The New Jersey Devils are back in the post-season for the first time since 2011-2012. They secured the berth by knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs by a final score of 2-1 on Thursday night.
New Jersey improved to 10-2-1 in their past 13 games and have moved from being the worst team in the Eastern Conference to a playoff squad. They have landed at least a point in their last eight games.
The Devils are fourth in the Metropolitan Division with a 44-28-9 record, good for 97 points. That puts them one ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers and ties them with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who also clinched a post-season berth Thursday.
Toronto was surging ahead of meeting the Devils, but New Jersey netminder Keith Kinkaid made a late stop on Auston Matthews to secure the win. The goalie has been the backbone for the club since January and made 31 saves for the victory.
The Devils have pushed to the post-season largely on the strength of their balanced attack.
Taylor Hall leads the way in scoring for the club, with 93 points in 76 games. He has 39 goals and 54 helpers and is a plus-14. He has a whopping 13 goals on the power play.
Nico Hischier is second with 51 points in 81 games, while Kyle Palmieri and Will Butcher each have 44 points.
Kinkaid has taken over starting duties from Cory Schneider, who is 0-9-2 in his last 11 starts.
Kinkaid is 26-10-3 in 38 starts, with a 2.77 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. He has recorded one shutout.
The Devils have played tenacious hockey throughout the season and overcame expectations every step of the way, so this post-season berth has to feel good. Many analysts had New Jersey near the league’s basement, in or around the same spot as last year, but it was not to be.
The Devils rode those expectations out and started to pick up important wins. And with that came momentum.
“We were acutely aware,” defenceman Ben Lovejoy said of those not-so-flattering predictions. “I think that we were an easy team to play against last year. I think that we tried to go out and out-skill teams. We weren’t ready to play hard games every night.”
Now, the Devils are ready to play the hard games. And with the playoffs looming, those games are going to get even harder.