Devils Outlast Oilers in Crazy New Year’s Eve OT Thriller

Well, you stick around long enough and you’re bound to see everything eventually, I guess.

In a nutty one at Prudential Center to end the 2021 calendar year, the Devils won, no survived is probably the better word, the Edmonton Oilers to take an overtime win 6-5 and string together a two-game winning streak.

The game started with the announcement that head coach Lindy Ruff tested positive for COVID this morning – just about an hour before game time – and would be replaced behind the bench by assistant coach Alain Nasreddine for the game. Assistant coach Chris Taylor came down from the press box and behind the bench to coach the defense.

MSG+ pregame host Erika Wachter reported that Ruff may have been able to stay at the building in a private room to communicate with the coaching staff on the bench.

Other than that, no changes to the lineup occurred. Goaltender Jon Gillies remains in COVID Protocol and Mason Geertsen and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches.

In goal, the Devils were back to Mackenzie Blackwood, who they are going to have to lean on going forward with the turmoil and injuries/illnesses that they have endured with the goaltending this season.

Blackwood made 32 saves on 37 total Edmonton shots for an .865 save percentage on the afternoon. He stopped both Oiler power play shots as the Devils were able to hold the high-powered Edmonton power play unit to 0-for-1 on the day. He stopped 30 of the Oilers 35 shots at even strength.

For the Oilers, Mike Smith (who just came back from an ankle injury and played his first game of the season last week in St. Louis) made 35 saves on 41 total Devils shots for an afternoon save percentage of .854. He was equal to three of the Devils’ four power play shots – New Jersey was 1-for-2 on the man advantage – and made 32 saves on 37 Devils shots at five-versus-five.

Of note in this game was Michael McLeod facing his younger brother Ryan for the first time in the NHL. The two were teammates in the Ontario Hockey League for two years with their hometown Mississauga Steelheads. Their parents were in attendance, one wearing an Oilers jersey and Devils cap and the other in a Devils jersey and an Oilers cap.

Things began with a bang in this game.

Just 1:27 into the contest, Edmonton’s Jesse Puljujarvi was called for holding Marian Studenic putting the Devils on their first power play of the afternoon very early.

It would only take 11 seconds for Jack Hughes to respond.

Jesper Bratt got the puck from Nate Bastian down low. Bratt passed to Dougie Hamilton up high at the point. Hamilton made a pass to Hughes at the near faceoff circle, setting him up for a one-timer. Jack blasted a shot by Smith with Bastian providing the screen in front of the Oilers goalie to make it 1-0 New Jersey very quickly.

But in a sign of things to come, that lead would not last.

Exactly 1:10 later, Ryan McLeod would cut into the Devils zone and play give-and-go with Connor McDavid. McDavid went backdoor and took the puck back, scoring on Blackwood to tie the game at one. Cody Ceci had the secondary assist.

However, 17 seconds after the McDavid goal, Nico Hischier would give the Devils back the lead.

A Jesper Boqvist shot took a bounce towards Hischier, who was at the near side of the Edmonton net. Nico just threw the puck on net and Smith could not find the shot. The puck bounced off of his back as he kind of flailed at it and ended up pushing it over the goal line to make it 2-1 Devils. Ryan Graves had the secondary assist on the goal.

We had only played 3:05 of total elapsed time and the Devils now led 2-1. And things were not done yet.

The Oilers tied the game again at the 6:00 mark when the Devils turned the puck over in their own zone to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Nugent-Hopkins got it to Slater Koekkoek, who quickly got a shot on the Devils net. Kailer Yamamoto was cruising through the front of the crease and tipped Koekkoek’s shot past Blackwood to make it 2-2.

And still the scoring in the first period wasn’t done!

The Devils retook the lead beginning on a good defensive play by Jonas SIegenthaler in his own end. A well-timed poke jarred the puck loose from an Edmonton puck carrier to Damon Severson. Severson moved it to Andreas Johnsson, who hit Dawson Mercer with a beautiful saucer pass as Mercer was cutting behind the Oilers’ defense. Mercer got into the Edmonton zone alone and finished the play with a shot that trickled between Smith’s arm and the far post to make it 3-2 Devils at 11:10 gone by.

So, for those keeping score at home, by the time we got to the first intermission, the Devils had a 3-2 lead and nine different Devils players had recorded a point.

After all of that, the second period saw just one goal scored 7:57 into the frame on a play only an elite player like Connor McDavid could properly execute.

