By Rob Chakler
TRENTON, N.J. – It’s hard to fathom, but the Trenton Devils have forced a Game 7 Tuesday at home, having come back from 3-1 series deficit against Elmira in the Kelly Cup Playoffs North Division semifinal.
You can make the argument they’ve been outplayed more so than they have controlled the play in the series, but judging by the turnaround from the regular season’s start to finish, it’s not a shock that the T-Devils will host the decisive game Tuesday at Sovereign Bank Arena.
Trenton was able to keep its season alive with back-to-back overtime wins on consecutive nights — with travel — including Sunday’s double-overtime win courtesy of Eric Castonguay, who came up with his first professional playoff goal.
“Two games in overtime, the momentum is up and playing at home is probably easier, but they have a good team,” Castonguay said. “They could have won that game, and (Game 7) won’t be easy.”
Each game has brought something different to the table, and it seems the T-Devils’ defeats have come in all different shapes and sizes. But it hasn’t detracted them from their pursuit of the Kelly Cup.
They’ve lost in regulation, lost in four overtimes and were even blown out 5-0 in Game 3, after splitting the first two games of the series at home. But that’s been the T-Devils’ M.O. the entire season: never knowing when to call it quits.
After that Game 3 loss — one of the worst of the season — the coaching staff made a change, replacing goalie Gerald Coleman with Jeff Frazee, the Devils’ 2005 second-round draft pick out of the University of Minnesota.
Frazee, who turns 22 on May 13, started the season with Trenton, but played the majority of the season with Lowell in the American Hockey League. He compiled a 28-22-6 record with a 2.62 goals-against-average and a .920 save percentage in the AHL.
But since Lowell missed the playoffs, the organization felt it was in the best interest for young Frazee to get his feet wet in the playoffs with Trenton.
In three playoff games thus far, he seems to be adjusting rather well. After dropping Game 4 in his first postseason start, he bounced back with two overtime wins to get this team back in the series and is poised to extend Trenton’s postseason with a win Tuesday.
He’s won two of his first three games and has a 1.69 goals-against-average to go with a .934 save percentage in the playoffs — not too shabby for a rookie.
“There were a lot of things to be talked about,” Frazee said about the decision to return to Trenton. “(Devils GM) Lou Lamoriello called me up and told me what he thought would be best for me … It’s fun, as long as we’re winning that’s the main thing. My defensemen are playing really well in front of me and limiting their chances and tying up sticks, so I owe them a lot of what’s going on here.”
Replacing Coleman could have been a sticky situation for this team. He was one of the main catalysts for turning this team around, and now the team is in the playoffs and he’s on the bench during the most crucial games of the season.
Coleman boasted a 27-8-2 record through the regular season, recording three shutouts and a stellar 2.38 goals-against-average, and helped lead the team to a second-place finish in the North Division.
Frazee’s time in Trenton in the beginning of the year, however, made the transition a lot easier since he was familiar with the guys in the dressing room.
“I knew a lot of the guys starting out down here so that really helped me,” Frazee said. “At least I knew somebody coming into the team, and that way they knew me and wouldn’t feel like someone was trying to steal Coleman’s thunder because he’s played well all year. So it was very good I had that experience in the beginning of the year.”
Frazee was 2-2 with Trenton before getting the call-up. He earned his first professional win, which was also the T-Devils first of the season, on Oct. 25 in a 5-4 shootout win over Wheeling.
He’s been away from the team for six months, but is playing at a level as if he never left. The T-Devils will need one more strong performance from him to advance Tuesday.
Elmira is facing elimination for the first time in the series, which can bode well for the T-Devils considering how they’ve played with their backs to the wall.
“What’s good about this is we’ve been fighting for our lives for three games now,” T-Devils coach Rick Kowalsky said. “I expect it to be the same hard-fought battle that the last three games have been.”