Devils Party Like It’s 1999, But Fall to Pens

The Devils celebrated 90’s Night at Prudential Center tonight, with everything from music and movie clips from the decade shown on the video board to none other than David Puddy himself, actor Patrick Warburton, showing up to drop the ceremonial faceoff puck.

But aside from all of that hoopla, they were also trying to win their third straight game and sweep the season series from the Pittsburgh Penguins. On those fronts, they failed, losing 4-3 in what was a hard fought loss for New Jersey.

In a nice little bit of coincidence, one of the few Devils alive for the entire decade of the 1990’s, Travis Zajac, was celebrating a milestone tonight. He was playing in his 900th NHL contest (all with the Devils), which puts him at sixth on the Devils’ all-time games played list. One stat that the MSG broadcast mentioned that I thought was really appropriate as regards Travis, he has won 7,860 faceoffs since his rookie year of 2006-07, the most on the Devils in that span. A testament not only to his longevity, but also to his abilty to excel in the faceoff circle. Congratulations to Travis on this great milestone.

Roster-wise, the Devils got Blake Coleman back off of injured reserve. Nick Lappin was sent back to Binghamton to make room on the roster for him. Coleman played primarily on a the third line, centering Kenny Agostino and Joey Anderson. Pavel Zacha missed his second straight game as he was a scratch today and is day-to-day. Steven Santini and Kurtis Gabriel were the healthy scratches.

In goal, the Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid. This was partly because Cory Schneider had played in the parts of the last three games and because Kinkaid had seemingly had Pittsburgh’s number this season. He made 24 saves on 28 shots against for an .857 save percentage. Facing him was Matt Murray, who stopped 33 of 36 shots for a .917 save percentage and was just better tonight than Kinkaid was.

The special teams are something that the Devils needed to be aware of against the Penguins. Their power play needs no introduction and they went 1-for-2 on the night with two shots. They also had three shorthanded shots. The Devils were 0-for-2 with three shots on the power play.

The Devils got on the board to start when the Devils won a faceoff deep in the Pittsburgh zone 2:14 into the game. The puck came back to Mirco Mueller who gave the puck to Marcus Johansson, who then immediately found a nice seam to Jesper Bratt. Bratt then fired from a weird angle and beat Murray to make it 1-0 Devils. Both Mueller (two assists), Johansson (a goal and an assist) and Bratt (a goal and an assist) had a multi-point game. For Mueller, this was his first multi-point game as a Devil.

Then some controversy, as Zach Aston-Reese, a Staten Island kid who played youth hockey for the New Jersey Rockets, scored at 6:49. This goal occurred a minute after the Pens had six men on the ice. The too many men penalty was nearly called too, until the officials conferenced and decided not to call it. Devils’ coach John Hynes mentioned in his post game presser on MSG that he received an explanation for the referees, but did not fully understand it. He said that these things happen in the course of a game. Aston-Reese got assists on the goal from Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin and the score was now tied at one.

Johansson would put the Devils back on top at 12:17 of the first when he stole the puck from Phil Kessel at the Devils blue line and was off ot the races. He came up the right wing boards and cut in tight, backhanding it between Murray’s glove and his near post. It was a pretty goal and one that made it 2-1 Devils.

But Pittsburgh would tie things up before the first intermission on the power play. It came at 18:24 while Brett Seney was serving a tripping penalty and came off of the stick of newly-acquired Nick Bjugstad. He took a pass from Marcus Pettersson at the top of the near faceoff circle and fired it over Kinkaid’s shoulder. Dominik Simon had the secondary assist on the goal. The game was tied up at two apiece as we were headed for the first intermission.

The second period was where things began to fall apart for the Devils. At 10:45, the Penguins took the 3-2 lead when Jake Guentzel came up the left wing wall and centered a pass to Bryan Rust. Rust’s shot trickled by Kinkaid to give the Pens the one goal advantage.

Six minutes and about 16 seconds later, the Pens put the hammer down when, following a scramble in front where Kinkaid made a few nice saves, Evgeni Malkin got the puck back to Chad Ruhwedel at the point. He fired a puck that fluttered by Kinkaid. Toronto checked the goal to make sure it was not tipped in front by a high stick, but Ruhwedel’s shot had cleanly beat Kinkaid. That goal made it 4-2 Penguins.

The Devils would get some hope when Miles Wood drove up the left wing at 15:10, using a power move to slide the puck by Murray to make it 4-3. Damon Severson and Zajac had the assists on the goal. The Devils seemed to be poised for another comeback, until Blake Coleman was called for tripping Dumoulin at the 17:09 mark of the third. If the Devils killed this off, which they did, then that would leave them with about 51 seconds with which to work with to get things tied. They pulled Kinkaid with a little over 30 seconds to go, but to no avail. The Penguins hung on for the 4-3 win.

As Steve Cangialosi of MSG stated, 2009-10 remains the last time the Devils have swept a season series from Pittsburgh, when they went 6-0-0 against the Pens.

The Devils ended up out shooting the Penguins 36-28 and won 56-percent of the game’s faceoffs. They also out hit the Pens, 23-15 and had more blocked shots at 11 to Pittsburgh’s eight. Tellingly, the Devils had ten more giveaways than the Pens at 13-3.

Individually, Marcus Johansson had a great game, leading the Devils in shots on goal with eight and blocks with four, hits were led by Coleman with five. Kevin Rooney led in takeaways with three. Just for the record, Travis Zajac won 60-percent of the faceoffs he took on the night. Time on ice was led by Severson with 22:46 (including 2:20 on the power play and 1:15 shorthanded). Zajac led the forwards with 21:47 (2:02 on the PP and 1:59 killing penalties).

Next up, the Devils will host the last place Ottawa Senators on Thursday in a battle of two of the NHL’s “no so best.” Will Matt Duchene still be a Senator by Thursday? We will find out. I will be attending this game live, so my post will be up a little bit later than usual. In the meantime, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Devils Double Up Penguins 6-3

The Devils have not been a good road team this season, that is well documented. They did not get their first win away from Prudential Center until November 5, which happened to be at Pittsburgh, and have only gotten four more since then. But the key here is that they seem to really match up well against the Penguins. They have played the Pens three times this season and have won all three games. Call it respect, call it getting up for a tough opponent, whatever it is the Devils seem to have the Penguins’ number. Coming out of their bye week, the Devils defeated the Pens 6-3 at PPG Paints Arena.

