It didn’t take long for these guys to fall back into a rhythm in Albany.
Five players were sent back to the AHL squad on loan from the New Jersey Devils last week, and they helped Albany close out the season with a pair of wins.
The Albany Devils topped Portland in a shootout Wednesday and Northeast Division champion Springfield, 5-2, on Saturday to complete a 40-win regular season, capped by a string of five straight victories.
Albany will look to make it six straight when it opens the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs Friday against St. John’s.
Defensemen Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill were sent down and will provide solid blue-line play and some special teams minutes. The loan gives Albany 10 defensemen and some tough lineup choices for coach Rick Kowalsky.
Forwards Tim Sestito and Mike Sislo also returned to Albany, where both spent the majority of the season before late stints with New Jersey. As they did in Newark, they skated as linemates Saturday, along with Joe Whitney, and accounted for the eventual game-winning goal on a second-period rush. As with the defensemen, they provide options for the Devils in all situations.
The addition of talent and depth should provide a boost to a franchise that has not been to the playoffs since it was located in Lowell, Mass., in 2010.
“I think playoffs in general is just a breath of fresh air,” Sestito said. “It’s a long season, 76 games to get to this point. I know guys are hungry. Myself, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the playoffs. Some guys haven’t been in it in the American League — juniors and college, yes.”
The 10th-year pro said any advice he has for those young players would be no different from the message he offers all year.
The Devils secured their playoff berth Wednesday and were just playing for seeding on Saturday. After that game, Sestito said the importance of every shift should be enough to sustain the focus and work ethic of the younger players.
“We’ve got guys who have won Mem Cups in there, so they know what it takes,” he said. “I think everyone’s excited because the games just mean more. Sometimes it’s tough going out and playing games that don’t mean a whole lot, like this one. Yeah, maybe for seeding, but we knew we were in. I think we gave a good effort, but now, when every little play matters, I think the boys are pretty excited for that.”
Whether or not it was because the Devils had already clinched a berth, Gelinas didn’t get the effort he wanted from himself on Saturday. He was glad, though, to be playing and staying fresh instead of sitting and resting, and he said his disappointment will sharpen his focus for Friday’s first-round opener.
He played 60 games with New Jersey this season and only 13 with Albany. The third-year pro has not been to the postseason since his last year in juniors with the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2011.
“I was happy to get some more playing time,” he said of being sent back to Albany. “I haven’t made the playoffs in three years, professionally, so it’s going to be fun and I’m looking forward to it starting.
“My last junior year, I went for a long run in the playoffs. [With Albany] we came close both years, but I think this year they really worked hard. We put ourselves in a great position.”