Your Olympic Medal Thread and Preview!

I’ve been a busy boy since the weekend and I’m going to be out and about for the US game today (and to be honest the only game that is really recap-worthy today would be the Russia-Canada game, but I don’t think I’ll be near a computer for it)…. so instead of writing it up… I’ll just preview it and let you guys talk about it as it happens…. I can think for sure I’ll be doing a period by period write up like I did for US/Canada Sunday… one for the Bronze…. one for the Gold (and for God’s sake people… root on my Finnish goalie as she goes for the Bronze! — tomorrow 2pm, DO IT!)….but this thread’s all about the men, cause it’s all about the NHL here… so let’s get ready for some A-List hockey!!

3pm EST (ask NBC it’s the only time zone that matters)
USA vs Team Swiss:
Yes the US Team got the “weakest team in the pool”… but be CAREFUL with this team… they took Canada to the skills competition, but also in that they needed a shootout for Belarus and let Norway score 4 goals on them… but yet here they are… and I did say to be wary of this team in this spot in my preview last week… Jonas Hiller is good enough to steal any one game on any one night, but an American loss here DESTROYS any good will or momentum (or any chance of NBC showing the games… you know… on NBC, and not showing curling re-runs instead)…. and when you go 3-0, even when expectations were low coming into the Olympics, you GOTTA medal at least… and that means winning THIS game here, from what I’ve seen of both teams I do think the US is going to take this like 5-2… but I’d not be shocked to see the Swiss up 1-0 at sometime in this game and make the Americans EARN it (and damn I am rooting for them, it’s nice to have an American team that is dirtbag-free, yes I look at you Chris Chelios, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Upchuck, and Mike Modano and his $3000 a month dog food :p)… get out of work early… and be sure to tell your West Coast friends EVERY detail since the game will be on tape delay (do they still use tape for that, really?? It’s 2010, CMON!) for the lesser coast!

7:30pm EST
Russia vs Canada:
The REAL Main Event of the day…..it’s Crosby vs Ovechkin version 2.0 (again), it’s the big bad Russians with their stacked forwards against an ENTIRE NATION crammed into a hockey rink, and a stacked team, that maybe had that big exhale and found it’s own hockey game last night in beating German like a bastard child (hell my line of the night last night was Canada let a beatdown on German people not seen since the BearJew from Inglorious Basterds!)… this is a tough game to judge… you have mister choke artist in Nabby for the Russians (the dude never seen a playoff series that he didn’t like to fold in)… against a man maybe playing the biggest game of his life (well until the NEXT game if they win) in Luongo ….and yes you guys know I fully endorse the humbling and benching of mb30 for him… he looked lost and average, something we’re all too used to in even best of 7 tournament-type play. I think people are selling Canada short and ignoring the psychological edge they got in feeling better from an easy win… and that this year while the Russians would love to win now… the NEXT Olympics they get home-ice, THEY get what Canada wants to do this year… and the Canadians seemed more settled with Luongo in net as opposed to being forced to adapt to mb30’s game (this too could be a small issue we’ve had in Jersey the last few years), and I really like the home team to win here and turn the pressure from going against them to being motivated having a passionate hockey NATION in their back pocket!

10pm EST
Finland vs team Czech:
Boy did the Czechs look shaky last night??? (Well Canada aside all the qualifiers struggled and now they play AGAIN 24 hours later, in a way that’s good… no time to think about it)…meanwhile Finland has been quietly dominating sitting in the shadows while everyone pays attention to Canada, Russia and now the US team…. this Fin team is dangerous (unless they play Sweden, then they just roll over and die), and it’s no secret that I am a big Kipper fan (and of his wonderful female counter-part)… Jagr is still feeling the effects of Ovechkin owning his soul in the MORTAL KOMBAT body check of the season! The Czechs are good and solid… but I think it might be one game too many for Vokun here (I can say the same for Hiller above), but I also think their gas tank will be running low…and it’s gonna be tough to follow that Russia/Canada game from a watcher’s perspective….but I do like the Finn’s here

Midnight EST
Sweden vs team Slovak:
Again the Slovak’s struggled mighty (maybe I pissed off Norway slamming them for being a country of ice and not being able to put a hockey player worth a Rat’s damn eh?? Probably not, the only player I ever really unnerved was Bobby Holik…. well Jason Arnott too), but they got there… and Halak’s not gonna be as shaky two nights in a row as he was last night… and the Swedes are deep, talented and rested (and they won their 3 games pretty easily)… and I am putting a big premium on this less deep teams playing that extra game and them running out of gas right here and right now… this again is one of those nights….it’s a tournament designed to favor the teams that do well in the prelims, and this game will be no exception…. Fret not East Coast, you should be in bed about 1am knowing this game’s in hand for the Swedes and with Kenny Albery and Joe Micheletti calling a Henrik the THIGH PADS OF DOOM Lundqvst, the Ranger shill may put you in a coma by the 2nd intermission :p (I had to by rule throw a Rangers shot in there!)