Some roster news to begin. Cam Johnson was called up from Binghamton to back up Keith Kinkaid tonight, as Mackenzie Blackwood was down in the AHL playing in the All-Star Classic in Springfield, Massachusetts. The team wanted to give him the opportunity to do that which is why he was sent down. Other call ups for the Devils include Egor Yakovlev, who was scratched tonight and Kurtis Gabriel – also a scratch. Defenseman Ben Lovejoy was placed on Injured Reserve retroactive to January 15. Miles Wood was activated off of IR and played tonight (primarily on the second line with Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman), recording an assist in the game. Taylor Hall, as per Bryce Salvador of MSG+, has been working out back in New Jersey and should be back in the line up later in the week. Not sure if he means the Ranger game or what, but that is certainly good news.

Keith Kinkaid had not registered a win since January 4. But he was well rested coming out of the eight day break the Devils had and played well toinght. He made 37 saves on 40 shots against for a .925 save percentage in getting the W. Opposing him was Matt Murray, who stopped 26 of 32 Devils shots total for a .813 save percentage.

Special teams-wise, the Devils were 2-for-5 on the power play with six shots. They also registered three shorthanded shots and scored on one of them. Pittsburgh was 0-for-5 on the power play with seven shots. They also had five shorthanded shots, scoring on one of them.

The Devils got the scoring kicked off when Travis Zajac, who would go on to have a great night with four points in being named the game’s first star. He scored at 13:08 of the first period and scored shooting through a screen off of a nice feed from Wood. Steven Santini had the secondary helper. It was 1-0 Devils about halfway through the first.

Damon Severson would double the Devils up 1:45 later. On this goal, he jumped up into the play, took a pass from Blake Coleman, and was all alone in the slot. He beat Murray for his fourth point of the year versus Pittsburgh this season. Zajac had the other assist. Coleman, with two points on the night, would be named the game’s second star. The Devils had the 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

Early in the second, at the 2:26 mark, Sami Vatanen was called for holding Jake Guentzel’s stick and the Pens were on the power play. At the 3:30 mark, Brian Boyle scored his fourth goal in the PPG Paints Arena this season when he found net shorthanded from Pavel Zacha. Zacha stole the puck from Evgeni Malkin just inside of the Pittsburgh blue line, shielded the puck and sent a one-handed pass to Boyle (who was going to the net). Boyle had a hat trick in his last game in this building and had given the Devils a 3-0 lead tonight. Zacha would finish the game with a goal and an assist (like Coleman) and was named the game’s third star.

Just as the penalty ended, however, Derick Brassard scored for the Penguins when Marcus Petterson faked a shot and passed to Brassard, who was cutting backdoor. This goal came at the 4:28 mark and Juuso Riikola had the other assist. It was now 3-1 Devils.

But Coleman would put New Jersey back up by three at the 12:57 mark of the second. It came off of a broken play as Zajac settled down a bouncing puck and dished to Coleman, who sniped one upstairs over Murray’s glovehand. Will Butcher had the secondary and the Devils were up 4-1 going into the second break.

Then the turning point: at the 9:12 mark of the third period, Brassard hit Vatanen high, Vatanen was cut by his face shield and Brassard took a game misconduct penalty for elbowing. He was gone and the Devils were on a five minute extended power play. The All-Star, Kyle Palmieri, who was teammates with Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang the other night in San Jose, scored first on the PP. His came off of a quick passing play between Marcus Johansson, Zajac and Palmieri. Palmieri was cutting backdoor and sniped the puck in past Murray. This made it 5-1 Devils.

Matt Cullen would add one shorthanded at 12:30 when Kinkaid settled the puck down behind his net on a lackadaisical play and Cullen, who became the oldest player in Penguins history to play a game tonight, cut in and stole it, going ot the front of the net and shooting upstairs over Kinkaid’s glove. That cut it to 5-2 and was scored unassisted.

But the Devils would get that one back at 13:37, scoring another power play when Pavel Zacha was wide open at the bottom of the far faceoff circle as the Pens overloaded to one side of the ice on the PK. Zacha took a pass from Andy Greene and scored, making it 6-2 New Jersey.

Bryan Rust would get one more for Pittsburgh, at 18:03, when he took a pass from Malkin and got in behind the Devils’ defense. He went backhand through the five hole to beat Kinkaid give us our final of 6-3. Brian Dumoulin had the other assist on this one.

Overall, the Devils were out shot 40 to 32, won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs and held a slight edge in hits at 38-37. The Devils had more blocked shots too, 22 to nine and less giveaways at seven to Pittsburgh’s four.

Individually, Greene led all skaters in ice time with 23:01 tot al (includes 59 seconds on the PP and 8:32 on the PK). Zajac led the forwards with 19:34 of total time (3:33 on the power play and 4:57 shorthanded). Vatanen led in shots on goal with five, Coleman led in hits with seven, Santini led blocked shots with four and Coleman and Palmieri both led in takeaways with one each.

Next up, the Devils and Rangers finally get it on during the 2018-19 season. The two rivals have not yet faced each other this season, but on Thursday at The Rock, that will change. We will have that for you right here, and will try to get the AHL All-Star Game up tomorrow as well. Until then, enjoy your week and don’t forget to leave a comment if you like. It is always appreciated.

Devils Snap Skid, Defeat Pens at Home

The Devils got back from what was a disastrous road trip and were set to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins at home. A tall order, but one the Devils were ready for. The lone win on their trip came in Pittsburgh and last night, they beat the Penguins at Prudential Center 4-2.

I was able to attend the game and was there for Martin Brodeur Hall of Fame Night. Marty was on hand to drop the ceremonial faceoff prior to the game between Devils captain Andy Greene and Pens captain Sidney Crosby. There was special merchandise in the team store, a display of Marty’s more historical jerseys in the concourse, patches won on the current Devils’ uniforms and an interview that was shown during the second intermission between Marty and NHL Network host EJ Hradek. It was a great tribute to a man who changed a franchise.

