It was a night that witnessed the end of a legendary career and the continuation of a frustrating season. In the penultimate game of the 2016-17 NHL season for the New Jersey Devils – and the last home game – they mostly outplayed their opponents only to fall to four opportunistic goals. This win by the Isles also kept their 2017 playoff hopes alive.
But the game began on a high note. Patrik Elias, in his final skate with the only NHL team he has ever known, took to the ice by himself, getting the now-traditional treatment of a rookie and taking a couple of laps all to himself. Once warmups began, Patrik seemed most at ease. He joked with teammates, shook hands with some of the Islander players and acknowledged the huge crowd gathered to watch the pregame skate. The crowd seemed to encompass the entire lower bowl on the side of the ice that the Devils warmed up shooting at. Elias switched sticks a few times during the warmup skate, likely for memorabilia purposes.
After he exited towards the old Devils entrance near the team’s bench and not with the team down the tunnel, fans knew it was over. A great career was ended as Patrik skated off into retirement.
Prior to the game, Elias took the ceremonial first faceoff with his wife and two daughters dropping the puck and Stephen GIonta, his Devils teammate of six years, representing New York. Some of his teammates presented his family with flowers on behalf of the organization as well.
Once the festivities were over, it was time to get to the business of playing the game.
The Devils were without Devante Smith-Pelly (injury) and healthy scratches Ben Thomson and Joseph Blandisi. The Islanders were without almost an entire roster of players: Jean-Francois Berube, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Connor Jones, Shane Prince, Ryan Strome and John Tavares (who was injured the last time these two teams got together in Brooklyn).
In goal, Long Island-native Keith Kinkaid got yet another shot at his hometown team for the Devils, as they continued to platoon the goaltenders. He made 16 saves on just 20 shots for a .800 save percentage. The Isles were right back to Jaroslav Halak, who they have been riding to try to run the table on the regular season and get into the playoffs. He made 37 saves on 39 Devils shots for a .949 save percentage.
And that was the story of the night, as the Devils came close to doubling the Islanders up on shots and still managed to lose the game.
Things seemed so far so good for the Devils in the first period. They got the chances and could not convert, but still got out unscathed at 0-0.
The Isles began their onslaught in the second period. Adam Pelech scored at 2:48 to make it 1-0 with an assist to Nikolay Kulemin. About four minutes later, at 6:23, Anders Lee scored his 32nd goal of the year from Nick Leddy and Anthony Beauvillier to make it 2-0.
The teams exploded for four combined goals in the third period. New York’s Jason Chimera scored at 3:52 from Alan Quine and Calvin de Haan.
The Devils finally got on the board at the five minute mark. Beau Bennett came out from behind the Islander net and skated to the top of the far faceoff circle. He wristed one that trickled behind Halak and went in when Halak swung his left leg behind him and inadvertently kicked the puck into the net. That goal was unassisted but credit Jacob Josefson and Stefan Noesen for getting to the net and creating havoc. It was a dirty goal, but it still counted. It was now 3-1 Islanders and the Devils seemed to be back into it.
But that was snuffed out at 8:11 when Anders Lee scored his second of the game from Josh Bailey and Leddy to make it 4-1. That came on the power play while Miles Wood was serving a hooking call that came at 7:28. Overall on the night, New York was 1-for-4 on the power play while New Jersey was 0-for-3.
Bennett would notch his second of the game with about 2.2 seconds left in the game when Wood was forechecking, forcing a turnover to Pavel Zacha. He gave to Wood, who peeled back and gave to Dalton Prout at the point. Prout fired and Bennett was there to tip it in in front of the Islander net. That was the final home goal the Devils would score this year, making it 4-2 New York. The home season ended with the drop of the puck at center ice.
A strong finish for Bennett, to be sure, but a very frustrating one for the Devils since they, as I said, nearly doubled New York in their shots on goal. But these things happen to a growing team. Hopefully they just learn from it and go from there. The Islanders, meanwhile, keep on rolling trying to make that final push to the playoffs. The Maple Leafs defeated the Penguins 5-3, for what it is worth. I am not too sure how that impacts the race for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, but it looks like this one is going to come down to the final day to decide. The Islanders have Ottawa at home tomorrow while the Leafs are home to the Blue Jackets.
As for the Devils, they end the season tomorrow at 5 PM in Detroit where they and the Red Wings are shutting down The Joe. These two once powerful teams, reduced to missing the playoffs, will play the final hockey game at Joe Louis Arena tomorrow.
There was also another quite important hockey game being played tonight in Chicago. The NCAA men’s Division 1 hockey championship, concluding the Frozen Four, between Minnesota-Duluth and Denver was taken by the number one seeded Denver, 3-2.
Devils prospect Joey Anderson had the primary assist on Alex Iafallo’s power play goal at 7:16 of the second period. But Denver’s Jarid Lukosevicius notched a hat trick in that same second period, scoring at 4:44, 5:00 and 12:23 of that frame to give Denver the win. Riley Tufte added a second goal for Minnesota-Duluth at 14:39 of the third period.
Congratulations to Denver and it’s players on their national championship and good luck to Joey Anderson in whatever comes next in his Devils career.