Hockey can be a crazy game. Sometimes you give up six goals over the first two periods and then, boom!, you make a third period comeback and score six to only drop the game 7-6.
That’s exactly what happened to the New Jersey Devils tonight. In the first of three straight against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, the Devils gave up six goals over the first two periods and then made a comeback for the ages – scoring six goals in one period (the first time they had done so since 1996 against the Hartford Whalers) – but giving one up to lose 7-6.
First, a big welcome back to Erika Wachter and Bryce Salvador from the COVID protocol list. They missed eight games since going on the list on April 8. They made their return to TV tonight, but unfortunately, they were replaced on the COVID list by PK Subban, who did not play tonight.
He joined Ty Smith (upper body), Mackenzie Blackwood (upper body), Pavel Zacha and Jesper Bratt on the sidelines. Connor Carrick slotted in on defense for Subban. Mikhail Maltsev was the lone healthy scratch.
With Blackwood out, Scott Wedgewood made his first start in two weeks and… it did not go well. He faced 13 shots and let in four, making only nine saves for a .692 save percentage. All of those shots and goals came at even strength.
Aaron Dell came on in relief in the second period and made 16 saves on 19 shots with an .842 save percentage. He stopped the lone shorthanded shot the Pens threw at him and was 2-for-3 on the power play (the Penguins went 1-for-2 on the power play). He stopped 19-of-23 at even strength. The Pens finished with 32 total shots.
In goal for Pittsburgh, Tristan Jarry stopped 23-of-30 Devils’ shots for an .800 save percentage. He let in the only Devils shorthanded goal, stopped five of their six power play shots (the Devils were 1-for-4 on the power play) and stopped 19-of-23 at even strength. He also picked up a point – an assist on a Brian Dumoulin goal.
And now let’s get to the goal recaps because there were a lot of them and I want to sleep tonight.
It began 3:49 into the game when Pittsburgh’s Mike Matheson scored. Jared McCann gathered a loose puck and passed to Cody Ceci, who bobbled the pass but moved it up top to Matheson at the point. Matheson then blasted a shot by Wedgewood to make it 1-0 Penguins.
Bryan Rust made it 2-0 at 8:04 when the Pens’ Jake Guentzel got the puck to Sidney Crosby, who banked a pass off of the boards to Rust, who got in behind the Devils’ defense. He shot past Wedgewood’s left pad and scored.
A strange one next. Dumoulin dumped the puck into the Devils zone at 9:49 and the puck took a weird hop, as Wedgewood was deep in his net and it bounced through him and in. Jarry had the assist on this goal, which made it 3-0 Pittsburgh.
One more before the first period was up. Newly acquired Jeff Carter scored just moments after Miles Wood hit the post on a partial breakaway for the Devils. McCann passed threw the puck towards Carter and the puck bounced off of Jonas Siegenthaler’s skate and came right to Carter. He fanned on the shot, kind of sending a fluttering puck Wedgewood’s way. It hit Matt Tennyson and redirected past Wedgewood to make it 4-0 Penguins. The goal came at the 17:56 mark of the first and Kris Letang had the secondary assist.
When the horn sounded, the period from hell was over for Scott Wedgewood and so was his night. Aaron Dell came in to play the second.
And he let one in just 1:12 into the new frame when Evan Rodrigues got the puck off of the end board, shot in by Zach Aston-Reese. He faked a shot and made a nice no-look, behind-the-back pass to Teddy Blueger, who shot into a wide-open net and scored. It was now 5-0 Pens.
Rodrigues would get one of his own later in the second. At 15:18, he scored on the power play. It was a weak elbowing call against Siegenthaler, as the Pittsburgh player kind of ran into him with Siegenthaler not moving his elbow.
But it was what it was and the Devils had to kill the penalty.
They did not when, with mere seconds left on the man advantage, Jason Zucker at the side of the Devils’ net passed to Rodrigues at the far faceoff circle. He scored from there to put up the touchdown in the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. John Marino had the secondary assist.
The Devils were deep in a hole when the third period started, but things were about to get even weirder.
Just 41 seconds into the third, with the Devils on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:19. Nick Merkley threw a saucer pass through the slot to Nico Hischier at the bottom of the far faceoff circle. He scored to make it 6-1. Will Butcher had the secondary assist.
At 5:14, with the Devils down a man, Yegor Sharangovich scored the Devils’ first shorthanded goal since Kyle Palmieri did it in Boston earlier in the year. It came unassisted when he intercepted a Letang pass just inside the Devils blue line and was off to the races. He cut in on net with a Penguin defender draped all over him and shot between the post and Jarry’s stick to beat him. It was now 6-2 Devils.
At 8:49, Nathan Bastian cut the Pens lead in half when Miles Wood went low-to-high with Butcher. Butcher shot and Bastian reached out with his stickto redirect a puck going wide past the right post to make it 6-3 Penguins.
A brief interlude by Pittsburgh that would go down as the game winner when, at 11:15, Guentzel got the puck to Crosby, camped out just below the goal line. Crosby took the pass and, with a quick release, roofed it in and out over Dell. That made it 7-3 as the Pens put up the extra point.
But the Devils were not done making this a game.
At 12:52, Jack Hughes scored when Sharangovich gained the Penguins’ zone, stopped just inside the blue line and found a seam to a cutting Hughes coming up the right wing. Hughes shot and beat Jarry stick side. It was now 7-4 Pittsburgh.
At 13:56, Merkley passed cross-ice to Nolan Foote, who was placed at the near faceoff dot. He shot and scored, notching his first NHL goal in just his second NHL game. Damon Severson had the secondary assist.
Dell was pulled with about 1:25 left in regulation and the Devils capitalized. The Pens could not clear the zone and Butcher kept it in. He gave to Wood, who got it to Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson banked the puck off of Ceci and Jarry’s skates and into the net from behind the net, breaking his goalless drought. That made it 7-6 as this was officially the highest scoring game for the Devils since a 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on October 30, 2019.
But that was how it was to stay. The Crosby goal proved the insurance the Pens needed and, though Dell was pulled a second time, the Devils could not equalize. The Devils had lost their seventh in a row.
The Devils were outshot 32-30, won 45-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were outhit 23-21 and had less blocked shots at 18-9. They did have one fewer turnover at three to Pittsburgh’s four.
Nico Hischier led in faceoff winning percentage for centers with a 48-percent clip. Severson led the team in time on ice with 23:30 while Hischier led the forwards with 21:02. Hischier and Hughes led in power play time with 5:03 on the man advantage.
Shots were led by Hischier, Hughes and Butcher who each had four. Bastian led in hits with four. Carrick led in blocks with four while Michael McLeod led in takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils remain in Pittsburgh, playing game two of this three-game miniseries on Thursday at 7 PM. We will see what the Devils can muster and if they can beak their seven game winless skid.
We will have coverage for you then and, of course, everyone stay safe in the meantime.