But now on to the game itself. Some roster moves for the Devils, as Brian Boyle was placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury and Nico Hischier would miss the game with an upper body injury as well. Drew Stafford and Egor Yakovlev were the other scratches along with Hischier. Pavel Zacha was recalled from Binghamton to take Hischier’s place on the roster.

In goal, Keith Kinkaid was back for the Devils making 29 saves on 31 Pittsburgh shots. The Penguins went with Casey DeSmith. He stopped 31 shots against the Devils’ 34 on him. The Devils finished the game with 35 shots total, as they added an empty netter later on.

The Devils got on the board just 28 seconds into the game when Travis Zajac scored from Taylor Hall and Damon Severson. It was the start of a big night for all three of them. That goal came when Hall reversed the puck back into the Penguins’ zone. Severson got a chop at it to try to put it in and DeSmtih could not corral the rebound. Zajac was right there to hammer it home and give the Devils the 1-0 lead.

But the Pens would tie things up before the first intermission. Phil Kessel scored from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the power play (set up when Stefan Noesen was called for high sticking at 13:12) at 13:57. The Pittsburgh power play was still as surgical as ever and it showed here.

The second period was a wild one for the Devils. It began when Severson scored his third of the year from Hall and Jesper Bratt at 8:06. That came when Bratt found Hall behind the Pittsburgh net. Hall then passed to Severson, camped out at the top of the slot, who boomed a one-timer past DeSmith to make it 2-1 Devils.

And the Devils would come oh-so-close to making it 3-1 in this period. At the midway point of the second, Bratt had seemingly scored but the whistle had actually been blown behind the play where Kessel and Brett Seney had gotten into it. This resulted in Kessel receiving two roughing minors and Seney one. The Devils would be on the power play, but would not find the back of the net. The Pens went 1-for-3 with the man advantage, generating two shots on Kinkaid (they also had two shorthanded shots) and the Devils were 0-for-2 with two shots (they had two shorthanded shots as well).

Early in the third period, the Penguins would again tie things up, at two this time. Jake Guentzel scored from Crosby and Kessel at 4:04. Crosby appeared to bump Kinkaid on the rush, leaving Guentzel clear to put the rebound into the net. The Devils used their coach’s challenge but the call on the ice stood, it was a good goal. The crowd was not happy about this to say the least. The noise level picked up considerably with the booing and razzing of the refs.

But the Devils were not done. Hall would scored at the 8:07 mark from Zajac and Kyle Palmieri to give the Devils back the lead. The assist was Zajac’s 300th career NHL assist. This goal developed on the rush when Palmieri lobbed the puck up to Zajac, who chipped it ahead to Hall. Hall got in tight on DeSmith, deked to his forehand and went five hole to put the Devils ahead 3-2.

The Pens would pull DeSmith with about two minutes remaining and Hall, on his way to being named the game’s first star, scored into the empty net from Noesen with less than 30 seconds left in the game to ice it.

The Devils won 49-percent of the game’s faceoffs and were outhit by a wide margin 32-16. The Devils recorded more blocks, 14-8, however.

Sami Vatanen once again led in total ice time with a huge 25:00 (1:23 on the power play, 2:26 on the PK). Zajac led the forwards with 22:57 total ice time (1:21 on the PP and 3:03 on the PK). Hall and Ben Lovejoy each fired six shots on goal while hits were led by Zacha with four. Blocks were led by Hall, Palmieri, Zacha and Greene who each had two apiece. Palmieri and Zacha led in takeaways with two each.

Next up, the Devils travel down to Philly to take on the Flyers on Thursday at 7 PM. We will have coverage right here for you then. (Hopefully earlier!)

Devils Earn First Road Win Off Boyle Hat Trick

Coming into tonight’s game at PPG Paints Arena, both the Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins were on three-game losing streaks. Something needed to give for someone. And thanks to a little help from Brian Boyle, it was the Devils who got just what the doctor ordered. Boyle scored a natural hat trick over the course of the first and second periods to help lead the Devils to a 5-1 win in Pittsburgh.

Some things to get to first as Devils captain Andy Greene was playing in his 800th NHL game tonight in a well-deserved milestone. It was also Pittsbugh’s Hockey Fights Cancer Night, with three cancer survivors in the lineup for both teams: Brian Boyle, who survived leukemia and the Pens’ Phil Kessel (testicular cancer) and Olli Maatta (who survived thyroid cancer). This made it all the more fitting for Boyle’s accomplishment on the night. Also, the Devils were wearing special decals on the back of their helmets that said “Stronger Than Hate” in solidarity with the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh which was the target of an attack late last month.

Also, roster-wise, Joey Anderson was back in. He would go on to notch his first NHL point in the game. Kurtis Gabriel was out, as were Eddie Lack and Egor Yakovlev as the healthy scratches. As for those not-so-healthy ones, Stefan Noesen is still on injured reserve with an upper body injury and Steven Santini and Jesper Bratt remain out with fractured jaws. Noesen and Santini did not travel with the team while Bratt did.

Pittsburgh is always a threat, as they are tied for first in the league with 3.75 goals per game. How would the Devils handle the threat of Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby et al?

The answer was simply to score early and often. But also good goaltending. Keith Kinkaid stopped 35 of 36 shots on the night. The Pens threw out Matt Murray to start and he stopped 23 of 27 Devils shots. Casey DeSmith came in in relief in the third period and stopped 11 of 12 Devils shots. The Devils finished the game with 39 shots on goal.

Another key for the Devils were special teams, with the Devils going 2-for-4 on the power play and the Penguins being held 0-for-3. The Devils had three total shots on their power plays while Pittsburgh had five. Both teams ended with one shorthanded shots on goal. The Devils actually ended the game on the penalty kill when Boyle was called for hooking Carl Hagelin at 18:20 of the third period.

The Devils opened the scoring 2:24 into the game, with Will Butcher scoring from Anderson (his first NHL point) and former Penguin Jean-Sebastien Dea. The goal came when Dea won the faceoff deep in the Pittsburgh zone and Anderson took the puck, curled out from behind Dea and shot with the puck ending up on Butcher’s stick. He shot and beat Murray stick side to earn his first even strength point of the season. That made it 1-0 Devils.

The Penguins would have some push back, with Jamie Oleksiak scoring off of a laser beam, beating Kinkaid short-side. He got assists from Maatta and Jake Guentzel. That goal tied the score at 9:24 of the first.

