In sports, most teams have a opponent, a nemesis, if you will, where records don’t matter. It’s common in college football. One team might be 8-0, the other 4-4, but you know the matchup is going to be a battle.
In the NHL, the New Jersey Devils have such a foil in the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Devils are battling for the Atlantic Division title with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team they dispatched in six contests this season. The Flyers, Canadiens, Bruins, and Thrashers are separated by four points in a playoff battle where the Flyers are the sixth seed and the Thrashers are out of the playoffs.
You’d think this was a game the Devils should be fine in. After all, they dispatched the Canadiens one day earlier, 4-2, in a game they never trailed in, and were only tied when the score was 0-0 in the first period.
But the Flyers have had the Devils’ number this season, winning five of the six games, some in humiliating fashion. Back on Feb. 8, the Devils led 2-0 in the second, and lost 3-2.
Last night’s game was worse. It was 2-0 at the first intermission, and 4-0 at the second break. By then, the Devils had seen enough, and Martin Brodeur’s night was over. The Devils lost 5-1, with Ilya Kovalchuk scoring New Jersey’s lone goal.
Even though Brodeur got pulled, he was far from the blame in this one. The rest of the team was just bad. In a power play in the second period, the Devils recorded just one shot. In the ensuing minute after the power play, the Flyers put three shots on net.
The Devils didn’t have any luck either. The Flyers’ fourth goal came on a slap shot that was unintentionally redirected off a Devils’ defenseman’s stick.
So the Devils are in the playoffs. That much is sure. Barring a collapse or a hot streak by the Ottawa Senators, they’ll be anywhere from the second seed to the fourth. With Kovalchuk likely a one-year Devil, this might be New Jersey’s last best chance at another Cup before Brodeur retired. But it they have to play the Flyers in the postseason, it could signal an early postseason exit.