With just sixteen games left in their regular season, the New Jersey Devils are tied with Carolina for first place in the Metropolitan Division. All season, they’ve been doubted and counted out despite being consistently near the top of the standings. So, can they overtake the Canes in the final stretch and finish on top? Of course, they can.
After beating the Hurricanes 3-0 on Sunday night, there should be no more doubts that this team can hang with the big guns when the stakes are high. In the game, Vitek Vanecek continued his strong play in the crease while Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt combined for five of the team’s six total points. On the blue line, four different defensemen played over twenty minutes. With another great defensive performance, the addition of Timo Meier, and the recent blossoming of Dawson Mercer, it’s seriously time to start giving this group more respect.
The Final Stretch
Looking to the future, the Devils have a large four game stretch in front of them where they’ll play the Tampa Bay Lightning three times and the Florida Panthers once. To keep pace with Carolina, they’ll need to win big games in the final weeks of the season, and these will certainly be big games. The Lightning are still hungry as ever for another long playoff run, while the Panthers are playing for their playoff lives already as a team on the outside looking in. Fortunately for the Devils, the Hurricanes also have a tough stretch upcoming, as seven of their next eight games will be against teams that are currently in a playoff spot.
So why are most people (and sportsbooks) still predicting a division title for Carolina? It comes down to the big game experience. While the Canes have been knocking on the door for a few years, New Jersey hasn’t won a playoff series since 2012 and has only had one appearance in that time. Like any young team on the rise, they’re going to have to prove they belong before they get the full respect they probably deserve. Chasing down and overtaking the Hurricanes to win the division would certainly go a long way in that effort, and with a record of 7-1-1 in their last nine games, they’re definitely on the right track. Of course, the playoffs are a different beast entirely, but if this group can finish the season on a high note, watch out.
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