The Devils would retake the lead before the end of the first period, though with Boyle setting things in motion for his hatty. He scored what would be the game winner at 12:27 from Ben Lovejoy and Dea. Anderson tried a wraparound and the puck squibbed over to Dea. He passed back to Lovejoy at the far point. Lovejoy fired and the puck appeared to go in cleanly through Brian Boyle’s screen, with the goal originally being credited to Lovejoy. But Boyle would get credit for the goal when it was apparent that he tipped the puck past Murray. That made it 2-1 Devils and they never looked back.

Boyle would complete his hat trick beginning at 7:38 of the second period. This one made it 3-1 and came on the power play from Kyle Palmieri and Butcher. Maatta was in the box for hooking Miles Wood and just seven seconds into the man advantage, Butcher went point-to-point with Palmieri, who fired on net. His shot was redirected in front by the big Boyle to give him his second of the game.

He would complete the hatty as a natural hat trick – three straight goals scored uninterrupted – at 19:40 also on the power play. He got assists from Taylor Hall and Butcher. It was set up when Patric Hornqvist gave Sami Vatanen a vicious cross check to the throat. That set off a melee that ended with Mirco Mueller and Jack Johnson also taking matching roughing penalties after Crosby went after Mueller and Johnson jumped Mueller when he threw some punches at Crosby. When the dust settled the Devils had the power play and Boyle would put them up 4-1. It came when Boyle fired a shot from the near faceoff circle with the rebound bouncing out to Hall at the far half wall. Hall found a seam and passed to Boyle, who was still camped out at the faceoff circle. He let loose from the dot and beat Murray glove side to extend the Devils’ lead to three goals.

Boyle’s hat trick was the first of his NHL career and the first Devils hat trick in Pittsburgh since John Madden and Randy McKay each scored four goals there on Ocotber 28, 2000. This info comes from Steve Cangialosi on the MSG+ broadcast.

DeSmith would come in to start the third period and it would not take the Devils long to get one by him. Just 19 seconds into the third frame, Travis Zajac scored his fourth of the season from Damon Severson and Marcus Johansson to give us our final of 5-1. That one developed when Johansson dropped the puck for Severson at the far wall. Severson then found an open seam and fed Zajac, who finished into a wide open near side of the net. For Johansson, that assist was the 200th assist of his NHL career.

So to recap, Boyle ended the night with three goals, JS Dea had two assists and Butcher finished with a goal and two assists. Not a bad way to break out of a funk. As you would imagine, Boyle was the game’s first star, Butcher the second while Dea was the third star in his return to Pittsburgh. But it was a total team effort, really.

The Devils ended the game having won 42-percent of the game’s faceoffs but were outhit 49-44. They did block more shots at 22-15.

Vatanen finished the night with the most ice time with 21:34 (1:38 on the power play and 49 seconds on the penalty kill) while Hall led all forwards with 17:40 (including 3:48 on the PP). Shots on goal were led by Hall, Boyle, Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Lovejoy who all had four. Boyle led in hits with eight while Greene led in blocks with four. Dea beat his old team with two takeaways on the night to lead that category.

Next up, it is a very quick turnaround, as the Devils are playing their first of twelve back-to-backs this season. They play again tomorrow night in Ottawa against a Senators team that has been up-and-down this year. Puck drop tomorrow is 7 PM and we will have the recap for you right here.

Devils Blitz Pens at Prospects Challenge

The Devils’ rookies took the ice for their second game of the 2018 Prospects Challenge in Buffalo at HarborCenter and with the NFL season fully kicking off tomorrow, put up a football score on the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils won 6-2, after a five-goal outburst in the second period.

Brandon Gignac broke the seal on the game, scoring 12:32 into the first peirod from Yegor Sharangovich and Ryan Schmelzer. That goal came on the power play, on which the Devils went 2-for-10 on the afternoon.

The offensive cloudburst that came in the second began just 49 seconds into the new frame, with Blake Speers scoring from Brandon Baddock. That made it 2-0 Devils. Colby Sissons scored at 5:15 from Joey Anderson to make it 3-0 and the blitz was on.

At 6:42, Marian Studenic scored from John Quenneville to make it 4-0. Anderson notched his second point of the afternoon at 10:23 when he scored off an assist from Sissons to make it 5-0. Gignac wrapped up the Devils scoring at 13:45 of the second period when he connected from Jocktan Chainey on the power play to make it 6-0.

The Pens would break up the shutout, scoring two on the power play in the third (Troy Josephs at 7:19 and Adam Johnson at 10:35). Pittsburgh was 2-for-7 on the man advantage in the game.

After getting pushed around by the somewhat bigger and more physical Sabres yesterday, the Devils showed some fight today, literally, as Baddock fought Joseph Masonius at 19:05 of the third period. Baddock took the extra boarding minor on the play plus the fighting major.

Cam Johnson went between the pipes, making 32 saves on 34 Penguins shots for a .941 save percentage. For Pittsburgh, Tistan Cote-Cazenave started, stopping just 18 of 24 shots against. Christian Propp took over in net for the third period, turning aside all nine shots he faced.

The Devils finish up the 2018 Prospects Challenge on Monday when they take on the Boston Bruins at 9:30 AM.

Devils Pick Up Point, Fall in OT to Penguins

Travis Zajac’s line did a good job shutting down Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They also produced a goal in the 4-3 OT loss. Photo: Andy Martin/USA TODAY Sports

Major League Baseball began today, with the Mets getting a big win over St. Louis in Queens earlier. But while the baseball season is just beginning a marathon, the NHL and the Devils are coming down to the wire. Points are at a premium and New Jersey needs to pick them up.

They were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, a team that they were trying to sweep in a season series for the first time since the 2009-10 season. But that was not to be. The Devils lost 4-3 in overtime to the Pens, picking up only a point.

Some roster moves for the Devils to get to first. Patrick Maroon was back in, playing on the second line with Pavel Zacha and Michael Grabner (who was back in a top six role). Jesper Bratt was out up front, scratched along with Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford. Kyle Palmieri was moved up to the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico HIschier.