ENJOY THE GAMES TODAY!! This is why the NHL takes two weeks off for this kind of hockey!!!!!

I STILL LIVE, I SWEAR!

The end of the college semester is always tough.  Especially the closer one gets to finally graduating (one semester left – if I’m lucky/good, I graduate exactly 10 years after getting the hell out of high school.  Sad, but fitting).

So sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but with a straight month ’til school starts up again (and about two months before it gets insane again), I’ll be back on a regular basis for awhile again.  Thanks so much for sticking with us.  And thanks to Scott for not letting the site fall into total abandoned disrepair.

I have only been paying slight attention to what’s been going on in the world of hockey.  Martin Brodeur broke another record, this one more meaningless than other recent ones (Games played?  Games started? Something like that.)  Zach Parise may very well never score a goal again.  Travis and Zach have split up, are seeing other people, but everyone knows they’ll be back together soon enough.

The BIG news, though…is that officially, at the end of play last night, the Devils were in first place.

First place in the Atlantic?  Well, yeah, but think bigger.

First place in the Eastern conference?  Keep going.  How about something like…

FIRST PLACE IN THE ENTIRE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE.

Yeah, this team is damn friggin’ good.

So tonight, the Devils look to extend that lead in the league against the perennial-doormats-turned-surprisingly-5th-place-in-the-East Atlanta Thrashers.  The last time the two teams played, I believe we were all in moderate freak-out mode, as the Thrashers thrashed (sorry, hack move, I know) the Devils at the Rock, the third game of a three consecutive home loses to start the season.  Needless to say, I’m a little less freaked out now, as is the rest of the fanbase.  And if you’re nitpicking over bad plays or poor shot selection or the team’s inability to make us proud by kicking ass in the situation that is our namesake, then go back and read the bolded print earlier in this post.

I would be moderately stunned if Martin Brodeur starts tonight, after starting about a zillion consecutive games and then flying to Hotlanta for today’s game.  I think THE Yann Danis deserves the start.  Of course, trying to guess when Marty sits is probably ridiculous anyways.  Edit: And yeah, apparently Marty’s starting again tonight.  Please join myself and the rest of the Devils fanbase in a loud cry of “WTF, I thought this was an Olympic year?!”

But, even if La Grenouille (remember, thus is Yann Danis’ nickname, so says I) does start, Brodeur will be on the ice tonight.  The Senators announced this morning that Mike Brodeur will get his NHL debut start this evening against the Minnesota Wild, who are probably in their own manner of freak out this afternoon after THIS happened.

Note to the NHL: The Senators are really into sabotage.  First seven Sabres get food poisoning after eating at a steakhouse in Ottawa, and now this?  Thankfully the Devils have already gotten through one game up there alive.

Game Night

I’m so buried under schoolwork right now that I don’t even know who the Devils are playing tonight.

The Capitals?  Schmeh.  No Ovechkin, you say?  AWESOME.

If we’re gonna win a home game this year, an Ovechkin-less Capitals is a good way to try.  No, I don’t count the Carolina game because they suck and we still only barely won.  The Capitals sans Ovi are still pretty damn good, but beatable.

I, of course, won’t be watching this game.  Suggestion to the NHL:  Release your schedule before I have to register for classes.  I’m in school very late on Wednesday nights, and of course, the Devils play just about every Wednesday night.  Mostly at home, too.  That is weak sauce.

I know that this post is mostly saying nothing.  That’s because I’m a little distracted, as you may have noticed.  I apologize.  I mostly just wanted to say that those of you who submitted ZubbieCounters for his most recent goal are AMAZING, and I will be posting more than one of them tomorrow sometime.  That’s how good they are.

Look for a Mackie recap later today or early tomorrow.  And maybe something of substance from me in the next few days too.  Better than this pathetic attempt at a preview, anyway.

