September 08, 2023

Bryce Salvador

What an unfortunate letdown it was for the Devils last night by not getting any points off of the tremendous performance that Akira gave the Devils. Akira was spectacular last night, stopping 37 to 40 shots, and on top of that, he had to deal with 37 scoring chances, 17 slot shots, and seven odd-man rushes. Right from the first shot he faced in the first period, he was dialed in and on his game. He exuded confidence and that calmness that all of the Devils' players speak about whenever you mention his name. In the post-game presser, Coach Ruff had harsh words for his team: "I'm embarrassed [for] what we did to our goaltender."

What should have been the perfect game for the Devils to say how Akira stole them two points; became another game where the narrative was about the defensive breakdowns that the Devils had, in this case, all in the 3rd period. Surviving the expected first-period onslaught was a tremendous feat, playing with urgency and determination, followed by an excellent second period coming out leading 2-0. To only give it all away in the third was, according to Coach Ruff, "more than a punch to the gut." It was, "not Devils' hockey."

I'm interested to see how the Devils respond tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The whole setup for this 3-game mini-series has been creating a playoff test run for the Devils. Well, after the first two games, the Devils lost both and now face a situation where they're coming into Tampa Bay on the second night of a back-to-back after blowing a 2-goal lead to the Panthers. So this game presents many different storylines: In a 3-game losing streak, is Vitek starting, and how does he rebound; The new lines of Meier, Haula, Boqvist and Palat, Hughes, Bratt were not great last night, and will coach Ruff stick with them tonight, etc., etc. But the storyline I'm going with requires a slight tweak. I'm adding the Florida game to this mini-series; therefore, the Devils are now facing an elimination game 4. Let's see if they can recover and bounce back after losing three games in a playoff round and not get swept!



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