The Devils fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Prudential Center today, 4-1, allowing the Jackets to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was a strange one, that is for sure and a weird way for Columbus to clinch.
The Prudential Center had a good crowd today, considering the team is out of contention at this point. It was Kid’s Day, which meant lots of activities for the youngsters including face painting and meet and greets with NJ Devil.
The Devils lineup looked almost exactly as it has the last two games with only a few exceptions. Miles Wood joined the legion of injured Devils (with Michael Cammalleri, Jacob Josefson and Devante Smith-Pelly). He was injured in the Pittsburgh game and did not return to that game on Friday night. Nick Lappin was a (presumably) healthy scratch to make a spot for Steve Santini, who slotted back in on defense. Scratched for Columbus were Lauri Korpikoski, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara and Alexander Wennberg.
The goaltending matchup saw Cory Schneider return to the crease for the Devils after two consecutive Keith Kinkaid starts. He made 23 stops on 26 shots (Columbus had 27 shots on the afternoon – scoring an empty netter late in the game) for a .885 save percentage. Sergei Bobrovsky got the nod for the Blue Jackets, making 35 saves on 36 Devils shots for a .972 save percentage.
The first goal of the game was an odd one, to say the least. Columbus’ Josh Anderson was called for tripping at 5:33 to set up a Devils power play. During the ensuing man advantage, at 6:32, Lukas Sedlak was sprung on a breakaway and Andy Greene hooked him down, resulting in a shorthanded penalty shot for the Blue Jackets. He converted on the penalty shot putting the Jackets up 1-0. The penalty shot issue was a big thing for the Devils following the Pittsburgh game on Friday when the Penguins were granted a penalty shot and then the Devils were denied one on almost the exact same play going the other way.
Columbus doubled their lead in the first period, also shorthanded, when Matt Calvert was called for tripping Joseph Blandisi at 9:09. The Devils were on their second power play, but this time, it was Boone Jenner who scored from an impossible angle, beating Cory to make it 2-0. He got assists from Jack Johnson and David Savard.
The Devils finally broke through on the power play at 10:30 of the first. It was on the same Calvert penalty and occurred when Pavel Zacha grabbed the puck on a Columbus zone clear and tipped the puck forward to Adam Henrique, who broke free in on Bobrovsky. He barreled in and went five hole, slipping the puck by the Russian goaltender. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella immediately asked for a review, saying that the play was offside. Replays showed the linesemen that Zacha was well onside when he played the puck and the call on the ice stood as a good goal. It was now 2-1, giving the Devils some hope.
Overall on the afternoon, the Devils were 1-for-3 on the power play and Columbus was 0-for-1 with the two shorties.
The Blue Jackets would add to their lead in the second period, making it 3-1 when, at the 6:28 mark, former Jacket Dalton Prout hauled down Josh Anderson on a breakaway and another penalty shot was called in favor of the Blue Jackets. Brandon Dubinsky was called on to take the shot after some delay and beat Schneider to make it 3-1. The Blue Jackets now had two shorthanded goals and two penalty shot goals in the same game.
In the third period, Cory was pulled with about two minutes left and Boone Jenner again struck, clearing into an empty net unassisted to make the final score 4-1.
A strange but tough loss for New Jersey, but they regroup to take on yet another Metropolitan Division contender on Tuesday. This time, the archrival New York Rangers come to town to give the Devils another test. They have been hanging with the elites, just not able to beat them. It is not like these games have been blowouts, so a rivalry game just might be what the doctor ordered to give the Devils a little pick-me-up and get them off of this two game slide. With one win in their last thirteen, they are playing for pride now and will hopefully show enough of it against the Rangers on Tuesday.
Also, congratulations to the Columbus Blue Jackets and their fans as they embark on their run in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. It is a great feeling when you finally get in after years of disappointment and I hope they do well. Good luck again and I hope they do some damage.