Give the New Jersey Devils this: Even in the face of the inevitable, there is no quit in them.
Down 4-0 to the Boston Bruins by the 3:06 mark of the second period Wednesday night, the Devils kept chipping away, and early in the third they had made it 4-3.
But the results are the results, and so it was that the Devils lost 5-4 and by night's end were that much closer to finding themselves outside the playoff bubble just 10 months after taking the Los Angeles Kings to six games in the Stanley Cup finals.
The loss to the Bruins marked the Devils' eighth straight game without a win. They are in 10th place in the East, only four points out of eighth, but with eight games left you get the feeling watching them that the gap might as well be 40 points.
It is a cautionary tale, to be sure.
The Devils chose not to move captain Zach Parise at last year's trade deadline, and he signed a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild in the offseason. Would GM and president Lou Lamoriello do the same thing again? Was the trip to the edge of a championship worth the loss of significant assets had he traded Parise? Would those assets have made the difference to a team that has struggled to fill the void created by Parise's departure?
It's worth noting that the same fate awaits the Nashville Predators, the former team of Parise's signing mate in Minnesota, Ryan Suter. The Preds likewise loaded up at last year's trade deadline and hoped to make a long run and, by extension, keep Suter in the fold. Now they will almost certainly miss the playoffs, in part because they received no assets for Suter and have not filled the gap created by his departure.
Undaunted, the Devils followed a similar pattern this year as they chose not to trade David Clarkson, who leads the team with 13 goals and can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Perhaps Clarkson will stay in New Jersey, where he has become an important part of the fabric of the team. Maybe there will be more laments when the free-agency period begins in July.
The Devils' fade from contention can be attributed to the loss of netminder Martin Brodeur for an extended period this season because of an injury. And that was followed by an injury to star winger Ilya Kovalchuk. Still, as you watched Brodeur, closing in on his 41st birthday, give up five goals to the Bruins on 18 shots, you had to wonder what the plan is moving forward.
The Devils are an uncharacteristic 17th overall in goals allowed per game and do not have a clear successor to Brodeur. They are 27th in goals scored per game and 22nd on the power play; they could not capitalize on a long 5-on-3 advantage situation early in Wednesday's game and gave up two short-handed goals in the first period.
All of which makes you wonder, which is the blip on the radar: last year's run to the final or this year's slide into an early offseason?