The checking line of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen would be called upon to contain the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin unit again, as they would be key if the Devils were to win this game and complete the sweep. That line along with the Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen defense pairing did a lot to stop those superstars tonight.

Also, on the injury front, Marcus Johansson has started practicing with the team. He had been skating on his own for a few days.

In goal, Keith Kinkaid was called on to do what he has been doing best down this stretch run for the Devils: get a win. This would be a little bit easier on home ice. The Pens, according to MSG+, were 15-20-4 (34 points) away from PPG Paints Arena coming into tonight. Kinkaid ended up making 31 saves on 35 shots.

Opposing him was Matt Murray. Murray made 28 stops on 31 Devils shots.

Kinkaid was tested early when the Penguins broke in on a 2-on-1 just seconds in. He made a big save and the game was off and rolling.

It was Murray who blinked first, though with Palmieri beating the Pens’ goalie at 12:18 of the first off an assist to Hischier. Nico was relentless meeting Malkin at the Devils’ blue line, stripping him of the puck and using a soccer-style play to kick the puck up to his stick. He dished off to Palmieri on the rush. Palmieri skated in and deked Murray using a head fake to open him up and scored through the five hole. It was a beautiful play as Hischier was relentless on the puck and Palmieri finished the play. It was 1-0 Devils.

Nico’s assist gave him 50 points on the year, making him the first rookie since Adam Henrique in 2011-12 to notch at least that many points.

But it would only take 25 seconds for a response from Pittsburgh. Conor Sheary scored at 12:44 from Patric Hornqvist and Jamie Oleksiak to tie things at one.

The Pens began the second period with Justin Schultz hitting the post right away to get the frame started. And Pittsburgh would grab the 2-1 lead when Kris Letang scored at the 6:59 mark from Carl Hagelin and Brian Dumoulin. On that one, Letang beat Kinkaid up high while he was all alone in the slot. The puck was on end and he just roofed it.

The Devils seemed to be behind the eight-ball, but at 13:40, Oleksiak was sent off for interfering with Maroon. It was then that Hall went to work. He scored his 34th of the season from Will Butcher. On that one, Maroon was strong on the forecheck and rushed the Pens’ clearing attempt. Butcher held the line and gave to Hall at the far point. Hall walked in, had time and space and shot a laser beam that clanged off of the far post and in. Maroon was providing a screen in front, just careful not to interfere with Murray and the game was tied up at two.

Overall on the night, the Devils were 1-for-3 on the power play with five shots on goal. The Devils kept the Penguins off of the scoresheet again on the power play, as Pittsburgh went 0-for-2 with five shots as well.

As if all of that action in the second period were not enough, the session ended with a spirited scrap between Miles Wood and Matt Hunwick. The fight got the crowd pumped up and into the game even more and things were at a fever pitch going into the third.

The Devils would oblige the home fans early on when Coleman scored at the 5:11 mark of the third frame to make it 3-2 Devils. Travis Zajac had the lone assist. It came on a delayed penalty against the Pens when Coleman intercepted a Pittsburgh clearing attempt at their blue line. He broke in with Zajac, giving to him and driving towards the net. He got the puck back and went to his backhand. Murray got the first one, but Coleman roofed his own rebound by him to put the Devils in front.

The Devils would hold that lead until the 11:26 mark when Hornqvist scored a weird one. His shot, which came off like a knuckle puck, took a perfect bounce behind Kinkaid and bounced off the post and into the net. Kinkaid clearly had some trouble with the shot as it beat him. That goal made it 3-3 and Hornqvist got assists from Dumoulin and Riley Sheahan.

After about a half a period of frantic, playoff-like action, the final horn sounded and the game went to overtime. It was in the OT period where Sidney Crosby took a pass from Letang 19 seconds into the extra session. He shot the puck off the post and batted his rebound out of mid-air and behind Kinkaid to win the game for Pittsburgh. It was a signature Crosby move (he has done it a few times before) and fitting for a day when the baseball season kicked off.

So where does that leave the Devils? In exactly the same place they were at the beginning of the night. The Panthers lost in OT on a penalty shot goal by the Senators to only take home a point. There remains three points separating the two teams. It was the best possible outcome for the Devils barring an outright Florida regulation loss.

Statistically, New Jersey won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were outshot by the Pens 35-31, were outhit 27-17 and out blocked 10-7. Individually, Vatanen led the way in ice time with 23:43, Hall led in shots with seven, Coleman, Greene and John Moore led in hits with three each, Brian Gibbons led in blocks with two and Hischier led in takeaways with three.

Next up, the Devils take on the Islanders at home this Saturday. It should be a good one, as a local rival who has already been eliminated from playoff contention will come in and try to play spoiler while the Devils just need to play their game and get two points. We will see you then.

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Devils End Road Trip With OT Win In Pittsburgh

Taylor Hall scored the OT winner just 27 seconds into the extra frame. It was his third OT winner of the season. Photo: Perry Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins have played about 16 home games in the past 78 nights. They have only two losses in that time period at PPG Paints Arena. After those two losses have both come against the New Jersey Devils.

After a Devils victory in Pittsburgh back on February 27, they notched an overtime win tonight, coming away with both points in a 4-3 barnburner.

The Devils did get some help from the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday in the playoff race, as the Jackets defeated Florida Panthers to keep them away from New Jersey in the standings. The Devils would take advantage of that help by ending their road trip 4-2-0, taking a eight of a possible 12 points.

According to the MSG+ pregame show, Ben Lovejoy was summoned by the coaching staff to give a speech after practice yesterday. He told the team, basically, that they were a good team and one that they must collect points to get to the playoffs. The point seemed to be that the Devils just had to continue to play the way they have and that would sustain them. That seemed to be enough to pump the Devils up to end their trip on a winning note.

They also got reinforcement when Pavel Zacha joined the team in Pittsburgh and played tonight for the first time since his injury March 6 against Montreal. The Devils would be missing Miles Wood, who remains out following his upper body injury suffered in Anaheim. Jimmy Hayes, Mirco Mueller and Stefan Noesen also sat while Jesper Bratt slotted back in up front.

In net, the Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid has been the hot hand and the Devils went right back to him. He played amazing at times in notching his first-ever 20 win season tonight. He stopped 40 of 43 Penguins shots. The Pens threw out Matt Murray, who is playing his first games back after missing a block of time due to a concussion. He stopped 30 of 34 shots against.