Wait, the Sabres are good?

So who’d have thought that this stretch of games against the Rangers, Penguins, and Sabres would prove to be an early-season measuring stick?  I mean, Penguins, of course.  Rangers & Penguins?  Okay, maybe.  But where the HELL did the Sabres come from?

The Sabres sit at 6-1-1 coming into tonight’s game at The Rock.  This means that the Devils last three opponents will have had a total of FIVE combined losses on the season before the Devils got their hands on ’em.

The win over the Penguins Saturday night was costly, however.  As you may know by now, both Paul Martin and Jay Pandolfo will be out 4-6 weeks due to seperate arm owies.  While Super Jay has been having a great year so far, he’s somewhat replacable in the lineup (Matt Halischuk probably gets regular playing time now).  But Paul Martin?  His loss could suck.  It could suck a lot.

I mean, because Paul Martin’s out, the Devils called up Cory Murphy.  THAT’S how much the loss of Martin sucks.  Granted, Murph was called up as a seventh defenseman, and won’t be in the lineup tonight, but still.  Our D-corps is pretty banged up in the early going, with Mike Mottau coming back from injury and Colin White and Bryce Salvador both puck magnets.  Factor in Johnny Oduya being less amazing than he has been, and our defense is basically Andy Greene and a buncha scrubs.  Lucky for us, Andy Greene = Wins.

The Devils are 5-0 on the road, which kind of sucks because tonight’s a home game.  In the friendly confines of Newark, New Jersey, the team is 1-3.  And the one win came against a surprisingly bad Carolina team.  That’s…not so good.  A win tonight, however, and all early-season home struggles are forgiven.

Come back here post-game for a Scott Mackie-style post-game recap!  Also, I’m not going to PROMISE it, but there’s gonna be a LiveCap coming eventually.  I haven’t forgotten, I just tend to be in class during the games.  I’ll set one up soon and let you, the loyal 2MA reader, know well in advance.  It’ll be a little party, it will!

Oh, there you are, hockey!

Game night.  Devils/Rangers.  Let’s see if Marty can, y’know, win a game at the Garden for a change.  It’s only been TWO AND A HALF YEARS.

2MA will probably be on radio silence this evening (but you expected that, right?  We’re the flakiest bunch of flakes who ever flaked in from flaketown).  I’ll miss the beginning portion of this game due to my damned continued schooling.  Might try to get up a post-game analysis-type thing afterwards though, so stop in around midnight (or tomorrow, if you need your beauty rest).

The pertinent info for tonight:  Brodeur in net (a-duh), Pikkachu and PLcubed in the press box, Peters and Halischuk on the ice.  Everything else as it was last game (yes, likely including Zubrus centering Parise and Langenbrunner to start…god help us all.  Though at least we don’t have to change the name ZZPop).

See y’all at some point after the game.  Oh, and wish me luck on my midterm.  Gonna need it.

Round 1 Playoff Preview!!!

OK, so I’ve written a helluva lot this weekend… but screw it!! This is the time of year where everyone gets into it and brings their A game… scorers score…. goalies tend goal… checkers check… and writer’s write!! And what better to talk about then the tournament that rewards the Richest and Greatest Prize in Professional Sports (well aside from the WCW/World Heavyweight Title belt… I can’t help it… that damn thing is a piece of artwork!)… anyway.. it’s time to talk STANLEY CUP AND MEAN IT!!! CMONNNN PLAYOFFS!!!!

    Western Conference

#1 San Jose vs #8 Anaheim:
I think everyone, their mother and even her buck toothed third cousin knows how insanely and irrationally (ok it’s VERY rational to me… I took the 2003 Finals on the Always Biased Coverage Network WAY too personally and I felt my fan-dom was challenged… and that’s heavy shit… I don’t take that lightly!)… so anyway… I hate the Ducks and I rejoice at all bad things that happy to the MASTER of the JiggyPout (no goalie sulks more then Giguere when a goal is scored on him and no sight looks more beautiful!).. while the steam still rises from my keyboard however… the Pond-scum will NOT be an easy out… JiggyPout is riding pine, that makes them better… Pronger can throw elbows and beat teams down… and the Sharks are still soft to me (and that goes a HUNDRED FOLD on Joe Thornton until he dominates a series like an elite guy on his level SHOULD)… and of course we have the Niedermommy brothers too… this has got to be the LAST team the Sharks wanted to see… and all the pressure is on them… notice I barely talked about them… if they swept the Pond-Scum, people would ask why it didn’t happen in 3 games! I don’t think it will be easy, and this may be good for the Sharks… overcome an early scare and hope the greatness of Claude Lemieux rubs off on them (Imagine if only Pepe had one more run in him eh?)
Sharks in 6 (but it will not be pretty!)

