Devils Bid for Fourth in a Row Buried by Avs

The Devils were gunning for their fourth straight win – they had three in a row after beating the Islanders on Thursday and at least a point in their last five games – but a Mikko Rantanen hat trick and a Colorado Avalanche win said otherwise. The Avs won the game at Prudential Center 5-2 to sweep the season series for a second straight year.

First, some injury news as Jesper Bratt is out day-to-day officially with an injury suffered in the game at the Islanders. Likewise, Jack Hughes was missing his second game in a row due to his upper body injury suffered against the Bruins last week. Connor Carrick remained out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.

To replace Bratt, the Devils recalled Ben Street from AHL Binghamton. Street made his New Jersey Devils debut tonight and wore number 36. He was recently named an AHL All-Star and will represent Binghamton in the American League’s All-Star Classic. He played primarily on the third line with Wayne Simmonds and Miles Wood as his wingers.

Between the pipes, the Devils saw Philipp Grubauer for Colorado. He stopped 28 of the 30 shots the Devils fired at him for a .933 save percentage on the night. Mackenzie Blackwood went for the Devils again and made 29 saves on the 33 shots he faced. He had a .879 save percentage. The Avalanche finished the game with 34 shots on net due to an empty net goal.

The Devils were playing their first home game of the year/decade and it was Pride Night at the Rock as the Devils participated in a league-wide initiative to reach out to the LGBTQ community.

In addition, today was Nico Hischier’s 21st birthday. Nico has taken a big step in regards to his leadership role on the team since Taylor Hall was traded, at the behest of the coaching staff. He is also wearing an A on his jersey (alternating with Kyle Palmieri) as an assistant captain. Just proof of the extended role the team wants him in.

The Devils have gone 6-2-1 since the last meeting between these teams last month in Denver.

The first period was all back-and-forth. Colorado had a 2-on-0 early in the frame and Andy Greene made a nice backcheck to dive in and take away the pass. Rantanen had to shoot and shot over the Devils’ net all due to Greene’s hustle. Following this, midway through the first, Blake Coleman was stopped on a breakaway. All-in-all, the teams both racked up 17 scoring chances between them in the first period combined.

One scoring chance that did go in, but did not count came with 1:11 left to go in the first period. It saw the Avs’ Joonas Donskoi bat the puck out of midair and in behind Blackwood. It was called a no goal on the ice due to being played with a high stick. It would not be the first controversial goal of the evening, but it would be the easiest to call of them.

The Avalanche finally broke through in the second period. Rantanen scored 11:23 in when Nathan MacKinnon used his speed, got in behind the Devils’ defense, went to the near corner and made a perfect tape-to-tape, no-look pass to Rantanen, who buried the chance. Samuel Girard had the secondary assist.

Ian Cole made it 2-0 less than five minutes later at 15:34 when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare won a faceoff deep in the Devils’ zone to Vladislav Kamenev. Kamenev shot and it was blocked, but the rebound came right back to him. He gave it back to Cole at the point and he slapped one by Blackwood to put Colorado up by two.

If the ice began to tilt in the second, it was about get very wobbly come the third.

The period began with Rantanen scoring his second of the game just eight seconds in. It came when Cale Makar, whom the Devils did not see the first game against the Avs due to injury, cut through the Devils’ defense. He made a pretty pass to Rantanen who danced around the Devils and went around Blackwood to make it 3-0 Avs. MacKinnon had the secondary assist by virtue of winning the opening faceoff at center ice.

From there, things began to get very weird.

It began at 5:04 when Wood was called for a hold against Cole. This put the Avs on the power play, but Blake Coleman had other ideas at 6:36. He grabbed the puck in the Devils’ zone and burst up the ice. Travis Zajac eventually caught up with him to make it a 2-on-1, but Coleman goes all the way by snapping the puck by Grubauer to make it 3-1. It was Coleman’s seventh shorthanded goal of his career and the Devils’ third shorty of the season.