The Devils did not look too good early on, as they got hemmed in early and Sidney Crosby was able to put in a rebound off of a Jamie Oleksiak shot. The goal came just 2:29 into the game and Jake Guentzel had the secondary assist. One-nothing Pens.

A scary moment in the second period when one of the linesmen, Tony Sericolo, fell and the Devils’ Brian Gibbons tripped over him. He was seemingly cut and had to leave the game to get stitched up. He would return about four or five minutes after the incident occurred at 11:03 of the first.

While the Pens grabbed the early lead in the first, the second period belonged to the Devils. It began at the 3:48 mark when Bryan Rust took a tripping call, putting the Devils on the power play. Will Butcher would convert, scoring his first goal since November 20, ending a 52 game goal drought.

Butcher skated the puck out from behind the Devils’ net, pushing it ahead to Taylor Hall. Hall broke into the Pens’ zone and found Damon Severson at the near point. Severson went point-to-point with a trailing Butcher, who was just joining the play. Butcher fired and beat Murray to tie things up at one.

For the night, the Devils were 1-for-2 on the power play with four shots on goal. Pittsburgh was held 0-for-2 with only two shots.

The goal that gave the Devils the lead was set up at the 8:36 mark of the second when Andy Greene and Carl Hagelin took coincidental minors – Greene for tripping and Hagelin for interference. The ensuing four-on-four would lead to a beautiful goal from Blake Coleman. That one came at 7:20 with assists to Drew Stafford and Zacha.

It began when Kinkaid made a nice save on a Pens’ 2-on-1. Zacha grabbed the puck, moving it ahead to Stafford, who headmanned it to Coleman, alone with one Penguin to beat behind the Pittsburgh blue line. He drove hard towards the net, keeping one hand on his stick and was able to backhand the puck, top shelf, by Murray. That made it 2-1 Devils.

New Jersey added an insurance goal at the 8:54 mark of the second when Nico Hischier scored to make it 3-1. It happened when the Devils broke into the Pens’ zone with numbers. Hall threaded a pass cross ice to John Moore in at the bottom of the near faceoff circle. Moore then threaded one back to Nico Hischier, who had fought to get all alone in the slot. He layed the puck in, all alone with an empty net in front of him. Three-one Devils.

The Devils had scored three goals in just 3:39. The Devils seemed to have things in control going into the third period. But this was Pittsburgh and these are the two-time defending champion Penguins we are talking about.

At 3:13 of the third, Crosby won a draw deep in the Devils’ zone, back to Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin scored to make it 3-2. The comeback was on.

Sure enough, at the 10:52 mark, Phil Kessel beat Kinkaid through a screen to tie the game at three. The assists went to Derick Brassard and Conor Sheary. The game was back to square one.

What ensued was about nine minutes of the most jaw-dropping, back-and-forth, end-to-end hockey that you have ever seen. Both goalies stood on their heads, some big breaks to both teams, including the Pens getting lucky on Michael Grabner’s shorthanded try somehow not going in.

When the dust settled, we were headed to overtime. Because that is just what a fan with a vested interest watching this game needed after enduring the final nine minutes of the third period.

But OT would not last long. The Devils started with Hall, Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier to start. Just 27 seconds in, Hall pushed the puck up the far boards in the Devils’ zone to Nico. Nico got into a puck battle along the boards with Kessel and was able to kick the puck to his stick blade, soccer-style. He had outmuscled one of the strongest Penguins and was able to throw the puck to an all-alone and in the clear Hall just outside the Pittsburgh zone. Hall was in alone on Murray and shot five hole, beating him to give the Devils the 4-3 win. It was his third OT game winner of the season for New Jersey.

Hall’s celebration was understated. He told Deb Placey on the postgame show that he would wait for the playoffs to celebrate bigger. That and he was just too exhausted to celebrate too wildly.

Either way, the Devils had gotten the two points and now have beaten Pittsburgh three times this season.

Stats-wise, the Devils won 49-percent of the game’s draws, outhit the Pens 37-20 and had 15 blocked shots to the Penguins’ eight. Vatanen led all Devils in ice time with 24:19 (2:35 on the power play and 58 seconds on the penalty kill) while Hall led all Devils’ forwards with 20:06 (2:48 on the PP). Hall also led in shots on goal with seven, Coleman led in hits with five, Greene led in blocks with three and takeaways were led by Hischier, Coleman, Kyle Palmieri, Zacha, Gibbons, Lovejoy and Vatanen, who each had one.

It is a quick turnaround for the Devils as they finally return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow night at Prudential Center. I will be attending this game, so the recap will be up a little bit later. We will find out then if the Devils can build up more space between them and the Panthers as we head into the final stretch.

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Devils End Pens’ Home Winning Streak

The Pittsburgh Penguins are always a tough team to play. They are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champs, who only got better at the trading deadline. But beating them at their home rink, PPG Paints Arena, has been an even more daunting task of late. The Pens, coming into this game against the Devils had won eleven straight home games.

Faced with that on their plate, what did the Devils do? They won 3-2 as they put more separation between themselves and the teams below them in the standings and move within two points of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metro Division.

First, I wanted to get some details about Patrik Elias night that I forgot about. First was Elias’ entrance through the crowd that really hammered home that he was one of us. He was a real fan favorite and that and taking the plastic green hat from the fan who offered it, putting it on and then throwing it back to the fans was a nice touch.

Another point I missed was that the Devils were playing the Islanders because that was the team that Patty played his most games and had his most points against. Also, the Devils wearing the white road jerseys for a change was a nice touch.

And finally, the Devils kept their winning streak on jersey retirement nights intact. They defeated the Hurricanes on Stevens Night, the Bruins on Daneyko Night, the Stars on Niedermayer Night, the Oilers on Brodeur Night and Saturday, they came from behind to defeat the Isles on Elias Night.

With that out of the way, we move on to tonight’s game versus the Penguins. The task of beating the Pens only got bigger as Derick Brassard was making his debut for Pittsburgh following his blockbuster three-way trade from Ottawa also involving Vegas. The Devils’ newest addition, Patrick Maroon, did not play tonight, as he traveled all night from San Jose (where the Oilers were playing tonight) to Pittsburgh via Atlanta. Maroon did practice with the team today, but did not play due to travel fatigue. He will make his Devils debut at Florida on Thursday.

