After winning the first two games on their big road trip, the Devils were still in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They sat five points above the Florida Panthers, who do have games in hand.
But after falling 4-2 to the Anaheim Ducks while the Philadelphia Flyers won to distance themselves a little bit from the wild card teams, that tenacious hold they have had on a playoff spot all season does seem a little bit precarious. It’s not time to panic yet, but points are at a premium and they need to grab them when they can.
The Ducks are also on the bubble in the Western Conference playoff race and also need points. With both teams desperate, it should have made for an interesting night.
This was the beginning of the second half of the Devils’ marathon road trip, three down and three to go.
Roster-wise, Patrick Maroon was back in the lineup tonight, missing only one game with his injury. He would play on the third line and play a big role later on in the game. Jesper Bratt and Mirco Mueller were the healthy scratches while Jimmy Hayes and Pavel Zacha remain out. An update on Marcus Johansson via Steve Cangialosi of MSG+ was that he has been skating. Concussions are, of course, hard to come back from, especially when suffering two in such short succession. He will, obviously not be on this trip and they will not rush him back.
The Devils did lose Miles Wood to an upper body injury in this game. He appeared to hyper extend his elbow in a freak play while reaching for a loose puck and getting his arm caught up a Ducks’ players body. The Devils said that Wood was questionable to return tonight (and he did not) but he could be back as soon as San Jose on Tuesday.
The goaltending matchup saw Keith Kinkaid start again for New Jersey. That decision by the coaching staff was due to his play in his recent starts and the fact that this was not a traditional back-to-back. The Devils played at 1 PM local time in Los Angeles on Saturday and played at 6 PM local time in Anaheim on Sunday. Kinkaid made 32 saves on a whopping 36 Anaheim shots. He did not have good numbers versus Anaheim going in and is now 0-4 against them lifetime.
Anaheim went with John Gibson. It was a relatively light night for him, as he stopped 15 of 17 Devils shots.
An interesting moment 16 seconds into the game as a whistle blew calling the Devils offside. Sami Vatanen – making his first appearance in Anaheim since the trade in November that brought him to the Devils – apparently did not hear it and shot on goal, beating Gibson. The initial call from the referee was that it was a goal, but it was quickly waved off when it was realized that the linesman had blown the play dead. It was the correct call, but a strange one, made stranger when the ref called it a good goal.
So, back to 0-0. But that would not last long. At the 1:14 mark of the first, Ryan Getzlaf scored when Kinkaid thought he had the puck way outside of his crease. He was too far out to recover when he did not get it and Getzlaf scored. It was the seventh time that Kinkaid has surrendered a goal in the first two minutes of a game this season. That made it 1-0 Ducks.
Anaheim would double their lead at the 6:37 mark of the first when Jakob Silfverberg redirected a Josh Manson shot by Kinkaid to make it 2-0. Hampus Lindholm had the secondary assist on that one. Manson would be lost for the Ducks later in the game with an upper body injury that he would not return from.
So the Devils were deep in a hole early on. But there was some hope late in the first, as at 19:25, Adam Henrique was called for hooking Vatanen. The former Devil went to the box to give the Devils a power play. At 19:52, Brandon Montour was collared for high sticking Taylor Hall to make it a 5-on-3 for the Devils. They would have 1:34 total of 5-on-3 power play time, including 1:26 in the second on fresh ice if they did not score in the first.
They would not score at all. In fact, they ended the 5-on-3 with just one shot on goal.
Their power play seemed anemic, but the Devils would get on the board in the second period off of a power play goal. The Ducks received a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 9:57 and Kyle Palmieri would capitalize at 10:31 from Travis Zajac and Hall. Hall worked the puck along the near half wall and passed to Zajac in the slot. He collected the puck in his skates and moved it along to Palmieri, who was set up at the far faceoff dot. He fired and beat Gibson to get the Devils on the board and cut the Ducks’ lead in half at 2-1.
For Palmieri, this was his 20th goal of the season, the third straight year he has reached this milestone. And to do it in a year when he has missed some time to injury is extremely impressive. Congratulations to Kyle Palmieri on reaching this mark.
Overall, on the power play, the Devils were 1-for-4 with three shots while the Ducks were 1-for-2 with three shots.
But the story of the Devils’ night was that they would give one up, seem to get back into the game, and then surrender one. At the 7:29 mark of the third period, John Moore was called for cross checking Silfverberg. Anaheim would score on that power play when Montour received a perfect pass from Getzlaf and beat Kinkaid to make it 3-1. Rickard Rakell had the secondary assist. The Devils were in a hole again.
But a trio of former Ducks would cut the lead to 3-2. Patrick Maroon would score from Vatanen and Stefan Noesen at 10:05 of the third. Noesen dug the puck out of the corner and gave it to Vatanen at the far point. He walked up the wall and found a passing lane to Maroon, who was camped out in front of the Anaheim net and simply shoveled it behind Gibson to cut the Ducks’ lead again.
But the Ducks would answer right back. It began when Blake Coleman was rocked by a hit from Marcus Pettersson in the neutral zone. Anaheim’s Rakell then scored from Cam Fowler and Pettersson to make it 4-2. Coleman immediately got into it with the Ducks. Maroon immediately came to the smaller Coleman’s aid and, when the dust settled, Getzlaf and Maroon were both off for roughing at 10:51, making it 4-on-4.
But that was it for the Devils. Kinkaid would be pulled with about a minute remaining, but to no avail. The Ducks had the 4-2 win.
On the scoresheet, the Devils were outshot 36-17, won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs and only got in front of 14 attempted Anaheim shots – those blocks were a big dropoff from the LA and Vegas games. As Steve Cangialosi said, shots were simply getting through to Kinkaid.
Individually, Vatanen led Devils skaters in ice time with 25:52 (including 3:31 on the power play). Hall was a close second with 24:03 (4:17 on the power play) as he was being double shifted. Palmieri led in shots on goal with five, Ben Lovejoy led in hits with four of the Devils’ 33 on the night, Andy Greene led in blocks with four of the Devils’ 14 and Palmieri also led in takeaways with two.
So, next up, the Devils visit Pete DeBoer and the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night in Northern California. As Deb Placey said on the Devils postgame, the Sharks are in a similar position to the Devils and, like the Devils and Ducks, will need points in their playoff push. We will see you then.
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