Then the ultimate in strange goals. It began innocently enough, on a clear by the Avs while Tyson Jost was in the box for interference on Kyle Palmieri. The Avalanche dumped the puck in and Blackwood went around to play it. He did, but was tripped up by Matt Calvert on the play and Blackwood inadvertently coughed the puck right up to Bellemare, who shot into the empty net and scored.

After some deliberation, the Devils decided to use their challenge on it, asking for goalie interference. Unfortunately, Blackwood was behind the net, out of his crease and he kind of backed up into Calvert’s skating lane. The referees deemed this incidental contact and upheld the call on the ice of a goal.

So not only did the goal count, but because the Devils lost the challenge, they were going to have to kill a delay of game penalty. Plus, Wayne Simmonds was given a game misconduct due to arguing with the officials on the play and was tossed.

On one play, the Devils had three or four things go wrong, which is pretty impressive. Especially that it had not happened before due to how bad the last few years have been for them.

So that officially counted as a shorthanded goal for Bellemare. More was to come.

With about 3:19 left in regulation, Calvert was finally nabbed for tripping, this time Pavel Zacha, and he went off. The Devils pulled Blackwood, making it 6-on-4 for the next two or so minutes.

During this power play, Sami Vatanen shot from the point and Jesper Boqvist tipped it by Grubauer at 18:37. Zacha had the secondary assist.

On the evening on special teams, the Devils were 1-for-3 with six shots on the power play, plus scored on one of their two shorthanded shots. The Avs were held 0-for-3 with three shots and also scored on one of their two shorthanded shots.

Following this goal, the Devils pulled Blackwood again and Rantanen completed his hat trick by throwing one into the empty net. Girard and Cole had the assists. It was the second straight year that a Colorado Avalanche player had scored a hat trick on Prudential Center ice, as Gabriel Landeskog did it last year in the team’s only meeting in the building. The empty netter gave us our final of 5-2.

The Devils won 56-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Avs, 14-10, had more blocked shots at 13-10, but also had more giveaways at ten to Colorado’s two.

Vatanen led the Devils’ skaters with an amazing 30:40 of ice time (4:48 on the power play and 1:52 on the penalty kill) while birthday boy Hischier led the forwards with a considerably less 21:51 (3:49 on the power play and 14 seconds of killing penalties).

Stats-wise, shots were led by Coleman with seven (Coleman was also the third star of the night in a losing effort for the Devils. Grubauer was second and Rantanen, with the hatty, the first). He also led in hits with four. Blocked shots were led by PK Subban with three and takeaways by Coleman and Palmieri with two apiece.

Next up, the Devils take on the Islanders again on Tuesday, this time at home, in a heritage night at Prudential Center. Puck drop is 7 PM and the Devils will wear their red, green and white uniforms. Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Gold Medal Game Set at World Juniors

Four teams remained playing for medals in the 2020 World Junior Championship and today the gold medal round was set. It will be Russia versus Canada as both teams took vastly different paths to get there today.

We begin with the early game: Sweden against Russia. The Russians took this one in overtime, defeating the Swedes 5-4.

There were two Devils prospects in this game. For Sweden, Nikola Pasic had a shot on goal and an even plus/minus rating in 12:44 of ice time. For Russia, Danil Misyul had similar numbers: a shot on goal and a plus-1 rating in 16:35 of ice.

The game was kind of all over the place, with Rasmus Sandin giving Sweden the early 1-0 lead just 16 seconds into the game. David Gustafsson had the lone assist.

From there, Russia took control. It began at 1:47 when Alexander Holtz took a slashing minor, putting the Russians on the power play. At 3:04, Ivan Morozov connected from Vasili Podkolzin and Pavel Dorofeyev to tie it.

Things went further south for the Swedes when Nils Hoglander was assessed a check to the head penalty and a game misconduct at 4:22, Sweden would be without Hoglander, one of their best players, for the rest of the game and Russia would be on the power play for the next two minutes.