The Devils got caught in full change at that time as the unit on the ice was caught in a long shift. McDavid, knowing that it was the second period – the period of the long change for the Devils – was able to time himself getting on the ice from the bench so that he was alone behind the play at the moment the Devils changed. Duncan Keith made a long pass to him through the middle and McDavid split the Devils’ defense and walked in alone on Blackwood. There was no stopping him and he scored to the game at three. Yamamoto had the secondary assist.

As MSG+ analyst Bryce Salvador, who pointed all of this out after he reviewed the tape at the intermission, said, there was just nothing the Devils could do except throw their hands up at that one. McDavid simply beat them and they were too tired to do much about it.

And this took us to the final period as the combatants tried to get things settled.

The Devils found themselves back in front 5:14 into the third period off of another nice one.

Mercer hit Johnsson with a long pass at the left-wing boards. Johnsson gained the Oilers zone and found a trailing Janne Kuokkanen, who fired a shot and roofed the puck by Smith to make it 4-3 Devils.

A scary moment following that goal, however, when Hamilton blocked a Yamamoto one-timer and left the ice gingerly as it hit his foot in an unprotected place. He was okay and would return.

The tide turned once again at the 7:06 mark of the third when Ryan McLeod got into the Devils zone and chipped the puck towards the far corner through a Devils defender’s feet. He recovered the puck in the corner himself and made a nice centering pass to Devin Shore, who was in front and chipped the pass by Blackwood to tie the game again, this time at four. William Lagesson had the secondary assist.

Then, the game defining goal.

Just before the 8:18 mark of the third, a delayed tripping penalty was called on Graves in front of the Devils net. Almost immediately, Hamilton, as he was falling down, kind of swept the puck towards the blue line. It was kept in and Keith got it to Leon Draisaitl down low.

As the puck was going to Draisaitl, Hughes kind of briefly got a stick on the pass to him. Again, no whistle to stop play.

The Devils, however, had a collective brain fart and assumed that the whistle would blow there.

When it did not, Draisaitl got the puck and made a pass to Yamamoto cutting backdoor. With no one picking him up, he simply tapped the puck into the Devils cage for the go-ahead goal to make it 5-4 Oilers.

New Jersey argued that the play should have been whistled when Hamilton touched the puck following the referee’s arm initially going up for the delayed penalty. Eventually, Nasreddine decided to use his coach’s challenge to review if Hamilton had complete control of the puck at that point and if play should have been dead then.

The reasoning was that the Devils were going on the penalty kill either way. Either on the Graves penalty or the failed challenge.

After about a five-minute review by referees Francois St. Laurent and Dean Morton, the decision came down: there was no decision.

The Devils actually could not challenge the play because it was a call that could not be challenged! The NHL clarified that the only way the Devils could have challenged a touch up on a delayed penalty was if they were the offensive team in the Oilers zone. Since they were the defending team, there could be no challenge.

Strange, but true!

Because of all this, the Oiler goal counted and the Devils would not go on the PK. The delayed penalty on Graves was negated when the Yamamoto goal was scored and, since the Devils could not actually challenge, they could not get the challenge wrong and there was no delay of game if they were wrong.

And the game was still not done!

The Oilers now had a 5-4 lead and the Devils pulled Blackwood with just over a minute to play in regulation.

With 32 seconds to go, the Devils would score their fourth goal this season with the goalie pulled.

It came when Hischier won a faceoff deep in the Edmonton zone and Hughes nudged the puck to Hamilton at the point.

He got a shot on net that Yegor Sharangovich redirected past Smith and in to tie the game at five goals each.

The Devils had fought back from adversity to tie the game and force overtime. Therefore, we were still not done!

It was the Devils’ fourth OT game of the year as they came in at 2-1 and the Oilers’ second (1-0).

At the 2:55 mark, Jesper Bratt got the puck out of the near corner and skated it up top towards Hughes at the blue line. Bratt dished to Hughes and Jack took a few strides, moving to the top of the near faceoff circle.

Hughes stepped up and shot, handcuffing Smith, who fell backwards, and the puck trickled by him and in. For Hughes, his second OT winner of the season and his second straight three-point game. Damon Severson had the secondary assist.

And with that 6-5 win, the Devils had strung together a two-game winning streak for their first win streak since early November.

Whew! Deep breath.

