Head coach Pete DeBoer chuckled when he was asked after his team’s morning skate whether he watched the games of rival Easter Conference playoff hopefuls.
“You don’t want to look,” DeBoer said between laughs after equating it to a car wreck, “but you have no choice.”
Hours later, his team may have seen its playoff hopes come to a crashing halt with a 1-0 loss to Calgary. The Devils are 34-29-16 and are three points behind Columbus for the last playoff berth in the East. The Blue Jackets have a game in hand.
“We’ve been here before and had a lot of these games where you fault the effort,” DeBoer said after the game. “You can’t find a goal or put a team away. We’re still alive here and get ready and cross our fingers for some help tomorrow night and Wednesday and get ready to play in Ottawa [on Thursday].”
The loss also allowed the Rangers to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Devils have three games remaining this season. They play Thursday night in Ottawa before finishing up at home Friday and Sunday against the Islanders and Bruins, respectively.
“I think we’re going to get one more chance [to make the playoffs],” Jaromir Jagr said. “It’s too strange to finish like that. You’ve got to believe. It wouldn’t make any sense to finish like that. We dominated. Just keep the faith and I think we’re going to get one more chance in my opinion. We’ll see if I’m right or wrong.”
Against a team whose rebuild is still in the embryonic stages, the Devils were the aggressors but could not solve Karri Ramo, who finished with 31 saves including a flurry around his net in the final seconds.
“I think it’s the best I’ve seen anybody play in one game,” Jagr said of Ramo. “I’ve never seen anybody have so many scoring chances. The puck bounced around the net and didn’t go in.”
Despite holding the Devils held a 22-16 advantage in shots, the Devils found themselves deadlocked 0-0 heading into the third period. Ryan Carter had an apparent game-opening goal disallowed prior to the end of the first period, as referee Brad Watson emphatically ruled the puck was kicked in, and a review affirmed the decision.
“There really is not much [sense] in feeling sorry for ourselves but I think that that kind of sums up our year,” said Carter, who was adamant he did not kick the puck in. “Sometimes you don’t get the results and that’s the reality. I saw it off my foot and between the goalies pads, he got a piece of it and that’s what propelled it in. I don’t think that’s how I saw it; that’s how it was.”
The disallowed goal was a harbinger of things to come, as the Devils could not connect on their three power plays, or have their significant territorial advantage pay off.
“[We] had chances and opportunities and didn’t stick it in the back of the net,” DeBoer said. “A common theme — don’t score easily and we hadn’t all year. We’re at mercy of games like this where [the] margin of error is very small. I thought defensively we were very good but when you can’t score it’s hard to win.”
It was a hometown kid who may have made the game’s most significant play. Late in the second, Calgary’s rookie left wing Kenny Agostino, a New Jersey native, drew a power play as he forced Devils defenseman Jon Merrill to slash him in an attempt to prevent a breakaway.
Calgary took advantage of the man advantage with a Mark Giordano power-play goal 34 seconds into the third. Despite having outplayed the Flames, the Devils were down 1-0. Giordano’s goal, a slap shot from the point, was Cory Schneider’s lone mistake. Schneider finished with 21 saves.
“[Giordano] got all of it and I didn’t quite pick it up and it got on my in a hurry,” Schneider said. “He’s a good player and he had a primary area to shoot from and he didn’t miss so it’s tough to give that one up starting the third period and put us behind but again. Couldn’t find a way to get that one.”
And as a result, the Devils’ postseason aspirations may be gone.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.