#2 Detroit vs #7 Columbus
The playoff tested juggernaut against the up and coming team that may not know any better… this is going to be one helluva a match-up too!!! The Wings have all the names and all the guns… but none of the netminding … and Osgood sold his worthless soul to not suck LAST year… I can’t see that happening again… and if you look at the Blue Jackets… really… they got some talent.. Nash, Huselieus, Umburger… and the goalie the Red Wings could have wet dreams about… not to mention a coach that KNOWS the playoffs and knows a thing or two about beating the Red Wings…it only took the second series for me to get stupid… but damn I love the underdog here!!!
Columbus in 6

#3 Vancouver vs #6 St. Louis
man Vancouver comes in running on all cylinders don’t they?? Scoring is coming in bunches and from everyone they overcame, what a … 13 point lead by the Flames?? (well Calgary sure helped that!)… but to quote my old buddy from the bar.. “they’re clicking!”…. but then again… look at St Louis, and look at the run they made to get here too… these teams are VERY similar in their success and their pushes in the second half (though the Blues push is due more to healthy players, while Vancouver’s is guys clicking), this series really is a bitch to figure out… for all of Luongo’s “greatness” he’s got a whopping FOUR more playoff wins then Chris Mason… this thing is really a toss-up and can get ugly as these teams learn to hate each other… not to mention the premier Vancouver guys (and yes I mean you Sundin and Demitra) are KNOWN for their playoff disappearing acts!! (so is Keith Upchuck too though… I still hate him for that US Olympic Crap)… but I’m just feeling another live underdog here!!
Blues in 6

#4 Chicago vs #5 Calgary
Wow talk about a team that’s stock dropped quicker then Fanny Mae and GM combined!!! (too random??) That would be your Calgary Flames… now don’t get me wrong I love watching them, but DAMN they are a mess… Kipper looks burned out, the top 4 defense… ALL hurt….it’s just ugly in the land that gave us the Hart family (WOOT.. more wrestling references!)… and on the other hand… you have a young, ready and EAGER (no not Ben :p) team that has a very determined Nikoali Khabibulin back in net trying to prove to the world that not only was Chicago idiotic to try to get rid of him but the rest of the league was DUMBER to not grab him when they could!! That’s a dangerous combination for the Flames… and if they don’t score first and win that first game… it’s OVER for them…. and they ain’t doing it….
Hawks in 4

    Eastern Conference

#1 Boston vs #8 Montreal:
About the only team coming in with smoke flying out of the battle-damaged engine as much as the Flames is the Hundred-Year-Habs… they’ve been a mess (though it’s sick that Schneider is playing with a busted rotator cuff… yet one more reminder why hockey players are above us mere mortals!)… normally when you look at a match-up of a team playing well vs a team in disarray with a confused goalie… it has sweep written all over it….but then you add in… the rivalry… it’s Boston and freaking Montreal!!! They did this last year and it was Montreal who was SUPPOSED to sweep the awful Bruins… nah-uh!!! This will be a battle, and honestly I don’t buy the Bruins as a dominant team (look how shitty that division was this year, but Scott they’re playing one of them… I know… weird things happen in the playoffs… just ask Matthew Barnaby!)… this will be fun to watch as the pressure mounts on that team in Boston that last won a Cup when I was in the womb :p
Boston in 7

#2 Washington vs. #7 NY Rangers:
Well this is a fascinating series… both of these teams’ weak points go head to head… the Rangers can’t score, and Jose Theodore couldn’t stop a heat-seeking missile by holding up a match! Not to mention… Sean Avery is gonna try to make Ovechkin angry and he’s just gonna turn into the Hulk and eat Vogue’s favorite intern… and the Rangers just seem … so…. flawed… I hate their defense, the goal scorers don’t impress me… and the only way they win in this series is if the Caps shoot for the Puffy-Pads and lower (and look through the playoffs… especially last year… the Diary Queen was not-so-good (even in beating the Devils… trust the old goalie… he was fighting the damn puck and the Devils just couldn’t get the puck past him… wasn’t him stone-walling the universe)… the Caps won’t win a Cup with the hair club for men goalie, but they will get at least one step closer this year!
Caps in 6