The Devils outshot Edmonton 41-37. The Oilers won 55-percent of the game’s faceoffs with New Jersey taking 45-percent of the draws. Sharangovich won 75-percent of his personal faceoffs to lead the Devils centers.

The Oilers had four total team penalty minutes while the Devils only logged two. Both teams finished with 16 hits. The Devils had one more blocked shot at 16 to the Oilers’ 15. The Devils had more team giveaways at 13 to Edmonton’s six.

Severson led all Devils skaters in total time on ice with 26:19 (23 seconds on the power play and 1:07 on the PK included). Hughes led the forwards with 19:40 of total ice time (which included 1:48 on the PP). Kuokkanen led the forwards in shorthanded time with 1:10 logged out of his 15:32 of total ice time.

Six Devils had multi-point games with Hughes and his two goals and one assist for three points leading the way.

Hughes also led in shots on goal with seven. Bastian and Severson led in hits with three each. Blocks were led by Hughes, Hamilton, Graves and Siegenthaler with two each. Pavel Zacha and Hughes each had two giveaways to lead in that category while Severson led in takeaways with three.

And with that, we will finally wrap things up and tell you that the Devils’ next game is on Sunday when they travel down to DC to take on the Capitals in a 3 PM matinee.

This game – the Devils’ first in the 2022 calendar year – will be televised on MSG+ and will see the Devils try to string three wins together against improbable odds.

We will have coverage for you right here on Sunday afternoon and, in the meantime, have a great new year everyone!

Devils End Six-Game Slide with Victory in Buffalo

It had been three weeks since the New Jersey Devils had won a game. Granted, there were some postponed games in there and the mandatory Christmas break which was extended a bit due to COVID precautions. But the fact remained that the Devils were mired in a six-game winless streak nonetheless.

However, they came out of the break rested and (largely) healthy and ended up hanging on to defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 at the Keybank Arena.

The Devils were playing in their first game since December 19, a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh at the Prudential Center. That seemed like eons ago as they had three games postponed in the time between that game and tonight.

In the time being, the Devils got everyone back from COVID Protocol while only adding Tomas Tatar, Jon Gillies and – earlier today – Jimmy Vesey to the list. Back were Nico Hischier, Christian Jaros (who was a healthy scratch tonight along with Mason Geertsen), PK Subban, Ryan Graves and Jesper Boqvist.

Also, with the re-establishment of Taxi Squads temporarily from now to the All-Star Break, the Devils recalled Marian Studenic, Boqvist and Kevin Bahl to the Taxi Squad. Only Studenic played tonight, suiting up on the left side on the fourth line with Michael McLeod and Nate Bastian.

In goal, Mackenzie Blackwood was also back from his neck injury. He started tonight and made 19 saves on 22 Sabres shots for a nightly .864 save percentage. All of those shots and saves came at five-versus-five as Buffalo went 0-for-1 on their only power play chance and did not register a shot.

Facing him for the Sabres was Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and the Finnish goaltender had a busy night. He stopped 38 of the Devils’ total of 42 shots against for a .905 save percentage on the night. He let in one of the Devils’ two power play shots as New Jersey was 1-for-2 on the man advantage and made 37 saves on 40 shots at five-against-five.

Some notes on the Sabres’ lineup tonight as Alex Tuch, acquired in November in the Jack Eichel trade from Vegas but injured, played in his first game for Buffalo tonight. Also in the lineup as a defenseman and playing his second NHL game was Casey Fitzgerald. He is the son of Devils General Manager Tom Fitzgerald.

The Sabres, however, were without their head coach Don Granato, who is in COVID Protocol. Filling in for him was assistant coach Matt Ellis.

The Devils broke through early, on the power play no less, as that seems to be starting to click for them of late.

Kyle Okposo was called for a high-stick against Graves 4:01 into the game setting the Devils up on 5-on-4 advantage.

Just 42 seconds into the power play, Hischier dug the puck out from behind the Sabres net and got it to Jack Hughes on the perimeter. Hughes quickly moved it to Dougie Hamilton, setting him up for a one-timer at the point. Hamilton blasted a shot low with Bastian as the screen in front. Hamilton’s shot beat Luukkonen cleanly to make it 1-0 Devils.

The Devils would double their lead before the end of first period was up when Jesper Bratt scored. Hughes passed the puck from the half wall on the far side to Subban at the point. Subban let loose a bomb of a shot and the rebound came to Bratt, who was crashing in through the slot. Bratt gathered the puck and shot from a sharp angle, beating Luukkonen to make it 2-0 Devils.

