was a Little League bird flipping menace, and it’s time to clean it up

The search for Luther Wright, once NJ’s greatest hoops talent

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Ranking the 99 Greatest Athletes in New Jersey History

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Steve Politi can be reached at [email protected].





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