#3 Devils vs #6 Carolina:
Man the whole world is picking against the Devils this year…. I like this!!! I know Carolina had a nice run, but Buffalo cooled them off… and look.. EVERY team not named Montreal in the East had A RUN like this… and when the run ended the team ran cool for a few weeks…this is not the time of year to be doing that… the Canes have the goaltending yes… but that D can be bottled up (and yes so can a good part of the Devil team too.. matchups MAY matter in this series).. and I’ve been thinking all along this year that this is finally the year the Devils go deep in the playoffs… hey Carolina… sorry about yo’damnnn luck!!!!
Devils in 6

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Phily
Well look… it’s Gary Bettman’s love children Malkin and Cindy the wonder child… and what city loves man on boy love like Phily?? (damn that was a harsher cheap shot then I even meant it to be :p)… the Penguins will get EVERY call in the universe until 87 and 71 are carried off the ice dead (a different Flyer team and this would be likely)… but the thing is the Flyers are by FAR the NHL’s most dangerous team shorthanded… and an early shortie in the series could fritz the Penguin power play and strip them of their greatest asset… and if you look at the Flyers they can go goal for goal with Uncle Gary’s boys, and I really like… ewww.. Phily in this series…a little pay back for last year!!
Flyers in 6

This will probably make your brain hurt.

So here we sit, on the brink of the 2009 playoffs.  Y’know,  the playoffs the Devils had no business being in after the events of November 1st, 2008 – the awkward-looking elbow injury heard ’round the world.

With one more game left in the regular season, the Devils are locked into the number three seed, having clinched the Atlantic Division championship by way of the Flyers loss to the Rangers (or the win over the Senators if you refuse to believe that any Rangers win could help us).  The only mystery left is who will be shipping up to Newark come Wednesday or Thursday.

There’s only three possibilities – The Carolina Hurricanes (whom the Devils face in the regular season finale at The Rock tomorrow), the Philadelphia Flyers (who travel to Long Island then finish off their season at home against the Rangers), or the Penguins (in Montreal Saturday night for their final game).

All three teams sit at 97 points, and will finish fourth, fifth, and sixth in the division when all is said and done.  Obviously, we get the team finishing sixth while the other two get each other in the first round.

So, here comes the fun part:  How can this all break down?  Who will the Devils get in the first round?  Let’s have a look-see (make sure you’ve got some coffee handy, this is gonna be a doozy):

We’ll start out slow and easy.  If the Devils cannot beat the Hurricanes tomorrow, they cannot face the Hurricanes in the playoffs, regardless of what happens with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. And let’s face it, if we lose to the Hurricanes tomorrow, they’ll have swept the season series, and it’s probably a good thing we’d be avoiding them in the first round.

Philly needs to gain three of four points to guarantee themselves the number four seed and home ice in the first round, guaranteeing the Devils a first round date with either the ‘Canes or the, uh, ‘Guins.

Now to make things slightly more interesting:  If the Flyers manage to lose in regulation both to the Islanders and the Rangers, we get Philly in the first round. We also get Philly in the first if all three teams finish with the same number of points OR if Philly earns only one point while Carolina and Pittsburgh earn at least one each.  Unlikely, yes, but stranger things have happened.

If all three teams win all of their remaining games, we’d get Pittsburgh in the first round (as previously mentioned, this would also happen if the Penguins and Hurricanes win and the Flyers gain three of four points as well).

Now we get to fun part:

If Philly wins out, we beat Carolina Saturday (regulation or otherwise), and Pittsburgh beats Montreal, we get the Hurricanes.  Other ways the Devils can play the Hurricanes in round one: Flyers gain two of four, Pittsburgh gains two, and the Hurricanes lose to the Devils (regulation or otherwise); Philly gains two, Pittsburgh gains one, Carolina loses to NJ in regulation.

The Devils will catch a first round date with Sidney Crosby and all the NBC cameras money can buy IF: All three teams earn the maximum number of points; Philly earns a minimum of three, Carolina earns at least a point, and the Penguins earn exactly one point; Philly earns two, Carolina earns a minimum of one point, and the Penguins earn exactly one point; Philly and Carolina earn exactly one point and the Penguins earn exactly zero points; Philly earns exactly one point, Carolina earns a maximum of one point, and Pittsburgh earns zilch.