That goal came with 11:48 gone in the first period.

A few minutes later, at 14:56 gone, Brett Murray of the Sabres tried to spark them back into the game when he scrapped with Jonas Siegenthaler. Both received five-minutes for fighting with Murray also picking up the instigator minor to put the Devils on the power play.

Of note on that power play, Damon Severson hit the crossbar, coming oh-so-close to giving the Devils a three-goal lead.

Buffalo would survive that penalty kill and would get back into the game more explosively in the second period – courtesy of one Tage Thompson.

Thompson would cut the Devils lead in half just 33 seconds into the second period. Rasmus Dahlin won a board battle on the near side and got the puck to Tuch at the point. Tuch shot with Thompson camped in front of Blackwood and redirected Tuch’s shot by the Devils’ netminder to make it 2-1.

Less than three minutes later, at 3:17 gone by in the second period, Thompson struck again for his second of the night.

Dahlin poked the puck away from a Devils puck carrier in the Buffalo zone and air mailed a high pass to Thompson, who was in behind the Devils defense. Thompson broke in on a clear breakaway on Blackwood and beat him glove side to knot the game up at two goals apiece.

And that would take us in to a possibly decisive third period.

It would begin with Hughes notching his third point of the night – this time a goal – 4:28 into the period.

Yegor Sharangovich took a shot from the top of the near faceoff circle and the rebound came out to Hughes, who was fighting off a check through the slot to get to the loose puck. He got to it and put the puck behind Luukkonen to make it 3-2 Devils.

Bratt had the secondary assist and Hughes now had a goal and two assists for his first multi-point game since April of 2021 (his 13th in the NHL overall).

At the 6:50 mark of the third, Sharangovich would pad the Devils lead out a little bit more when Bratt moved the puck to Ty Smith at the point. Smith got off a quick wrister that was going wide of the net. However, Sharangovich was fighting in front to gain position, corralled the wide shot and redirected it into the Buffalo net behind Luukkonen to make it 4-2 Devils.

Things have not been that easy for the Devils this season, though and tonight was no exception.

The Sabres would cut the lead to one goal at 14:38 gone by in the third when Ethan Prow, playing in his first NHL game, scored his first NHL goal.

Mark Pysyk chipped the puck to Victor Olofsson at the point. His shot was initially stopped by Blackwood, but he could not handle the rebound and Prow, who was, again, fighting for position in front of the net, was able to slide the puck underneath Blackwood while cutting in the near side.

The score was now 4-3 Devils and we would be in for a battle to end the game.

The Sabres pulled Luukkonen with just over 1:30 left in regulation. The Devils, despite this, held on to pick up the win.

The Devils outshot the Sabres 42-22 and won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hischier led the Devils centers with a personal 67-percent winning clip.

The Sabres racked up 19 penalty minutes as a team while the Devils held it to seven. Buffalo outhit the Devils 17 to six. The Sabres had more blocked shots at 15 to the Devils’ 13. Buffalo had eight giveaways to New Jersey’s three as a team.

Siegenthaler totaled 22:21 of ice time (including 1:07 on the PK) while Hamilton led the defensemen in power play time with 2:08 on the PP included in his 20:17 of total TOI.

For the forwards, Hughes led in total ice time with 17:52 (including 2:08 on the power play). McLeod led the forwards in shorthanded time (1:07 included in his 14:59 total TOI) while Bastian (14:29 total time on ice) and Hischier (16:40 of total time on ice including 48 seconds of PK time) also played 2:08 on the power play with Hughes.

Hughes (one goal, two assists) and Bratt (one goal, two assists) led the Devils with three points each while Sharangovich (one goal, one assist) had two points. Hughes also led in shots on goal with six. Pavel Zacha and Subban both had five shots to come in second in that category.

Bastian and Siegenthaler each had two hits to lead there. Graves, in his return to the lineup, had five blocked shots, leading in that category. Giveaways were kept to a minimum as Dawson Mercer, Hughes and Smith each had one to lead while takeaways were led by Marian Studenic, Jesper Boqvist and Hughes with each as well.

Next up, the Devils will return home for a 1 PM matinee at Prudential Center on New Year’s Eve against the Edmonton Oilers. That game will be shown on MSG+ locally.

Things, of course, have been subject to change and we will keep you posted should they do so.

Until then, enjoy the rest of your week everyone!