Kinkaid Becomes Devils’ “Block-aid”

It’s a long way from Farmingville, Long Island to the National Hockey League.

Or is it?

When it comes to Keith Kinkaid, the answer is yes — and no.

No, because nobody ever figured that the nice fellow next door from a Suffolk County hamlet ever could complete the trek from obscure hockey to The Show at The Rock.

Then again, yes, because the 28-year-old Union College alumnus is built of stronger stuff than your average run-of-the-minors puck-stopper.

What’s more, he just might be the key element to catapult New Jersey into a playoff berth; rare as that has been lately. With the Florida Panthers suddenly hot, there’s a neck-and-neck race between the Devs and Cats for the last post-season spot.

The Devils will complete their arduous six-game road trip on Friday against the Penguins before returning home on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Figure Keith to play in one of those two contests.

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Kinkaid’s dad, John, claims that motivation is his son’s forte and has been since Keith was knee-high to a grasshopper.

“You don’t see it outwardly,” said John Kinkaid, “but he wants to play every game if he could. He’s not shying away from playing any team because he feels he can do that. It’s been that way since he was a little kid.”

That giddyap-and-go helps explain why Kinkaid has emerged this season as a decisive cog in New Jersey’s homestretch bid for a playoff berth.

With five road games out of a total of six in the books, Keith has made yet another case for stepping out of Cory Schneider‘s shadow, although most critics believe that the latter will remain Top Banana between the pipes.

Meanwhile, the goaltending situation took a hit in San Jose when Schneider was yanked midway in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots.

But meaningful wins in recent weeks have added luster to Kinkaid’s resume. Following two-pointers in Nashville and Las Vegas, Kinkaid & Co. moved down to Los Angeles where Keith won again; stopping all 38 pucks shot his way.

Prior to the Nashville game, the Predators were enjoying a 10-game winning streak, but Keith put an end to that faster than you can say “shootout.”

As a matter of fact, the home club tallied the first goal before many fans finished their pre-game hot dogs. Frankly, it looked like Kinkaid was going to be vulcanized by the rubber.

But he put his nerves in mothballs and turned into something akin to a double-brick-wall. Meanwhile, his mates got a pair and gave him a tiny cushion with which to work.

Nursing a one-goal lead late in the third period, Keith relinquished the tying counter with 1:06 remaining.

But Kinkaid hung tough in the overtime and then beat the pernicious Preds in a five-round Shootout. Keith had to foil Nashville’s best shooters in four out of five attempts.

“I was a little too amped up to start the game,” Kinkaid averred. “It was a big game and maybe I had a little too much coffee and espresso.

“But once I settled down after the first period, I felt confident and calm. The boys played right from the get-go and kept on them the whole period.”

While pinch-hitting for injured Schneider in the month of February, Kinkaid kept the Good Ship Devil from sinking out of playoff contention.

Schneider’s underwhelming three-game return from injury prompted coach John Hynes to insert Kinkaid — and the move paid unexpected dividends.

Keith was inserted between the pipes against three formidable franchises; first the Predators in Nashville, the Golden Knights in Vegas, and the Kings in LA.

No slouch in those venues, the lanky aspirant for a Number One role, went — 3-2 in the Music City Shootout, 8-3 in a Sin City rout and 3-0 in Tinseltown.

“Frankly,” Kinkaid asserted, “I really don’t care if I win 3-2, 8-3 or with a shutout as long as we get the two points.”

Loosey-goosey as fits his personality, Keith showed up in L.A. wearing an outrageously green (St. Patrick’s Day) suit adorned with white shamrocks. He should have had 38 clovers for the number of saves he made against the Kings.

A night later, the Devils were in Anaheim with coach Hynes opting to test the Long Islander on back-to-back days. The results were not favorable for the Devs, though, as they fired only 17 shots at Ducks goalie John Gibson. Keith stopped 32 of the 35 rubbers he faced.

Kinkaid was understandably subdued after the loss. But MSG Network viewers who The Maven has polled also like the Kinkaid on-camera interviews with Deb Placey, the Devils’ MSG host.

Jonathan Liss, a Devils season ticket-holder, finds interviews with Kinkaid fascinating.

“He comes across like a fun-loving kid,” Liss observed in an e-mail. “Keith is very genuine and transparent in his feelings and that bonds him with the fans. His tweets also suggest that he’s into it; a blue-collar type.”

Notwithstanding the new attention Kinkaid receives, he’s keenly aware that the Main Man for years has been Martin Brodeur‘s successor, Schneider. But when Cory was injured, Keith turned a personality corner, with new confidence.

He started 12 of 16 games during Schneider’s injury absence. After Cory’s return on March 1, the two goalies alternated starts.

“At the beginning (of his starting stints),” Kinkaid remembered, “I was trying to do too much. Then, I really learned more about the starting position. I got comfortable with it and came into my own.”

A total realist and member of the Goaltenders’ Union, he knows that other backup goalies — try Antti Raanta and Cam Talbot — moved into Number One roles after winning attention as backups.

“Hey, you never want to see your partner go down but I feel I can do the job,” Kinkaid said. “All I needed — like Raanta and Talbot — was a chance to prove myself.”

Actually, he began proving himself as a successful athlete as early as age five in Suffolk County. In addition to hockey, Keith starred at baseball and lacrosse. A youthful friend added that Kinkaid  “was also awesome at video games.”

Including a pair of seasons at Union College, Kinkaid climbed the hockey ladder until he reached the Devils. Last summer, he inked a two-year, $2.5 contract extension with New Jersey, forgoing free agency.

There’s no guarantee, however, that he’s in the NHL — or with the Devils — to stay. But if New Jersey does make the playoffs, it will help Keith’s future.

A tough, candid critic coach Hynes puts it simply, “Kinkaid’s done a nice job. Carrying the load has been a new experience for him, He certainly has built up equity.”

Bet that Keith’s equity will grow even more if he and his mates make the postseason!

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