It only took about 1:18 for Alexander Khovanov to score and give the Russians the 2-1 lead. Nikita Alexandrov and Grigori Denisenko had the assists.

The Russians put Sweden even further in a hole at 12:05 of the first when Yegor Sokolov scored unassisted to give Russia the 3-1 lead.

But the Swedes would put up a fight and they began their comeback at 13:36 of the first. That is when Alexander Romanov took a cross-check penalty to put the Swedes on the power for the first time all game.

And, at 14:54, Samuel Fagemo capitalized when he scored from Nils Lundkvist and Sandin. This made it 3-2 going into the first intermission and got Sweden back into things.

It is almost cliché to say that this game was back-and-forth, but it really was.

Sandin tied things with the Swedes on the power play. An illegal check to the head reared itself again, with Khovanov getting two minutes for that plus a 10-minute misconduct. The Russians were without Khovanov for the rest of the period (the penalty came just 9:31 in) pretty much and the Swedes were on the man advantage.

Sandin found the back of the net from Fagemo and Linus Nassen to knot the game at three.

And that was how it was headed into the final frame. But Sweden would jump back in front, taking their first lead since the early first period, when Lundkvist scored 4:25 in. He got assists from Sandin (who ended the game with four points) and Nassen. It was 4-3 Sweden with about a full period to play. This goal came on the power play while Maxim Sorkin was off for tripping at 4:04.

It seemed that Russia had shot themselves in the foot, losing the lead and having to pull starting goalie Yaroslav Askarov following the Lundkvist goal. But Amir Miftakhov was now in and Russia would never look back.

About four minutes and ten seconds following the Swedish go-ahead goal, at 8:35, Sokolov scored from Khovanov to tie the game again, this time at four.

When time ran out on regulation, we were off to overtime. The history of this game would lead us to believe that it would not last very long. And that was correct.

Just 3:24 in, Morozov scored his second of the night to put the Russians in the gold medal game and end Sweden’s undefeated streak in this tournament. The Swedes will now play for bronze.

Swedish goalie Hugo Alnefelt made a total of 39 saves on 44 shots against. Russian goaltending combined for 21 saves on 25 Swedish shots.

To decide their opponents, Canada and Finland would faceoff later in the day.

And this one was all Canada as the Canadians returned to the gold medal game at the World Juniors by defeating the Finns 5-0.

Ty Smith finished the game with two shots on goal and an even plus/minus in 17:37 of ice time while Kevin Bahl had three shots and was a plus-3 in 20:16 of time on ice – good for third in ice time amongst Canadian defensemen.

Connor McMichael broke the seal on the game when he scored from Aidan Dudas 1:48 into the game. Alexis Lafreniere scored from Nolan Foote and Barrett Hayton at 3:05 and 50 seconds after that, Jamie Drysdale scored from Raphael Lavoie and Quinton Byfield to make it three up. Ty Dellandrea added one at 14:49 from Dudas and McMichael to give Canada a 4-0 lead heading into the second.

Lafreniere, scoring on the power play while Anttoni Honka was off for holding, added his second of the night from Calen Addison and Hayton at 17:53 of the second to give Canada a 5-0 lead going into the third.

And that was it. Canada needed no more as they held off the Finns to head to the gold medal game.

The goaltending saw Joel Hofer stop all 32 shots he saw for the shutout while Justus Annuen made 34 saves on 39 Canadian shots.

So now the Swedes and the Finns will matchup in an all-Scandinavian bronze medal game as the defending champ Finns try to medal again this year. The gold medal game will feature a matchup of Canada against Russia.

Also, the relegation series will go the distance as Kazakhstan defeated Germany today 4-1 to force a third and final game. The winner will remain in the tournament next year while the loser moves down a division.

Champions will be crowned tomorrow and we will have coverage of that for you right here.