The Devils spent the past week on a trip through the remaining Western Conference cities that they had not visited this season: Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.
The trip kicked off at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota as the Devils rolled into town to face old friend Zach Parise and the Wild. The Devils were coming off of their 5-2 win over the Flyers at home where they celebrated the 1995 Stanley Cup Championship team. As thorough as that game was for the Devils, the Wild game was a complete blowout in the other direction.
Minnesota kicked off the scoring with a late first period goal by Sean Bergenheim. He scored at 18:57 and the Devils went into the first intermission down 1-0. The second period saw the Wild double their lead only 13 seconds in off a goal from Chris Stewart. The Devils would finally get on the board when Dainius Zubrus broke his scoring drought of 50 games to break the shutout and seemingly bring the Devils back in. He scored off assists from Steve Bernier and Patrik Elias at 10:03 of the second. The Devils were back in it until about three minutes later, when Minnesota got their three goal lead back off the stick of Thomas Vanek.
Going into the third, it was 4-1 Wild and it would not get any prettier. Jason Pominville notched Minnesota’s fifth goal at 1:18 of the new period and, exactly seven minutes later, at 8:18, Vanek got his second of the game on the power play (Mark Fraser had gone to the box for hooking). At 8:40, Scott Gomez scored from Bernier and Damon Severson to make the score 6-2 when the final buzzer sounded.
The Wild game was a total disaster for New Jersey. Minnesota ended up going 1-for-4 on the power play without having to kill one off one of their own. When a team plays that disciplined they are going to be hard to beat. Minnesota is also fighting for a playoff spot, battling Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot in the West. The Jets lost that night, meaning that the Wild did gain some ground in their race.
Shaking that loss off, the Devils traveled to Denver and the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs have been having a disappointing second year under head coach Patrick Roy considering their success in the regular season last year. The Devils knew they could not allow an outburst like they did a few nights before in St. Paul.
All of the scoring in regulation happened in the second period. The Devils found themselves down early in the period as Jarome Iginla scored his 22nd of the year at 2:27 to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. The Devils responded via an Andy Greene slapshot at 14:12 off assists from Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson. The game was tied and would remain that way.
In the overtime period, the Devils got in some trouble late when Eric Gleinas was caught for tripping at 4:33 meaning the Devils would have to kill a 27 second 4-on-3 power play. But they were equal to the task and the game went to a shootout. In the dreaded “skills competition,” Ryan O’Reilly and Iginla connected for the Avalanche, while only Jacob Josefson was able to score for New Jersey. The Devils had earned their first point of the road trip, but had still left three on the table.
Next stop for New Jersey was Glendale, Arizona and the Gilla River Arena to take on the Arizona Coyotes for the second time in less than a month. In their last meeting on February 23 at The Rock, Cory Schneider and the Devils had come away with the 3-0 shutout victory. The Devils would look to have a similar performance in the desert.
There was no scoring in the first period; however, Jordin Tootoo did fight B.J. Crombeen about two minutes in in a spirited bout that would be Tootoo’s first step towards a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” (a goal, an assist and a fight). Tootoo also drew an extra two minute roughing minor, putting the Devils on the penalty kill early. They were successful and the teams went into the first intermission with no score.
The breakthrough finally came late in the second, as Henrique scored his 15th of the year from Travis Zajac and Severson. The Devils took the 1-0 lead into the second intermission. In the third period, the floodgates would open on the struggling Coyotes. Stephen Gionta scored just 50 seconds into the period from Tootoo and Severson. Nineteen year Coyote Shane Doan would get Arizona on the board at 6:06 to cut the Devils lead in half. Then, at 6:25, Tootoo would complete his Gordie Howe Hat Trick when he fired one past Mike Smith off assists from Mike Cammalleri and Zajac. Cammalleri would finish things off when he scored at 9:25 off assists from Greene and Larsson. The goal, which gave the Devils a 4-1 lead, was Cammalleri’s 25th of the year and was significant because it marks the fourth franchise that Cammalleri has scored at least 25 goals in a season for. These include his stops in Los Angeles, Calgary and Montreal.
The Devils had earned a victory in their last game on their final Western road trip of the season. They would come away with three of a possible six points and get Cory Schneider’s record back to NHL .500. They also kept pace with all of the teams they are chasing for the last wild card spot including Boston, Florida, Ottawa and Philadelphia, who all won on Saturday.
For the Devils, it will take a lot for the team to make the playoffs. They have about thirteen games remaining in the regular season and need to make up a lot of ground points-wise. But one thing you can say is that while battling a team like Arizona (who is already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs) who never gave up and played like they had something to prove, the Devils stayed in it and beat a weaker team, a team that they should beat if they are going to remain in this thing.
There is still some hope (however little it may be) for the Devils. They just need to respond more like they did in Arizona and less like they did in Minnesota.