Along with Maroon, Jimmy Hayes and Mirco Mueller were the scratches for New Jersey. Michael Grabner was playing in his second game as a Devil and was on a line with Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen (who was playing in his 100th NHL contest tonight – congrats to him).

With 20 games remaining in the 2017-18 season including tonight, the Devils knew it was time to really make that final push for the playoffs and can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cory Schneider will rejoin the team in Florida after making an AHL rehab start tonight.
Photo: downloaded from BleacherReport.com

Goaltending-wise, there is some news on the Cory Schneider front. Cory played a game for Binghamton at the Belleville Senators tonight in a conditioning stint. His return is imminent (he will rejoin the team in Florida) according to the MSG broadcasters, with Bryce Salvador in particular saying that an AHL stint will help him out. If he had had something happen to him against the Penguins tonight, things could have gotten disastrous. In the AHL, he can have a bad night if he needs to as he gets in game shape. For the record, he won that game 4-1.

In his place, Keith Kinkaid made another start – as he adds to his career highs in starts and wins – played brilliantly at times tonight. He stopped 36 of 38 shots on goal. For the Penguins, Casey DeSmith got the start as Matt Murray got hit in the head with a puck at practice and is suffering from concussion symptoms. The undrafted DeSmith made 35 saves on 38 Devils shots.

One of the big stories coming out of this game was the Devils’ special teams. The Pens have the top ranked power play in the NHL. But it was the Devils who came out on top in that facet of the game. New Jersey was 1-for-1 with the man advantage with two shots on net while Pittsburgh was 0-for-2 with the Devils limiting them to a single shot. The Devils power play and penalty kill came up huge for the team tonight.

However, it was the Pens who got on the board first in what seemed like business as usual. Sidney Crosby scored at 8:17 of the first period from Brian Dumoulin and Jake Guentzel. On this play, the puck got through Kinkaid’s legs, squirting over to Crosby, who simply tapped the puck into the empty side of the net to make it 1-0. Following the goal (and some technical difficulties with the monitors on the Devils’ bench), coach John Hynes challenged for goalie interference, saying that Crosby’s leg as he was swooping across the crease impeded Kinkaid’s ability to make the save. Replays showed otherwise and the goal stood. The Devils lost their timeout with the failed coach’s challenge.

Immediately following the Pittsburgh goal, the Devils got right to work. Michael Grabner hit the post on a shot right after, but it was not until the 12:19 mark that Kyle Palmieri continued his hot streak and tied the game. Damon Severson and Taylor Hall had the assists. Hall dropped to Severson at the Devils’ blueline and Severson and Palmieri began to criss-cross up ice. Severson left for Palmieri at the Penguins blueline and he skated in up the left wing boards, shooting from the top of the faceoff circle and beating DeSmith stick side to tie the game up at one all.

With that assist, Hall continued his point scoring streak – now to 22 games. That is a season high in the NHL for this season.

The game was tied up at one going into the first intermission, but things looked a little bleak for the Devils. Ben Lovejoy took a hooking penalty at 19:38, giving Pittsburgh an almost full power play on fresh ice to begin the second period. But as noted above, the Devils were able to stifle the Pens’ power play and nothing came of it.

Instead, Hall would add to his point total by scoring the go ahead goal for the Devils to make the score 2-1. This one came on the power play and was set up by Severson and Travis Zajac. It happened when, at the 4:25 mark of the second, Zajac passed to Severson in the slot. The defenseman shot and hit the crossbar with the puck caroming to Hall, who was just under the goal line. He shot and beat DeSmith to give the Devils the lead. It was a weird one, but the Devils would take it.

Severson would joke with Deb Placey on the MSG postgame show that he was making a “post pass” since Hall was calling for the pass and Severson elected to shoot.

The Devils lead would last until the 17:02 mark of the second period when Matt Hunwick scored for Pittsburgh to tie things up at two. Guentzel had the lone assist on that goal.

The score was tied going into the second intermission as it was in the first, but the resilient Devils were not done. At the 5:01 mark of the third period, Stefan Noesen put the Devils up 3-2 on a goal with assists to Andy Greene and Zajac. It came when Noesen passed from behind the net to Zajac in the slot. DeSmith made the save and pushed the puck to the near corner. The puck came to Greene at the wall and he fired from that angle. Noesen was able to get a stick on it as he was cycling by, tipping the puck by DeSmith, who was not able to get across his crease and get set in time to make the save. The Devils had the lead back and would not relinquish this one.

DeSmith was pulled with about 1:30 left in the game. But Hynes was dogged in getting the Zajac line matched up against the Evgeni Malkin line and that continued late in the game. With a few blocked shots and key saves by Kinkaid, the Devils withstood the final minute and a half and got out of Pittsburgh with the victory. A huge two points in division for the Devils.

Stats-wise, Sami Vatanen led in ice time with 27:14 (including 1:06 on the power play and 2:13 on the PK). Palmieri and Pavel Zacha led in shots on goal with five each. Nico Hischier was the most physcial player with four hits. Blake Coleman and Greene each had four blocks and Noesen had two takeaways. Hall, Zajac and Severson each had two points on the night and the Devils won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hall was named the game’s first star for his efforst while Severson was the second star. Crosby earned third star honors.

It was a big win, but the Devils work is not done. Thursday they are in Sunrise to take on the Florida Panthers – a team that has also been pretty hot of late. It will be the Devils’ only trip to South Florida this season and will mark Patrick Maroon’s Devils debut. We will see you then.

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Zajac Line Comes Through as Devils Defeat Penguins

The Devils had a very important meeting with the other team from Pennsylvania following their victory over the Flyers on Thursday. These guys just happened to be the two-time defending Stanley Cup champs and one of the hottest teams in the NHL the last month. All the Devils did was play as complete a game as they could with the Travis Zajac line of him, Stefan Noesen and Blake Coleman producing all three goals in a 3-1 win.

And don’t look now, but the Devils have won three straight coming out of the All-Star break and are 4-2-0 against Metropolitan Division foes since their bye week in January.

