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Monday, March 26, 2001
Poetic justice: Penguins end Devils' streak
By Will Weiss
ABC Sports Online
"I think this streak would have meaning if it was early in the season, but when you're getting this close to the playoffs, your preparation for the playoffs is the most important thing."
--New Jersey Devils head coach Larry Robinson in the Newark Star Ledger
The coach is allowed to poo-poo this stuff. His objective is to get the team ready to win every game -- not to pay attention to how many his team has won in a row. That's the media's job.
Whether it's the beginning of the season or not, media and fans alike love streaks. Teams on winning streaks have power. They have charisma. They have a chance to make history every time they enter the arena. Those facts are irrefutable.
Such was the case on Sunday when the Devils, with a 13-game winning streak in tow, looked to continue their run at the NHL record books against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
When examining the way fate and all things cosmic seem to work, history did not appear to be on the Devils' side heading into the matchup with the Pens. After all, it was the Devils who halted the 17-game streak in Pittsburgh's final game of the 1992-93 regular season. And 13 isn't a number that brings good fortune.
Prior to the streak, which began Feb. 26 with a 5-3 come-from-behind win over the Florida Panthers, the Devils were mired in fifth place in the East, lagging behind teams like Philadelphia and Ottawa. New Jersey was 2-4-3-1 in February -- good numbers for Win 4 in the New York Lottery or a combination on your luggage, but not for a defending Stanley Cup Champion.
Though the 13 consecutive wins were impressive, by no means did the Devils dominate during this run. They routed the teams they should have routed (the Rangers, the Lightning, the Wild, the Islanders), but comeback wins against Ottawa, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Edmonton showed the Devils are ready for the playoffs. The 6-5 overtime win against Edmonton on St. Patrick's Day was arguably one of the most exciting games of the season.
New Jersey clawed back from 3-0 down, scoring four third period goals to send it to overtime, and with nine seconds left, Patrik Elias intercepted a clearing pass and ripped a slap shot past Tommy Salo for the game-winner, extending the streak to double digits.
Not until that point did people in hockey circles start buzzing about a potential run at history. The Devils easily rattled off three more, but thanks to Robert Lang's four points, along with three-point games from Martin Straka and Aleksey Morozov, the Pens effectively preserved their streak. By virtue of completely irrational cosmic law, it seemed only fitting that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be the team to break the Devils' run.
The Devils did post some impressive numbers over the last four weeks, however. Here's a look inside the numbers of the streak, which tied for fourth on the all-time list:
2: Number of wins separating the Devils from the Ottawa Senators for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The two teams are tied with 99 points, but Ottawa has the top seed based on number of wins.
61: Number of goals the team scored. The Devils scored at least six goals in a game on five different occasions, and never scored less than three in any game during their run.
15,714: Average attendance for both home and road games. Irrelevant? Maybe, but it's all about putting fannies in the seats.
12: Number of goals Patrik Elias scored during the streak -- four were game winners, including two overtime gems against Ottawa and Edmonton.
660: Number of minutes Martin Brodeur played. He won 11 of the 13 games, compiling a 2.09 goals against average. And he's pretty good on PlayStation, too.
5: Different Devils who had multiple-goal games (Elias, Stevenson, Sykora, Gomez and Arnott). Balanced scoring -- got to love it.
6: Number of games won on the road.
9: Amount of times New Jersey surrendered two goals or fewer -- included three shutouts.
84: Penalty killing percentage in the 13-game stretch. Slightly above average, but not at the level of a Stanley Cup champion.
And the coup de gras ...
|Mario Lemieux was held pointless, but his Penguins had the last laugh on Sunday.|
1: Number of times Devils head coach Larry Robinson smiled (estimated figure).
In the last month, the Devils brought themselves back into the fray of the NHL's elite. They are a couple of wins away from shoring up their fourth consecutive Atlantic Division title, and are in a dead heat with the Senators for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
It's safe to say that the New Jersey Devils are approaching top form in their defense of the Stanley Cup.
Will Weiss is an assistant editor at ABC Sports Online.