The Pittsburgh Penguins have played about 16 home games in the past 78 nights. They have only two losses in that time period at PPG Paints Arena. After those two losses have both come against the New Jersey Devils.
After a Devils victory in Pittsburgh back on February 27, they notched an overtime win tonight, coming away with both points in a 4-3 barnburner.
The Devils did get some help from the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday in the playoff race, as the Jackets defeated Florida Panthers to keep them away from New Jersey in the standings. The Devils would take advantage of that help by ending their road trip 4-2-0, taking a eight of a possible 12 points.
According to the MSG+ pregame show, Ben Lovejoy was summoned by the coaching staff to give a speech after practice yesterday. He told the team, basically, that they were a good team and one that they must collect points to get to the playoffs. The point seemed to be that the Devils just had to continue to play the way they have and that would sustain them. That seemed to be enough to pump the Devils up to end their trip on a winning note.
They also got reinforcement when Pavel Zacha joined the team in Pittsburgh and played tonight for the first time since his injury March 6 against Montreal. The Devils would be missing Miles Wood, who remains out following his upper body injury suffered in Anaheim. Jimmy Hayes, Mirco Mueller and Stefan Noesen also sat while Jesper Bratt slotted back in up front.
In net, the Devils went back to Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid has been the hot hand and the Devils went right back to him. He played amazing at times in notching his first-ever 20 win season tonight. He stopped 40 of 43 Penguins shots. The Pens threw out Matt Murray, who is playing his first games back after missing a block of time due to a concussion. He stopped 30 of 34 shots against.
The Devils did not look too good early on, as they got hemmed in early and Sidney Crosby was able to put in a rebound off of a Jamie Oleksiak shot. The goal came just 2:29 into the game and Jake Guentzel had the secondary assist. One-nothing Pens.
A scary moment in the second period when one of the linesmen, Tony Sericolo, fell and the Devils’ Brian Gibbons tripped over him. He was seemingly cut and had to leave the game to get stitched up. He would return about four or five minutes after the incident occurred at 11:03 of the first.
While the Pens grabbed the early lead in the first, the second period belonged to the Devils. It began at the 3:48 mark when Bryan Rust took a tripping call, putting the Devils on the power play. Will Butcher would convert, scoring his first goal since November 20, ending a 52 game goal drought.
Butcher skated the puck out from behind the Devils’ net, pushing it ahead to Taylor Hall. Hall broke into the Pens’ zone and found Damon Severson at the near point. Severson went point-to-point with a trailing Butcher, who was just joining the play. Butcher fired and beat Murray to tie things up at one.
For the night, the Devils were 1-for-2 on the power play with four shots on goal. Pittsburgh was held 0-for-2 with only two shots.
The goal that gave the Devils the lead was set up at the 8:36 mark of the second when Andy Greene and Carl Hagelin took coincidental minors – Greene for tripping and Hagelin for interference. The ensuing four-on-four would lead to a beautiful goal from Blake Coleman. That one came at 7:20 with assists to Drew Stafford and Zacha.
It began when Kinkaid made a nice save on a Pens’ 2-on-1. Zacha grabbed the puck, moving it ahead to Stafford, who headmanned it to Coleman, alone with one Penguin to beat behind the Pittsburgh blue line. He drove hard towards the net, keeping one hand on his stick and was able to backhand the puck, top shelf, by Murray. That made it 2-1 Devils.
New Jersey added an insurance goal at the 8:54 mark of the second when Nico Hischier scored to make it 3-1. It happened when the Devils broke into the Pens’ zone with numbers. Hall threaded a pass cross ice to John Moore in at the bottom of the near faceoff circle. Moore then threaded one back to Nico Hischier, who had fought to get all alone in the slot. He layed the puck in, all alone with an empty net in front of him. Three-one Devils.
The Devils had scored three goals in just 3:39. The Devils seemed to have things in control going into the third period. But this was Pittsburgh and these are the two-time defending champion Penguins we are talking about.
At 3:13 of the third, Crosby won a draw deep in the Devils’ zone, back to Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin scored to make it 3-2. The comeback was on.
Sure enough, at the 10:52 mark, Phil Kessel beat Kinkaid through a screen to tie the game at three. The assists went to Derick Brassard and Conor Sheary. The game was back to square one.
What ensued was about nine minutes of the most jaw-dropping, back-and-forth, end-to-end hockey that you have ever seen. Both goalies stood on their heads, some big breaks to both teams, including the Pens getting lucky on Michael Grabner’s shorthanded try somehow not going in.
When the dust settled, we were headed to overtime. Because that is just what a fan with a vested interest watching this game needed after enduring the final nine minutes of the third period.
But OT would not last long. The Devils started with Hall, Sami Vatanen and Nico Hischier to start. Just 27 seconds in, Hall pushed the puck up the far boards in the Devils’ zone to Nico. Nico got into a puck battle along the boards with Kessel and was able to kick the puck to his stick blade, soccer-style. He had outmuscled one of the strongest Penguins and was able to throw the puck to an all-alone and in the clear Hall just outside the Pittsburgh zone. Hall was in alone on Murray and shot five hole, beating him to give the Devils the 4-3 win. It was his third OT game winner of the season for New Jersey.
Hall’s celebration was understated. He told Deb Placey on the postgame show that he would wait for the playoffs to celebrate bigger. That and he was just too exhausted to celebrate too wildly.
Either way, the Devils had gotten the two points and now have beaten Pittsburgh three times this season.
Stats-wise, the Devils won 49-percent of the game’s draws, outhit the Pens 37-20 and had 15 blocked shots to the Penguins’ eight. Vatanen led all Devils in ice time with 24:19 (2:35 on the power play and 58 seconds on the penalty kill) while Hall led all Devils’ forwards with 20:06 (2:48 on the PP). Hall also led in shots on goal with seven, Coleman led in hits with five, Greene led in blocks with three and takeaways were led by Hischier, Coleman, Kyle Palmieri, Zacha, Gibbons, Lovejoy and Vatanen, who each had one.
It is a quick turnaround for the Devils as they finally return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow night at Prudential Center. I will be attending this game, so the recap will be up a little bit later. We will find out then if the Devils can build up more space between them and the Panthers as we head into the final stretch.
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