Got it?  Good, there’s a test tomorrow.

So who should we be rooting for, and to do what?  I wish it was that simple.  All three teams scare me a little, honestly:  Carolina because we have yet to solve them this season, Philly because it would be an intense, hard-hitting rivalry series, and Pittsburgh because they have scary-good talent and the black-and-white stripes on their side.

For purely selfish reasons, I will say that I personally hope the Devils avoid Pittsburgh in the first round, because I like MSG+’s coverage more than NBC and Versus, and there’s no chance in hell a series featuring Sidney Crosby doesn’t get at least two nationally televised games.

Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter who the Devils get in the first round, it’s going to be a tough series no matter what.  The way the boys in red n’ black have been playing lately, there are no cupcake opponents from here on out.  Ultimately, it’s up to the Devils to take care of Carolina at The Rock on Saturday, head into the playoffs having won four of five games, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

Oh, and if there really is a possibility of the Devils opening the postseason with home games on Thursday AND Friday as has been rumored (rather than Wednesday/Friday or Thursday/Saturday), well then, I hope we face whatever team prevents that.  Yeah.

Game night.

So.  Tonight.

It’s a big one.  A little too big for a pair of teams that have been pretty poor in their last four games.

The Devils, of course, are 0-3-1 since Marty Brodeur recorded shutout #101 two Fridays ago.   The Rangers, who play host to NJ tonight at MSG, are 1-2-1 over the last four.  I’m sure this is exactly what Versus was angling for.  Show Us Your V indeed.

Ah, who am I kidding.  We all know the real storyline – not that it’s the REAL storyline, but the storyline the media’s going to hype ad nauseum – Sean Avery Vs. Martin Brodeur, round whatever.

Avery’s keep his mouth shut on tonight’s game (as probably should have been expected, the Rangers won’t allow him to talk to the media ’til post-game), and Marty’s dodging questions with relation to Avery.  In reality, there’s bigger fish to fry than worrying about Sean Avery – namely, righting the ship before crashing and burning in the first round of the playoffs again, while simultaneously striking a big blow to the Rangers playoff chances.

Avery can do whatever he wants as far as I’m considered, so long as the Devils escape unharmed and with a regulation victory.  Of course, it’s easy enough for me to say, I’m not playing the game, nor do I have a hoard of reporters asking me about Avery.  So of course, that’s going to be in the back of Marty’s mind, and in the back of the team’s mind.  Focus is the key tonight, however.

Moving on from that sideshow, the Devils remain pretty awful on the road – losing seven of the last ten.  Tonight’s game, of course, is in MSG, which means they’ll have to break that pattern in order to come away with a big two points.  The Devils are in the midst of a brutal stretch of games, six games in nine nights.  The Flyers are nipping at their heels, only six points back.  Two points tonight will be huge, snapping a losing streak, opening some more space in the division race, and making the road all the more difficult for the Rangers going into the playoffs.

While the Devils have not been particularly good against the Rangers in the last few years, as we all know, the boys in Red n’ Black have taken three straight from the cross-river rivals.  Problem is, they all came with Scott Clemmensen in net.  Marty’s beaten New York dozens of times, but not very often lately, so here’s to hoping we can right that little bizarre wrinkle of a stat this evening.

There won’t be a LiveCap tonight, sadly.  At least not from my end, as I won’t be catching the early portions of tonight’s game due to schooling commitments.  So kick back, enjoy and game, and for the love of all that is good in the world, let’s win this one tonight, yes?  Yes.

MARTY’S BETTER!

This is it children.  It’s been a long time.  Painfully long.  I think I speak for most Devil fans when I say, I’ve been counting down the days.  Waiting, hoping, wishing.  And now the day is finally upon us.  The man is back on the ice.  The myth.  The one simply known as Martin.

Yes gang, Paul Martin returns to the ice for New Jersey tonight when they take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Rock, after missing four games with an undisclosed “upper body injury.”  Wait, what? …You thought I was talking about someone else?

Oh, right, Martin Brodeur’s back tonight too.  Man, sucks to be Paul Martin, huh?

Tonight’s game will actually be the first since mid-OCTOBER that the Devils can say that they’ve had a full, 100% injury-free lineup.  Brendan Shanahan and Bryce Salvador will both be in the lineup after obtaining numerous owies over the course of the recent woebegotten roadtrip that we will now forget ever happened.  I guess Florida, Tampa, and Islander players just don’t like B.S. (get it?).

