Devils Downed by Pens at Home, 5-2

The Devils played the second half of their two-game home mini series with the Pittsburgh Penguins and it was first verse, same as the first. The Pens won 5-2, sweeping the two games at Prudential Center.

This was a weird one, to say the least, but we will get to that later.

First up, housekeeping. Devils PA Announcer Kevin Clark has stepped away from the microphone after 14 years as the voice of the Rock. In addition, with Bryce Salvador and Erika Wachter out of action on the pre and postgame shows on MSG Networks, Devils’ current radio play-by-play man Matt Loughlin is returning to TV duty.

In more hockey-related news, Nikita Gusev was placed on unconditional waivers on Friday and was signed by the Florida Panthers. He will now help the Panthers in their charge towards the Central Division title and a playoff berth.

Sami Vatanen was also placed on waivers but played tonight due to the Devils sitting Dmitry Kulikov for “precautionary reasons” with the trade deadline at 3 PM tomorrow. Vatanen was in a strange position of playing and being on waivers at the same time!

Marian Studenic made his NHL debut tonight on the right wing as the Devils’ youth movement continues to roll on. He wore number 67, the first in franchise history to do so. As per Loughlin, he was “destined to be a Devil” being born in Holik, Slovakia.

The Devils’ other healthy scratches in addition to Kulikov were the newly acquired Jonas Siegenthaler and Scott Wedgewood, as Aaron Dell was the backup goalie tonight.

Will Butcher slotted in for Kulikov, playing in his first game since March 6. Ryan Murray was also in the lineup although he is expected by most to be moved by Monday’s deadline.

It was Pride Night at the Rock with the Devils wearing special rainbow-themed warmup uniforms that will, as usual, auctioned off for charity. A great initiative that puts the NHL’s
“Anyone Can Play” phrase into effect.

The goalie matchup saw Mackenzie Blackwood going for the Devils. He made 19 saves on 23 shots total for an .826 save percentage. He turned aside three of the Pens’ four power play shots and 16 of their 19 even strength shots.

For the Penguins, Tristan Jarry was in net, making 28 saves on the Devils’ 30 shots for a .933 save percentage. He got all six of their power play shots and was 22-for-24 at even strength.

The scoring got kicked off by Colton Sceviour, who actually scored the first two of the game. Sceviour had been placed on waivers by the Pens yesterday but cleared. His first goal came 235 into the game when Pittsburgh cut in on a 3-on-1. The shot from the odd man rush missed but went behind the net. Sceviour grabbed it and tried a wraparound, stuffing it between Blackwood’s right skate and the post. Teddy Bleuger and Marcus Pettersson had the assists on the goal that made it 1-0 Pens early.

Sceviour struck again at the 5:26 mark of the first when, following a play where Miles Wood had seemingly negated an icing call, icing was called and the faceoff moved down to the Devils’ end. There, Blueger won the faceoff to Cody Ceci who moved it to Mike Matheson at the point. He shot and Sceviour in front tipped the puck by Blackwood to make it Colton Sceviour 2-Devils 0.

But Wood would set that straight when he cut the lead in half at 17:14. Jesper Bratt got it to Vatanen, who gained the Penguins’ zone, flying up the right wing. He threw it on net and Wood was crashing and put the puck in to make it 2-1.

The second period was an eventful one as Pavel Zacha was lost for the Devils after a nine second shift. He went to the bench and did not return for the rest of the night.

The only goal of the period was controversial. With 40 seconds to go in the frame, Pittsburgh’s Bryan Rust scored when the Devils failed to clear and Brian Dumoulin got it to Rust at the top of the far faceoff circle. He scored to make it 3-1. Letang had the secondary assist.

But though the call on the ice was a good goal, the Devils decided to use their coach’s challenge. They argued goaltender interference, as Sidney Crosby had pushed Devils defenseman Ty Smith into goaltender Blackwood. Replays on TV showed the it was a conscious attempt by Crosby to get an edge, but the officials saw things different as they upheld the call on the ice: a good goal. That made it 3-1 Penguins and the goal came on the power play.

This is not the last we’d see of this type of play.

In the third, Jake Guentzel scored for Pittsburgh 1:19 in when Blackwood stopped an initial Crosby shots and Jared McCann got it behind the Devils net. He found Rust who, as he was falling down, made a pass to Guentzel at the side of the Devils’ cage and tapped it in to make it 4-1 Pittsburgh.

Then more controversy.

At the 7:30 mark of the third, PK Subban sliced through the Pens’ defense, making a few good forehand-backhand moves and a tremendous individual effort. Subban tumbled into Jarry and the call on the ice was no goal due to goalie interference.

But the officials got on the phone with Toronto and the call on the ice, after some deliberation, was changed to a good goal. Replays showed that Jarry fell, but Subban was not the one impeding him from making the save, as Subban was at the other side of the crease when Jarry fell down.

It was now 4-2 and things were getting interesting.

The Devils would pull Blackwood about six minutes after Jack Hughes stickhandled through the neutral zone and hit the post with Jarry falling back on the puck.

With Blackwood pulled with 3:15 left in regulation, the Devils pushed, but Guentzel’s empty net goal from Crosby and Matheson at 18:37 iced things for the Pens and gave us our final of 5-2.

Team stats-wise, the Devils outshot the Pens 30-24, the Devils won 53-percent of the game’s faceoffs, the Devils outhit the Pens, 12-7, both teams had an equal amount of blocked shots at 17 each and the Devils had more turnovers at 12 to Pittsburgh’s six.

The Pens were 1-for-1 on the power play while the Devils were 0-for-2.

Hughes led centers in faceoff percentage at 59-percent. Smith led the team in ice time with 21:15 and Hughes led the forwards with 20:46.

Shots on goal were led by Hughes with four, hits were led by Studenic, Michael McLeod and Mikhail Maltsev with two each. Blocks were led by McLeod who had four and takeaways by Andreas Johnsson, Tyce Thompson, Yegor Sharangovich, Maltsev and Hughes who each had one apiece.

And with that, it takes us to our next opponent. The Devils will face the archrival Rangers on Tuesday at home at 7 PM. This is the beginning of a four-game series between the two teams. The middle two will be at MSG and the last meeting back at the Rock. This is a real chance to for the Devils to play spoiler and dash the Rangers’ playoff hopes once and for all.

So, until then, stay safe everyone!

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