One of the bigger news stories of the last day was that John Quenneville was called up from AHL Binghamton. With that, Steven Santini was sent down in order to get some playing time so that he would not be rusty when called upon to fill in for injuries. Also sent down on a conditioning assignment was Jimmy Hayes (who was also a healthy scratch tonight for the New Jersey club). Quenneville did not play and he and Cory Schneider were the other Devils’ scratches along with Hayes. The Devils again went with eleven forwards and seven defensemen, meaning Taylor Hall was going to be double shifted a lot come the crucial parts of the game.

Pittsburgh was missing Patric Hornqvist, who was injured and did not make the trip to Newark. The Pens were coming off of a 7-4 drubbing of Washington on home ice where they scored four goals in the third period. To say the Penguins have a high-octane offense is very much an understatement. But the Devils were able to contain them tonight, as we shall see.

In net, Keith Kinkaid continued to be the man for the Devils with Cory Schneider out with injury. He made 15 saves on just 16 shots against. Kinkaid got his first career win over the Pens and his tenth of the season so far – notching a career high there. Those shots against were a huge story early on. The Devils outshot Pittsburgh 13-6 in the first period and 16-4 in the second. They limited the Pens’ chances and, thus, neutralized their attack. Devils coach John Hynes said that he wanted the team to “play fast, but disciplined” and it showed.

The Penguins had a rookie backup in net for them, as Casey DeSmith made the start, giving Matt Murray a night off. He made 35 saves on 38 Devils shots on goal.

Besides the lopsided shot total, the first period also saw Stefan Noesen and Ian Cole drop the gloves in a scrap. That was the only other Devils penalty on the night besides a Miles Wood hooking call 1:34 into the game. The Devils, whose penalty kill came into the game clicking at 82.5-percent, which was tied for seventh in the NHL overall, was not tested and, thus, the Pens’ power play spent little time on the ice. Overall, the Penguins were 0-for-1 on the man advantage with a single shot. The Devils were 0-for-3 with seven shots on goal.

After a scoreless first, Travis Zajac got the scoring off to a start 30 seconds into the second period. It came when Blake Coleman had the puck down low and banked it off the boards behind his back to Zajac, who was in on the doorstep. Zajac was able to stuff it by DeSmith to give the Devils the 1-0 lead. Noesen had the secondary assist on the play, giving that line their first points of the night.

The Devils would double their lead at the 3:05 mark of the second when Noesen kept the puck in on the forecheck and Zajac, Noesen and Coleman played tic-tac-toe around the net, before the puck landed on Coleman’s stick. He ripped one past DeSmith from the top of the far faceoff circle to make it 2-0 Devils.

In the third period, 6:16 in, Evgeni Malkin – the NHL’s player of the month for January – struck on a Devils’ defensive breakdown. He got assists from Cole and Phil Kessel to cut the Devils’ lead to 2-1.

But the resilient Devils bounced back: at 9:51, Zajac got his second when Sami Vatanen hit Taylor Hall with a breakout pass. Hall skated into the Penguins’ zone and curled around at the goal line. He dished back to Damon Severson at the near point. Severson fired on net and Zajac, camped out in front of the Pens’ goal, redirected it by DeSmith to make it 3-1 Devils.

And, although that was your final, it almost did not end up that way. At the 7:06 mark of the third, Keith Kinkaid was knocked down in his crease with a high stick by a Penguins player. No whistle was blown to end play, but Sidney Crosby shot from an odd angle and banked the puck in to the Devils’ goal off of Kinkaid’s mask. The officials met and made the ruling that the call on the ice was no goal, due to goaltender interference.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan used his coach’s challenge to dispute this, but replay showed that Kinkaid was interfered with and the call on the ice stood: no goal. New Jersey finally caught a break on instant replay. This was due to an edict passed down to the on-ice officials earlier this week, according to MSG’s Steve Cangialosi, that the officials streamline reviews and not look too hard for anything that might not be there. The score remained 3-1, Devils.

From there to about the two minutes remaining in the game mark, was back-and-forth, end-to-end pure hockey goodness, as Pittsburgh frantically tried to tie things up. The Devils kept pushing back though and by the time DeSmith was pulled, the Devils met that with resistance too.

Once the final buzzer went off, the entire line of Zajac, Coleman and Noesen went one-two-three in the three stars voting. The Devils had also done something they did not do all of last year: beat the Penguins. Last season, they were swept in the season’s five game series. That win also allowed them to leapfrog Pittsburgh into second place in the Metro Division. It was two crucial points, to be sure.

Stats-wise, Taylor Hall led in ice time with 25:58. He also extended his personal points-scoring streak to ten games with the assist on Zajac’s second goal. Zajac led in shots with five, Coleman led in hits with three, Andy Greene led in blocks with three and Zajac and Coleman each had two takeaways. The Devils won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

Next up, the Devils travel north to Ottawa on Tuesday for a tilt with the Senators – who just came off of a hard-fought shootout win over the Flyers today. Hopefully for the Devils, they will be able to sustain their streak and show that the complete effort put forth tonight was no fluke.

Devils Fall to Penguins at Prospects Challenge

The Devils came into game two of the 2017 Prospects Challenge off of a 4-3 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres in their first game. They took on the Pittsburgh Penguins today and lost, 6-2.

There was a considerably smaller crowd on hand this afternoon as compared to last night, considering the earlier start time and the lack of the Sabres in the game. However, there was a good contingent of Devils fans who made the trip, including a large group in the corner, camera-side, at the end of the rink where the Devils attack twice. They were there for the first period and then dispersed, to be seen around the rink at varying times.

New Jersey did look a little bit sloppy, especially in their own end, at times. But you have to remember that this is a learning experience for these kids. It is a short series of games and they have not been playing together much outside of developmental camp. Many of them looked solid defensively and the offensive chances will come from there. Add to that that the Pittsburgh goaltender played well, making some nice stops in close, especially in the second period, and it just was not the Devils’ night.

The game did feature a scrap late in the game, that involved Steven Santini from the Devils. It was a spirited affair and nice to see Santini step up when challenged.

Once again, I appologize for lack of details. The stream was in and out for me for most of the game and got kind of blurry at times. Hopefully, things will be better on Monday at noon when the Devils take on the Boston Bruins in the final game of this year’s Prospects Challenge.