Albany Devils’ win not enough for playoffs

Albany Devils ousted from AHL playoff race despite win
Albany Devils left winger Chris McElvie watches as the puck goes over the left shoulder of Hartford goalie Yann Danis to tie the game in the first period at the Times Union Center in Albany Saturday, April 18, 2015.
Albany Devils left winger Chris McElvie watches as the puck goes over the left shoulder of Hartford goalie Yann Danis to tie the game in the first period at the Times Union Center in Albany Saturday, April 18, 2015.

The Albany Devils walked off the ice Saturday night having climbed into eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Two hours later, they had fallen out of that last playoff position.

With a 4-2 win over Hartford in their last regular-season game, the Devils passed Portland and Springfield, but in a later game, Springfield beat St. John’s in overtime to reclaim eighth place and eliminate Albany.

The last week of the regular season, though, saw the Devils pull out four must-wins just to remain relevant until their last day on the ice.

“I can’t say enough,” said Albany coach Rick Kowalsky. “There’s two ways to look at it — you wish you had just a couple more stretches like this that you put together at some point during the season, but it was a real gutsy team effort from everybody.”

In the last of those four wins, Albany beat Northeast Division leader Hartford by twice coming back from one-goal deficits, getting both a game-tying and eventual winner from Mike Sislo, both seven seconds into a power play.

Sislo said the recent play of the team kept them grounded each time Hartford took a lead.

“The way we’ve been playing the last little while, we’ve been playing with a lot of confidence and just working hard and grinding,” Sislo said. “When you do that, you’re going to chip away, so we didn’t get discouraged at all by giving up a goal early.”

The Devils were done in by a few rough stretches, the most recent being the entire month of February, in which they went 2-8-0-0. Since March 1, though, they went 13-5-1-1.

“I’m proud of the guys,” Sislo said. “I think we’re all happy with how we’ve played this last stretch here. Looking back, we’re definitely not happy with some of the points we left on the table earlier in the season, but we gave ourselves a chance.”

Albany goalie Scott Clemmensen made 26 saves for the win, his third in four days. In his last 12 appearances, he had a record of 7-3-1, a goals-against average of 1.57 and a save percentage of .941.

After shutting out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on the road Friday, the 37-year-old Clemmensen had a conversation with goalie coach Johan Hedberg on the bus back to Albany.

“We discussed how the game went and how taxing it was for me and if I could play today,” Clemmensen said. “Obviously, there was no way in the world I was going to say I was too tired and couldn’t play.”

“He’s got such a calming presence and demeanor with our young ‘D’ corps,” Kowalsky said. “He makes the big saves again tonight, breakaways, two-on-ones, when he needs to and at times, almost makes it look easy. I think that really settles things down for us at times.”

The 85 points Albany finished with, and the 10th spot in the conference, is the second-best finish for the Devils in the five years since they returned to Albany. Even though they made the playoffs last season as the fifth seed, Kowalsky looked at what his players had to do just to get this close in the last couple weeks, and he said it was the most rewarding stretch of hockey he’s coached here.

“Under these circumstances,” he said, “knowing the long shot that we were facing, and how the guys rallied and really stuck together and got it done, this probably takes the cake.”

Hartford 1 1 0 — 2

Albany 1 1 2 — 4

First Period — 1, Hartford, Lindberg 28 (C. Bourque, Bodie), 5:51 (pp). 2, Albany, Burlon 8 (Matteau, D. Zajac), 11:32. Penalties — McKelvie, Alb (tripping), 5:39; Kostka, Hfd (tripping), 12:36; Thomson, Alb (tripping), 14:48; Helgeson, Alb (slashing), 20:00.

Second Period — 3, Hartford, C. Bourque 29 (Kristo), 52 (pp). 4, Albany, Sislo 19 (Whitney, Scarlett), 13:52 (pp). Penalties — Allen, Hfd (delay of game), 9:22; McIlrath, Hfd, double-minor (cross-checking, roughing), 13:45; McPherson, Alb (hooking), 16:40.

Third Period — 5, Albany, Sislo 20 (Scarlett, Whitney), 14:02 (pp). 6, Albany, Boucher 15 (Thompson, Sestito), 18:56 (en). Penalties — Bodie, Hfd (tripping), 13:55.

Shots on goal — Hartford 9-9-10 — 28. Albany 8-8-10 — 26.

Power-play opportunities — Hartford 2 of 4; Albany 2 of 5.

Goalies — Hartford, Danis 17-15-4 (25 shots-22 saves). Albany, Clemmensen 12-11-2 (28-26).

A — 5,345. T — 2:14.

Referee — Keith Kaval. Linesmen — Frank Murphy, Mike Emanatian.

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