The Devils came in to their game against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens riding a modest three game winning streak. That streak, extended after a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Wild, came to an end tonight as a combination of sloppy play and a few calls against them led to a 3-1 Montreal win.
The Habs, who, like the Devils, are playing the front end of a back-to-back elected not to have a morning skate earlier today. This was partly in response to the back-to-back and due to injuries. The Devils will also be playing a back-to-back, as they have the Flyers tomorrow night.
The Devils lineup was much the same as it has been. Andy Greene and John Moore are still out with injuries, although Moore – who is suffering from concussion symptoms – did skate earlier today. The main differences were Cory Schneider and Jon Merrill being out with an illness. Cory was not feeling well and it was a noontime decision that he would not play tonight. Luke Gazdic and Sergey Kalinin were healthy scratches for New Jersey. Daniel Carr and Ryan Johnston were scratched for Montreal.
Karl Stollery and Blake Coleman, recent call ups from Albany who made their debuts for the Devils on the road trip, were making their Prudential Center debuts tonight. Both started the game for the Devils in a nice gesture by coach John Hynes.
Goaltending saw Keith Kinkaid start for the Devils since Schneider was out with an illness. He made 23 saves on 26 Canadiens shots. Starting for Montreal was Al Montoya, who made 16 saves on a paltry 17 Devils shots. Montoya last started and lost to New Jersey back in 2012, that is how good he has been against the Devils. Montreal’s All-Star goalie Carey Price spent the night in the tunnel behind the Habs’ bench. Speculation from the Devils’ announce team was that he just did not want to hear it from Devils fans after his attack on Kyle Palmieri a few weeks ago at the Bell Centre.
The Devils did not look good for the majority of the night, but they did get on the scoreboard first. That came at the 4 minute mark of the first period when PA Parenteau fired a shot from the near half wall. His rebound bounced out to Steven Santini who fired a seeing-eye shot that beat Montoya clean. Taylor Hall had the secondary assist. Toronto checked the goal to see if Hall or Travis Zajac tipped the puck in with a high stick. The replay showed that neither player touched the puck, let alone touched it with a high stick. It was a good goal, as the call on the ice stood. Santini’s shot beat Montoya clean to make the game 1-0 New Jersey.
But from there, the Canadiens took over. Or, more specifically, the Canadiens’ power play took over. At 4:46 of the first, Miles Wood took a slashing call against Alex Galchenyuk. He broke Galchenyuk’s stick, almost necessitating the slashing penalty. And Galchenyuk made them pay. He scored at 5:14 from Alexander Radulov and Nathan Beaulieu. That tied things up pretty quickly. The Devils had just three shots in the first period and had scored on one of them, but they took a penalty and let the Habs back into it. This would be a recurring theme throughout the night.
A scary moment in the first period as Beau Bennett lost his footing near the Montreal bench and went face first into the boards. He was okay, however, and did not leave the bench.
The second period featured no scoring, but did feature a few nice defensive plays by Blake Coleman and Jacob Josefson that stopped sure Montreal goals.
The turning point of the game came just 28 seconds into the third period. Nathan Beaulieu skated along the boards in the Devils’ zone and stopped, trying to reverse the play. As he suddenly stopped, Karl Stollery tried to finish his check. He did not stop in time and knocked Beaulieu down a few feet from the boards. He received a boarding call, which was the correct call. What was controversial was the fact that he was given a five minute major for boarding.
In the ensuing scrum that saw Beaulieu’s teammates come to his aid, Torrey Mitchell took a roughing minor against Stollery. So that left two minutes of four-on-four and then, when the Mitchell penalty expired, three minutes of 5-on-3 play.
Montreal immediately capitalized when Shea Weber scored his eleventh from Radulov and Galchenyuk at the 3:01 mark to make it 2-1 Canadiens. But Montreal was not done there. Because it was a major penalty, Stollery stayed in the penalty box for the remainder of the penalty, allowing the Canadiens to score at will.
And, sure enough, at 4:23, Max Pacioretty scored his 21st of the year from Galchenyuk and Radulov. Galchenyuk and Radulov each had three points (a goal and two assists for Galchenyuk and three assists for Radulov) on the night. Galchenyuk was named the first star of the game, Radulov the second and Weber the third star by attending media.
The Devils pulled Kinkaid with 2:33 left in the game and they did get some good chances in close on Montoya, but it was not enough. Time ran out and the Devils fell to the Habs 3-1.
Next up, the Devils travel down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia to play the Flyers. The team will not get a morning skate in tomorrow as the Villanova University basketball team has an afternoon game at the Wells Fargo Center (the Flyers skate at their practice facility). The Devils will hopefully use the time to rest and regroup, getting back on track. The majority of their final games are against Metropolitan Division foes, particularly the Penguins and the Flyers – both of which they see five times this season, as opposed to four for the other Metro teams. As John MacLean pointed out on the MSG+ postgame show, how they play against the Pens and the Flyers will go a long way to settling their post season fate. That begins tomorrow for the Devils.
On a side note, due to a previous commitment, I will be a little bit late on my post for tomorrow’s game. I will be recording the game and hope to have it up sometime by Sunday.