As play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi said on the MSG+ broadcast of the Devils-Jets game from MTS Centre in Winnipeg, “When you’re heading to Winnipeg to escape the weather, you know things are bad.” With the snow unrelenting back east, the Devils would look for some relief out west.
The Devils came off their offensive explosion against the Ottawa Senators trying to keep a winning streak intact heading into Winnipeg to face a big, physical Jets team (they lead the NHL in team hits). They would keep things going, even with a low shot total, they got the job done.
On the injury front, John Moore went back on to injured reserve and the Devils called Seth Helgeson up from Albany. The young defenseman, playing his first game of the season, was paired with Damon Severson on the blueline. News also came that Jiri Tlusty would be out for three to four months after undergoing ligament surgery to his wrist. This will likely end his season.
The Jets were getting some players back too. They were also trying a new wrinkle to their power play: putting big Dustin Byfuglien at forward and having him stationed in front of the opposition’s net. That change would be key for the Jets a little bit later in the game.
In net for the teams, the Devils put out Cory Schneider, who was again brilliant at times tonight. He was equal to 22 of 23 Winnipeg shots. The Jets threw out a different goalie than the Devils saw way back on opening night in October. Connor Hellebuyck got the nod for the Jets instead of Michael Hutchinson. He gathered 13 of 16 Devils shots.
The Devils got the scoring kicked off at 11:41 of the first period when two Jets players collided in their zone and Michael Cammalleri gathered the loose puck. Rushing in with Lee Stempniak on what was essentially a two-on-zero, Cammalleri passed the puck towards Stempniak who tipped it in. It was 1-0 Devils. The first period was also played very clean; no penalties were called on either team in the first frame. Bobby Farnham did have a good chance just as time was expiring in the first, but it was pushed aside.
A penalty was called in the second period, when Drew Stafford of the Jets went off at 14:41 for tripping against hometown boy Travis Zajac. The Devils now on the power play and after keeping the puck in the Jets zone, it was sent down low to Kyle Palmieri. He bobbled it and Joseph Blandisi picked it up, giving it to David Schlemko at the point. He sent it to Jacob Josefson on the half wall, who one-timed it past Hellebuyck. The Devils now had a 2-0 lead, but were not done yet.
That second period goal was the Devils’ first shot of the second period, occurring at 15:49. It was a low shot affair for the Devils to say the least.
Like the Devils in the first, the Jets had a good scoring chance at the end of the second period, but Cory Schneider came up big with a right pad save on the shot.
The third period was do-or-die for the Devils. They only had one win in Winnipeg since the Jets returned in 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers pulled up stakes and were looking to close things out in this game.
At 8:42 of the third, Stempniak would get his second of the game when Adam Henrique threw the puck from the half wall to Cammalleri at the top of the far faceoff circle. He passed to Eric Gelinas at the left point who fired a shot. Stempniak tipped it by Hellebuyck and the Devils now led 3-0.
But that was not the end of the game. Winnipeg got on the board when Gelinas took a delay of game penalty at 14:41 of the third (the Devils only penalty of the game and just the third in the game overall). On the power play, Dustin Byfuglien knocked a bouncing puck (right after Cory had made a save) out of mid-air and batted it into the net. The Jets had cut the lead to 3-1 and looked to be on the comeback trail.
They pulled Hellebuyck late and the Devils were unable to put the puck in the empty net (including a shot by Kyle Palmieri that went high and wide and a chance by Cammalleri, who passed it up to give it to Stempniak, who was trying for the hat trick). But, more importantly for New Jersey, the Jets were unable to score.
After a frantic last two minutes, the final buzzer sounded and the Devils had a fourth straight win.
But it does not get any easier. The next game for the Devils comes Tuesday night at Pittsburgh. It is their last game before the All-Star break. The Penguins have been playing much better hockey of late and will be rested. They will not play their scheduled game against Washington on Sunday due to the snow storm and, thus, will not have to travel back-and-forth between Washington and Pittsburgh.
But the Devils should be rested too and this is a game that will have some playoff implications, as the Devils and Pens are now the two Eastern Conference wildcard teams, after play today (Pittsburgh defeated Vancouver earlier). They will need to keep Malkin and a resurgent Crosby off the score sheet as they try to neutralize the Penguins on Tuesday.