Do you believe in unlikelihoods?
After the disastrous start to the season by the New Jersey Devils, we’ve mentioned several times that the boys from Newark would need to mount an epic winning streak to put themselves back in the playoff picture. Well, one 12-1-2 stretch later, the Devils are one of the hottest teams in the league and suddenly the word “playoffs” can be uttered without doing a Jim Mora impersonation.
That still doesn’t mean a berth in the postseason is likely. The Devils remain 14 points out of the playoff picture, with a game in hand over the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes. If the Canes continue at their season-long clip, they’ll put up 89 points this season, meaning the 90-point threshold we predicted way back at the start of the season should hold. To get to 90 points though, the Devs need to rip off another torrid stretch.
In order to reach 90, New Jersey needs to put up 42 points over their final 26 games, a pace that’s about .3 points per game better than the East-leading Philadelphia Flyers have posted this season. At a bare minimum -- meaning no regulation losses at all -- the Devils would need to post 16 wins (and 10 OT losses) to make up those 42 points. Any regulation loss and they’ll need to add another to the win column to compensate. Lose more than five games for the remainder of the season and the Devs would need current playoff teams to back it up and fall off their current points pace.
So, like I said, not impossible, but it would still rank among hockey’s more miraculous feats of the past several seasons.
Helping the Devils’ cause: 16 of the remaining 26 games are against teams in 7th place or worse in the Eastern Conference. That includes two games apiece against the Canes, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Rangers, in addition to one final contest against the Buffalo Sabres. Those teams comprise the fringe of the playoff field right now, making the next three games (Wednesday vs. the Hurricanes, Friday vs. the Rangers and Saturday at Carolina against the Canes) positively crucial. And of course that makes Martin Brodeur's injury all the worse.
A long shot? Absolutely. But it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility. And after the way the Devils started the season, that’s not too shabby.