After beating the New York Rangers in seven games in an intense first-round series, the New Jersey Devils did not have enough energy to beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round.
On Thursday night, May 11th, the Hurricanes knocked the Devils out of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 3-2 overtime victory. The Devils played well enough to extend the series, but when it came down to it, the Hurricanes overmatched them just about everywhere on the ice.
With all of that said, however, the Devils should have nothing to frown about. Yes, their season is over, but there was a lot to like about this Devils hockey club this season.
For starters, they were the third-best in the league this year with a 52-22-8 record. They finished just one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for first in the Metropolitan Division.
That is a significant improvement over what the Devils did last year when they finished 28th in the league with a 27-46-9 record. If you are counting at home, the Devils improved by 49 points this season.
Secondly, All-Star and franchise player Jack Hughes took his game to new heights this season. Hughes, 21, showed the Devils organization and the rest of the NHL just how special a player he is.
Hughes led the team in goals (43), assists (56), points (99), power-play points (31), and shots (336) in the regular season. Not surprisingly, he also led the team in goals (six), assists (five), and points in the postseason as well.
The Devils also showed that they had a lot of offensive depth this season. The team got great production from the likes of Nico Hischier (80 points), Dougie Hamilton (74 points), Jesper Bratt (73 points), Dawson Mercer (56 points), Tomas Tatar (48 points), and Erik Haula (41 points).
In all, the Devils had the league’s fifth-best offense in the league this season. They racked up 289 goals this season, averaged 3.52 goals per game, and were fourth in the league in shots as they averaged 34.4 shots per game.
Unlike last season, the Devils got great goaltending this season. Vitek Vanecek, the team’s starter, went 33-11-0-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage, and three shutouts.
Vanecek, 27, provided stability, gave his team a chance to win on most nights, and had a career year in his first season with the club. Unfortunately, he was not great in the playoffs, but neither was the team’s defense, so the blame cannot be placed all on him.
The team also may have found their future in goal in 23-year-old Akira Schmid. In the regular season, Schmid was 9-5-0-2 with a 2.13 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage, and one shutout.
It was in the playoffs, however, where Schmid really opened some eyes. He was outstanding in the first round against the Rangers, where he won Games 3, 4, 5, and 7 while posting two shutouts in the process.
While he struggled against the Hurricanes, he showed again in Game 5 that when the pressure is on, he can come up big. Yes, the team ultimately lost the game, but he stopped 36 of 39 shots and did everything he could to try and help the Devils live another day.
There is a lot to like about this hockey club moving forward, folks. Devils fans should be really excited as the team looks to cement itself as a legitimate contender for years to come.