He just had to keep pace. Nolan Patrick, in the day’s other early NHL game, scored the overtime winner in his game for the Flyers. Nico Hischier topped Patrick’s day by scoring not the just the OT winner in his game, but also the game tying goal in the third period. Nico was the hero of the day as the Devils came away with a 3-2 OT win over the Habs up in Montreal.
But before we get to that, we’ll start with the injuries, which just seem to keep mounting. Travis Zajac was the latest victim of the injury bug, as he did not travel with the team to Montreal following what seems to be a lower body injury versus the Rangers on Thursday. Zajac, a key penalty killer for New Jersey, joins a growing list that includes Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Ben Lovejoy, Joey Anderson and others. (Speaking of Anderson, Steve Cangiolosi mentioned during the game that he practiced with the team yesterday and could be close to returning.)
Yes, the Devils are the walking wounded right now, but when someone goes down, it creates opportunity for someone else. Kurtis Gabriel slotted into the lineup to replace Zajac and Blake Coleman was moved up and over to center the second line. Also, Hischier was given the “A” on his jersey to replace Zajac as an alternate captain.
In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood was back and between the pipes. Coach John Hynes felt that he “deserve(d) to have the net today” and they were back to him. He stopped a whopping 37 of 39 shots the Habs threw at him for a .949 save percentage and was named the game’s first star. The Canadiens had a tough situation since Carey Price was suspended for one game for missing the All-Star Game and they turned to Antti Niemi instead. Niemi saved 24 of 27 shots he saw for an .889 save percentage.
This game was also Montreal’s first game in ten days as they were coming off of their bye week. But they were 5-1-0 in their last six prior. One place where the Canadiens have struggled was their power play. They were at 13-percent efficiency coming into this game – good to be tied for last in the NHL. Speaking of the power play, the Devils continued their little roll that they have been on, going 1-for-3 with the man advantage today (four shots) plus adding a shorthanded shot. The Habs were 0-for-3 with seven shots on Blackwood. They also had a shorthanded shot on net.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi got the goal-scoring kicked off for Montreal when he notched one 5:22 into the game. Jordie Benn kept a Devils’ clearing attempt in the zone and Artturi Lehkonen made a slick backhanded pass to Kotkaniemi, who snapped the puck by Blackwood. That made it 1-0 with the Devils behind the eight ball early.
And it would take nearly the entire period to get that one back. Benn went off for tripping at 17:22 and then Shea Weber was nabbed for high-sticking Kyle Palmieri 20 seconds later to put the Devils on a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:40. At the 19:16 mark of the period, Marcus Johansson, Palmieri and Will Butcher finished off a nice passing play with Butcher firing one cleanly by Niemi to even the score. With that, the Devils still had 20 seconds of power play time remaining on the Weber penalty, but they could not convert on that and the first period expired.
At the 14:25 mark of the second, Gabriel took a roughing call when he dropped his gloves following some pushing and shoving post-play, but Nicolas Deslauriers would not engage. Although Montreal would not score on that power play, Phillip Danault did connect just as it expired at 16:33. He redirected a Jeff Petry backhand shot in front to give the Habs the 2-1 lead. Max Domi had the other assist.
But from there on, Blackwood would hold the fort down and Nico Hischier would provide the scoring and the Devils would be on their way to two points.
It began midway through the third when Kevin Rooney got on a loose puck in the Montreal zone, getting it to Nico in front of the net. Hischier then roofed the puck past Niemi to tie things at two. It was a good puck battle win for Rooney and paid off when Hischier finished it.
A scary moment late in regulation as Egor Yakovlev took a shot to the back of the head. He went down and Domi, who was battling with him in front of the Devils’ net, signaled to the Devils’ bench to get the trainer out. Yakovlev had a gash on the back of his head, but seemed to be responding to the trainer on the bench. Hopefully he is okay.
Once regulation expired and we headed to overtime, both teams came out full bore. The Devils only had two OT wins this season (with Hischier getting the OT win at home against Vegas and Drew Stafford icing a shootout win in Arizona) while the Habs were 5-5 in OT games.
Montreal hit a post early as the Devils dodged a bullet, but it was Nico Hischier who would finish things off for the Devils. Mirco Mueller bought time in the neutral zone, then connected with his fellow countryman on a pass. Nico came up the left wing with speed and curled wide, roofing the puck from an odd angle to beat Niemi and give the Devils the 3-2 OT win. For his efforts, Hischier was named the game’s second star. Kotaniemi was the third star of the game.
The Devils were out shot by the Canadiens, 39 to 27, won only 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs and were out hit 28-27. They did, however, block more shots at 24 to six. New Jersey had more giveaways at 20 to the Habs’ 12.
Individually, Damon Severson once again led all Devils skaters in ice time with 24:20 logged (1:45 of PP time and 3:47 on the PK). Hischier led the forwards, stepping up for Zajac with 20:28 (2:53 on the power play and 25 seconds shorthanded). Palmieri and Miles Wood led in shots on goal with four each, Blake Coleman led in hits with six, blocked shots was a three-way tie with Brian Boyle, Andy Greene and Butcher each blocking four and takeaways saw Palmieri, Pavel Zacha and Brett Seney each log one.
Next up, the Devils will take on the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday back in Newark for a 7 PM puck drop. I will be attending this game live, so my report may be a little late in getting up. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment in the section below as they are always appreciated. Enjoy the Super Bowl tomorrow!