The Devils had a near-Herculean task on their hands. Even after blanking the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, they had to fly home and take on the best team overall in the NHL this year, the Washington Capitals. This game had blood bath written all over it (in favor of the Capitals).
What all those who witnessed it would see was a titanic defensive struggle that was not devoid of excitement.
In the end, though, Washington would emerge victorious as the Devils fell in overtime for only the second time this season.
Neither team had a morning skate yesterday, as the Caps were resting up for the Playoffs (of which they have already clinched a spot – the only team in the Eastern Conference to do so) and the Devils had just come in from Pittsburgh after playing the night before. The Capitals, with the win tonight, can clinch the President’s Trophy (first place overall in NHL regular season and home ice throughout the Playoffs) as soon as their game tomorrow.
Some injury notes for the Capitals, as TJ Oshie sat out with an illness and Colonia, New Jersey-native John Carlson was back in the lineup after having surgery for a lower body injury and missing the last 13 games for them. He would play a significant role in this game going forward.
The goaltending matchup was a good one. Scott Wedgewood got his third straight start in net for the Devils. In Pittsburgh on Thursday, he became only the second goalie to earn a shutout in his second NHL start in Devils history. The other was Sam St. Laurent in 1985-86. In this game, Wedgewood made 25 saves on 26 shots.
For the Caps, Braden Holtby continued on his quest to break Martin Brodeur’s single season wins record. He got closer with a shutout OT victory. He stopped all 22 Devils shots he saw.
Although the game was scoreless for three periods, does not mean there was no action. Evgeny Kuznetsov was stopped by Wedgewood in the middle of the first period and was not able to get a shot off on the rebound. This was a big save early on for Wedgewood and got his confidence going quickly. Wedgewood would come up big time and time again. All this while the Devils spent most of the first period hemmed in their own zone. Things got more back-and-forth as the game would wear on and both Wedgewood and Holtby would be equal to the task each time.
The Devils defense came up big all night too. Blocked shots played a big part in them getting the point tonight. It also showed on the penalty kill. The Devils held Washington 0-for-2 on the power play, including a huge kill when Damon Severson was called for interference on Alex Ovechkin with just over two minutes left in the game. Conversely, the Devils power play went 0-for-3 on the night, including Ovechkin going off for tripping midway through the third.
Some injury scares in the second and third periods, as Stephen Gionta took a puck to the ankle mid-second, but would return. Right after that, Andy Greene was shaken up, but did not leave the game. Early in the third, Adam Larsson would catch a puck to the mouth blocking a shot; he would be bloodied, but would also return to the ice.
So, the game stayed scoreless through 60 minutes of hockey and headed into OT. The last time the Devils had played a scoreless OT game was in the 2011-12 season against the Colorado Avalanche that the Devils eventually won in a shootout. The Devils had also never been swept in a regular season series by the Washington Capitals in their history.
But that would change off the stick of a New Jersey-bred player making his return to the lineup. John Carlson would score the game winner, beating Wedgewood to the stick side with a slapshot at 2:17 elapsed in overtime. Assists went to noted Devil-killer Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson. Moments prior, Wedgewood had stopped Nate Schmidt on a breakaway to keep the game going.
If there is any doubt that Holtby could be a good guy to overtake Marty in the record books it is this classy move: as he was skating towards his teammates to celebrate the win, he met Wedgewood coming towards the Devils bench, he tapped the rookie on the pads as they passed to let him know that he played a good game and that there was much respect for him. Wedgewood’s shutout streak ended at a little over two full games. Wedgewood was again named the second star of the game by the attending media.
Next up for New Jersey, the Devils head to Raleigh to take on the Carolina Hurricanes at 5 PM Easter Sunday. The Canes are a team in a very similar situation to the Devils in terms of still being on the playoff bubble. Look for a competitive game between two teams fighting for a spot. Though if anything can top this defensive gem the Devils and Capitals played tonight, it would have to be near-perfect.