The Devils returned from Thanksgiving for Hockey Fights Cancer night at The Rock against the Vancouver Canucks and it was a special night all around.
The Devils wore the special lavender Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys for warmups that featured special “Boyle Strong 11” patches on them, in reference to the Devils’ Brian Boyle’s fight with leukemia. In addition, Boyle took the ceremonial faceoff where his son dropped the puck along with a young cancer patient. Boyle’s wife was also present for the ceremony. There was also a young cancer patient who served as an honorary coach for the game. He got his own whistle and was allowed to read off the lineup in the Devils dressing room, something that Jimmy Hayes usually does, but was happy to give up for this game.
That set up the game between two very overachieving teams this season. Although the Devils dropped out of first place in the Metropolitan Division, they were looking to pick up two points against a Western Conference foe and sweep the season series with Vancouver.
Roster-wise, the Devils are still without Marcus Johansson, who is getting closer to returning and Kyle Palmieri, who is still a few weeks away from returning. The only change from the game against Boston just prior to Thanksgiving is that Stefan Noesen was in for Jimmy Hayes. Dalton Prout was the other healthy scratch.
The dasher board ads were in lavender for Hockey Fights Cancer night and, in a nice touch, during the first TV timeout, the fans all held up cards with “I Fight For” and then a name or group that they support in the fight against cancer.
The first goal of the game did not come until the second period when, after a few chances for the Devils (including a scoring opportunity off of a 2-on-1 the other way for the Canucks setup by a nice defensive play by Damon Severson), Taylor Hall broke through at 2:15. It came unassisted when John Moore dumped the puck into the Vancouver zone and it wound around to Noesen. Noesen shot on the Canucks’ goal cage and the rebound came to Nico Hischier, who took it behind the net, protected the puck and gave it to Hall at the bottom of the near faceoff circle. He roofed it far side and the Devils had the 1-0 lead. Nico’s pass was deflected slightly by the Vancouver defender’s stick, meaning he did not get an assist on the goal.
Hall, after tonight, has 34 points in 33 games against the Vancouver Canucks – which comes mostly from his years with Edmonton – and ended the night with the goal and two assists. He was named the game’s second star. Hischier was the third star, as he had a really good game.
The Canucks would tie things up at the 5:36 mark when Daniel Sedin scored from Alexander Edler and Henrik Sedin. The Sedin twins struck again, as they have for so many years, and it was now 1-1.
But at the 9:54 mark of the second, Nico Hischier’s hard work led to him making a nice inside out move on a Vancouver defender and then driving to the net, drawing a tripping penalty from Sam Gagner. That set up the Devils power play and a real emotional moment. Hall dropped the puck back to Will Butcher, who sliced through the Vancouver defense, turning the d-men inside out before driving to the net. He sort of peeled away from the net and just left the puck for Brian Boyle, who scored into the empty side of the Canucks’ net. Brian Boyle had scored a goal on Hockey Fights Cancer night and was rewarded with chants of “Brian Boyle! Brian Boyle!” from the Devils faithful. But even more importantly for everyone, the Devils had a 2-1 lead. That goal came at 10:17 of the second. Boyle would go on to be named the game’s number one star.
The Devils would get the insurance goal when Hischier gave to Hall, who came in on a breakaway. He went to his backhand and hit the post, but the rebound came right to a trailing Damon Severson, who buried it to make it 3-1 New Jersey.
But the Devils were not out of the woods yet. Midway through the third period, Miles Wood got clipped by an errant Michael Del Zotto stick and blood was drawn. That would be an easy double minor for high sticking, except neither referee, Brian Pochmara or Dean Morton, saw the infraction. There was a brief conference between the officials but nothing was called, getting the Devils fans in the crowd pretty agitated.
To make matters even worse, a few minutes later, at 10:20, John Moore was called for slashing Bo Horvat and Horvat would go on to score on the ensuing power play. He got assists from Daniel Sedin and Brock Boeser, to make it 3-2 Devils. A “make up call” would be made on Henrik Sedin, sending him to the box for hooking at 12:17, but nothing came of the man advantage. New Jersey ended the night 1-for-3 on the power play with two shots on goal while Vancouver was also 1-for-3 with five shots on goal.
That set up a frantic finish that saw the Devils gunning for an empty net (Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom was pulled with about 1:30 remaining in the game) that ended up going for icing calls. Finally, with a nice last ditch effort by Noesen to dive and get the puck out of the Devils’ defensive zone, just over the blue line, the final horn sounded and New Jersey had come away with the 3-2 victory.
Markstrom ended the night making 23 saves on 26 Devils shots while Cory Schneider made 23 saves on 25 shots faced. Both goalies were outstanding at times. Steven Santini led the Devils in ice time with 21:32 and in hits with four. Pavel Zacha and Wood both tied for the Devils lead with four shots on goal. The Devils continue to improve on faceoffs, winning 54-percent of them tonight.
Next up, the Devils play tomorrow in Detroit. It will be the team’s first trip to the new Little Caesar’s Arena after closing down the Joe Louis Arena last spring. That game is the second half of a back to back for both teams (the Red Wings were at Madison Square Garden tonight taking on the Rangers) and both teams should arrive in Motown at approximately the same time. We will have that for you here tomorrow.