So, with a full lineup, some people are going to have to make their way over to the healthy scratch list, and surprisingly, Jay Pandolfo ain’t one of ‘em!  Super Jay’s in tonight’s lineup.  In his place in the press box is a (presumably) not-very-happy Mike Rupp.  Jay Leach also sits tonight.  Anssi Salmela was sent back to Lowell the other day with Mr. Scott Clemmensen, who may or may not have seen his last days in a Devils sweater this season – we’ll know the answer to that a little better in about six days.

So with Marty back, the biggest question, of course, is “is he ready?”  Judging from his responses in various interviews over the last few days, I’d have to say that he is.  I would hope he, Brent Sutter, Lou, and everyone involved in the organization realize that he’s coming off major surgery and the first extended injury break of his career and that caution is the key.  I don’t think they’d be stupid enough to allow Marty to dictate when he returns, which makes me feel that yes, he’s ready for NHL-level action today.

Once he’s back, Marty may want to play every day, but it will be imperative that Weekes (and maybe Clemmensen) get some time in to spell #30.  The first test of that will be this weekend, two games against teams in the thick of the playoff race on back-to-back AFTERNOONS.  If Marty plays both of them, I may pop a blood vessel in my frontal lobe.  Kevin Weekes should be playing Saturday, period, and with apologies to those who bought tickets already.

But, that’s another worry for another day.  Tonight, we sit back and enjoy the return of a Hall-of-Famer.  The timing couldn’t be better to get his feet wet, either:  Four days off before this game, against the worst team in the Western Conference.  The Avalanche, while still in the playoff race out west – it’s rather bunched up at the bottom of the conference – are also coming into New Jersey in the midst of a ridiculously long road trip.  Marty should be getting a cupcake team tonight to start his big return (no fat jokes, please).

As a programming note, for those who can’t be there tonight, the MSG network was kind enough to switch this game from MSG+2 to regular old MSG+.  You know what this means – HIGH DEF HOCKEY!  Sucks if you’re an Islander fan tonight.  As usual.

And of course, when one comes back, you lose another.  We’ll miss you ’round these parts, Patty.  Hopefully you’ll be around enough to lend some incite from the land of thick pizza and funny shaped buildings.  Also, I love the full circle-ness of your two big posts this season, covering Marty’s injury in the days after it happened, and now saying goodbye the day he comes back.  Well played, Miss Greuter, well played.  I think I speak for myself, Joe, Steve, Scott and 2MA fans worldwide when I say, this place just won’t be quite the same without ya.  Godspeed in the Windy City P!

Devils Versus Docile Bears

Tonight’s a big’un.  The Boston Bruins, they of the best record in all the land, make their way to Newark this eve to take on the Devils, they of the nine-wins-in-eleven-games hot streak.  One of those wins came against this very same Bruins team (in Boston, no less).

For the Devils, expect to see Mike Rupp back in the lineup after sitting out Wednesday’s victory over the Isles.  The Devils say it was a sinus issue, I say it was a bruised ego after getting knocked silly by Colton Orr in a fight Monday night.  Either way, I expect Rupp will be looking for blood, preferably not his own.

Rupp’s return means that Jay Pandolfo sits in the press box again tonight.  Super Jay wasn’t bad in Wednesday’s tilt, but “not bad” doesn’t seem good enough.  Poor Super Jay.

Scott Clemmensen gets the nod in net after sitting Wednesday in favor of Kevin Weekes.  But this is not all that shocking.

On the opposite side of the rink, the Bruins are coming off a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks in Tuesday night’s much-balleyhoo’d face-off of conference leaders – the Bruins first loss all season by more than two goals.  The Bruins are also the NHL’s best road team, having lost only five times in regulation away from TD Banknorth Garden.  This one ain’t gonna be easy, folks.

Scott’s at tonight’s game, so I’m sure you’ll see one of his Thoughts from Section 209’s later tonight or early tomorrow.  I’ll hopefully be catching at least some of tonight’s game and may have something up as well.

Before I go, however, I’d like to extend my sincerest condolences on behalf of all of us at 2MA to the friends and families of those killed in the Continental Airlines Flight 3407, which crashed in Buffalo.  The flight originated at Newark Airport and it seems like a good number of NJ residents were aboard the plane.  Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event.