For 310 days, ten months, we have waited for this. The Devils last played a game on March 10, 2020, a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Finally, it was time. Devils hockey was back.
The Devils played tough against one of the best teams in their temporary East Division (brought to you by Mass Mutual, of course), but lost 3-2 in a shootout as the Boston Bruins won a goaltender duel.
But first, some things to get to on a packed night.
Lindy Ruff was making his debut behind the bench, the 19th head coach in Devils history. Defenseman Ty Smith and forward Egor Sharangovich were making their much-hyped NHL debuts. Both played well and made an impact on the game itself. Defenseman Ryan Murray, forward Andreas Johnsson and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov were making their Devils debuts, all acquired in the offseason. Defenseman Damon Severson was wearing an “A” on his jersey, as the Devils have yet to name a new captain and went with four alternates.
Absent were Nico Hischier (out with a lower body injury suffered while training at home in Switzerland) and Sami Vatanen and Jesper Bratt (both awaiting working visas as they remain home in Finland and Sweden, respectively). Healthy scratches were defensemen Connor Carrick and Will Butcher.
In goal, the net was all Mackenzie Blackwood’s. With the retirement of Corey Crawford, he will have Eric Comrie as a non-roster player, Gilles Senn on the taxi squad and Scott Wedgewood as Blackwood’s backup. Blackwood became the third youngest goaltender to start a Devils opening night, behind Martin Brodeur and Sean Burke. To say Blackwood stood on his head tonight and played tremendous tonight.
Facing him was Tuukka Rask, making his return to the Bruins after missing the postseason last year. Rask also played well and it made for a great game.
The Prudential Center looked different with tarps over most of the sections facing the hard camera and cardboard cutouts of fans up one section that could not be seen on television.
Before Arlette sang the Star Spangled Banner (O Canada will not be heard this season as the Canadian teams are all in their own North Division – brought to you by Scotiabank, I believe), there were some solemn moments.
The Devils paid tribute to one of our own in the leadup. Brian Sicknick, Capitol Police officer and military veteran, who saw action in combat, was needlessly killed in the attack on the Capitol building last Wednesday. He was a native of New Jersey and a big Devils fan. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy paid tribute to him in a video on the big screen. Also honored were New Jersey healthcare workers who appeared on the big board with a message to stay safe and stay healthy.
Follow those nicely done tributes, Devils public address announcer Kevin Clark introduced the coaching staff and players just as if everything was as normal.
Then, finally, puck drop on the franchise’s 38th season in the Garden State.
In a moment that shows it has been a long time without hockey for the officials just as much as the fans or players, the first penalty of the game.
Jesper Boqvist was called for a slash by the referee against the Bruins’ Trent Frederic at the 6:14 mark of the first period. The only problem was, on replay, it showed that Frederic’s stick snapped in half as he was shooting (a consequence of the current lighter sticks) and that Boqvist had never actually hacked away at the stick. The Devils killed off the penalty, so no harm no foul there. Plus, with the speed of the game, the officials cannot always get things right, so, while frustrating, it’s understood.
That penalty was actually negated by Sharangovich drawing the first of three penalties on the night. In this case, a return slashing call by Matt Grzelcyk while Sharangovich was on a shorthanded breakaway at 7:16. The Devils ended up with 48 seconds of power play time but did not score either.
The first goal of the game, however, would come on the power play. At the 17:02 mark of the first, Miles Wood barreled over Rask on a breakaway. He took a goalie interference penalty, setting up a dangerous Boston power play.
At 17:40, Kyle Palmieri tried to get too cute and pass to Severson while exiting the Devils’ zone instead of just clearing the puck. New Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron intercepted the pass, got it to David Krejci who found Brad Marchand backdoor. He got the puck and it was just a layup to make it 1-0 Boston.
The Devils had chances all night as they began to gel as the game wore on. At about the 14-minute mark of the second, Kulikov got the puck to Nikita Gusev. Gusev had a wide-open net in about the same place Marchand scored from. Instead, Gusev squibbed the shot wide as it rolled off of the heel of his stick.
Likewise, with mere seconds to go in the second, Pavel Zacha had a partial breakaway, nearly scoring on his own rebound too, but Rask gathered both shots.
Jack Hughes had a chance early in the third, but the Devils could not break through.
Then, 8:51 into the third, on a delayed penalty against the Bruins’ Sean Kuraly, Wood picked up a loose puck just outside the Devils’ blue line and was off on a breakaway He beat Rask stick side as he crashed into the net to tie things up at one.
It would remain that way through most of the third until two goals in quick succession.
It began when Nick Ritchie scored for Boston on the power play at 13:12. Wood was off for goalie interference again at 11:13. The Devils nearly killed off the power play until Ritchie potted one with one second to go on the man advantage.
Marchand made a quick pass to Ritchie as he was cutting backdoor and made it 2-1 Bruins. Grzelcyk had the secondary assist.
The Devils would not stay down for long. Thirty-four seconds after the Ritchie goal, Ty Smith notched his first NHL goal to equalize things at two apiece. Hughes passed back to Matt Tennyson at the point. He went D-to-D with Smith at the blue line and Smith fired on net. The puck caromed around in front of the Boston net and finally went in off of a Bruins players’ leg.
Things remained that way with the Devils getting a few nice chances before regulation expired.
It was another opening night overtime game. Although this time, the Devils did not blow a four-goal lead to the Winnipeg Jets to get here.
Hughes, Palmieri and PK Subban began the OT period for the Devils. The Devils would push play for the majority of the extra period, keeping puck possession and creating scoring chances.
Palmieri, late in OT, had a near-200-foot breakaway, skating the length of the rink, but being stopped by Rask. Hughes had a breakaway with seven seconds to go in the OT with Travis Zajac trailing. Zajac had a chance into a wide-open net, but Kuraly, backchecking, got his stick on the puck, clearing it to safety before Zajac could get a shot off.
With that, time expired and we were off to a shootout.
In round one, Gusev was stopped by Rask and Charlie Coyle was stopped by Blackwood. The Blackwood stop was particularly nice, as Coyle went backhand, forehand with Blackwood dragging his leg behind him and stopping a sure goal.
Round two featured Boqvist and Boston’s Ondrej Kase each getting turned aside by Rask and Blackwood, respectively.
In round three, Hughes lost the puck on his attempt and Marchand beat Blackwood five-hole to give the Bruins the 3-2 shootout victory.
Blackwood faced 37 Bruins shots, equal to 35 of them. He stopped both shorthanded shots he faced and both goals were scored for Boston on the power play, making him 6-for-8 on the power play. He stopped all 27 even strength shots he saw.
Rask was 20-for-22 total, stopping the Devils’ lone shorthanded shot, all three of their power play shots and 16 of their 18 even strength shots.
Hughes led all forwards in ice time with 21:50 while Severson led the defense with 24:19. Hughes also led in faceoff percentage with a 56-percent clip, unseating Travis Zajac, who won 29-percent of his draws.
Wood led in shots on goal with five, Palmieri led in hits with four, Severson led in blocked shots with three and Johnsson and Palmieri both led in takeaways with two apiece.
With that one point taken tonight, the Devils will do it again on Saturday when they try to beat the Bruins in a 1 PM matinee at the Prudential Center.
I have to work that night, so I will be a little bit late in getting my recap up. Hopefully I can get it done by Sunday.
Until then, have a good one everybody!