It has been almost a cliche this season to say how the Devils were not picked to be here and that they have defied expectations. But when you really look at how things are going and have gone for this team this season, it truly has been amazing.
The Devils defeated the New York Islanders tonight at Prudential Center 4-3. With the Florida Panthers falling earlier in the day to the Boston Bruins, that means that there is five points separating the two teams. The Panthers remain the only threat to the Devils and the magic number is now six. Any combination of six points gained by the Devils or lost by the Panthers will see New Jersey clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2011-12.
We will get to the game in due time, but first, the Devils paid tribute to a longtime treasure of metro area hockey coverage both in print and television. Stan Fischler announced his retirement to come at the end of the season and the Devils paid tribute to him tonight. Former TV colleagues Mike “Doc” Emrick and Chico Resch were on the MSG+ pregame show along with Deb Placey to reminisce about Stan’s 60 years of covering hockey in the New York area.
There was even a retrospective on the Matt and the Maven segment that he and Matt Loughlin used to do on Devils’ broadcasts which featured the immortal Chuck the Duck. There was also a special presentation on the big board made to Stan in-game and he spent some time on the broadcast with Ken Daneyko and Steve Cangialosi. Good luck to the Maven in retirement and thank you for the tireless work you did for hockey in the New York metro area.
Today was also Stan’s birthday, so happy 86th birthday to him!
Now on to the game details. First, on the injury front. Marcus Johansson has been cleared for contact. He has not been cleared to play yet, but has been cleared for contact.
Roster-wise, nothing much changed from the OT loss to Pittsburgh. Jesper Bratt, Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford were the scratches.
In goal, Keith Kinkaid made the start again, making 27 stops on 30 Islander shots. Coach John Hynes has not announced a starter for the game in Montreal tomorrow (tonight was the start of the Devils’ final back-to-back of the season), but you would have to assume that Cory Schneider gets some work and Kinkaid gets a little bit of a rest going into the playoffs, should the team get there.
For the Islanders, Thomas Greiss made just his fourth start since January 14. He made 31 saves on 35 Devils shots.
Things looked bad for the Devils just 1:15 in as the Isles got on the board first. Tanner Fritz scored then from Brandon Davidson and John Tavares to give New York the 1-0 lead early. The bad news was that Kinkaid had let in a goal within the first two minutes of a game again. The good news is that when that happened, the Devils were 8-3 coming into tonight. They would be 9-3 before the end of the night.
It started at the 7:54 mark when Stefan Noesen scored from Blake Coleman and Will Butcher. Coleman sealed off an Islander behind the New York net. He took the puck to the front of the net and slid it to Noesen who was cutting towards the net. Noesen stuffed it in to make it 1-1. Things were beginning to turn. Noesen was playing in his 100th game as a New Jersey Devil tonight so congratulations to him.
Also, with the assist, Butcher took over the franchise record for assists in a season by a rookie defenseman with 38. He passed Barry Beck, who set the previous record of 37 when the team was in Colorado.
Kinkaid was shaken up by a high shot by Anthony Beauvillier to the collarbone late in the first period, but would shake it off. The Devils would lose Travis Zajac briefly late in the second, but he would return. Also, Kyle Palmieri took an errant Andy Greene stick to the face just below his right eye in the middle of the third period. He would not return and Hynes had no update on his condition in his post game presser.
The second period was a busy one for both teams. It began with Taylor Hall scoring on the power play from Butcher and Palmieri just 41 seconds into the second. Anders Lee was called for tripping at 19:11 of the first, giving the Devils 1:12 of power play time on fresh ice in the second period. Hall worked it to Butcher at the near point. Butcher gave it back to Hall along the half wall and Hall found room, then fired a pass towards a cutting Palmieri. The puck took a fortunate bounce off of the New York D-man’s skate and past Greiss. It was 2-1 Devils. Hall now has points in seven straight games.
And his magic was not done. He scored again at the 9:08 mark of the second from Noesen to make it 3-1 Devils. Noesen jarred the puck loose to Hall in the Devils zone. He then took it all the way up ice, using his speed to push the Islander defense back on their heels. Once he had gained the New York blue line, he fired from the hashmarks inside the slot, beating Greiss glove side. It was a beautiful play, as Hall winded his way up ice and just sliced through the New York defense.
The Devils now had a two goal lead, but the Isles would just not go away. At 11:22, Patrick Maroon was called for tripping and the Islanders were on the power play. Beauvillier scored when his shot was tipped by the Devils’ Brian Gibbons in front and beat Kinkaid up high. Mathew Barzal and Brock Nelson had the assists on that one.
Overall, on the power play for the night, both teams were an exact 1-for-2 with three shots.
The difference for the Devils was when Damon Severson went off for holding at 18:27. Things seemed to be going in the Isles’ favor and the momentum was shifting. But, at 18:58, Blake Coleman would score shorthanded from Mirco Mueller and Michael Grabner to make it 4-2 Devils. Mueller skated the puck out of trouble into the New York zone on a 2-on-1 with Coleman. He drew the defender towards him and then passed to Coleman, who roofed a wrister by Greiss stick side to double the Devils’ lead.
The Islanders would end the second period with 27 seconds still left on that power play and nearly gave up another shorty early in the third. Grabner skated in all alone on a breakaway, but was stopped by Greiss, who was single-handedly keeping the Islanders in the game.
The Devils would spend most of the third period in the Isles’ zone with great offensive zone pressure. They were killing the clock, but could just not solve Greiss. That would come back to bite them when, at 16:21. Chris Wagner redirected a Johnny Boychuk shot by Kinkaid to cut the Devils’ lead to 4-3. Nick Leddy had the secondary assist.
We were in for a wild finish. Greiss went to the bench with about 1:30 left in the game for the extra skater. The Devils endured about three key faceoffs deep in their zone, but were finally able to get the puck out after Noesen had a timely blocked shot.
It was a nailbiter, but the Devils got the W, with Keith Kinkaid notching his 23rd win of the season.
Stats-wise, the Devils outshot the Isles 35 to 30, won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs, out hit the Islanders 31 to 13 and doubled them up in blocked shots with 12 to New York’s six.
Sami Vatanen once again led in time on ice by a wide margin with 27:15 – including 27 seconds on the power play and 2:18 on the PK. Hall led in shots on goal with six, Coleman led in hits with five, blocks were led by Coleman, Gibbons, Grabner, Mueller and Vatanen with two each and Hall led in takeaways with three.
In the end, four Devils had multi-point nights: Hall with two goals (although he could have had at least two more, it seemed – he was that in control of the game), Coleman with a goal and an assist, Noesen with a goal and an assist and Butcher with two assists. Hall was named the game’s first star, Butcher the second and Noesen the third.
Next up, the Devils travel up to Montreal to take on the Habs in the back end of their final back-to-back of the season tomorrow. Florida has a back-to-back beginning Monday when they take on the Hurricanes. We will have you covered here tomorrow as the Devils take on the Montreal Canadiens.
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