The 2018-19 season was one of some ups and many downs for the New Jersey Devils. But they ended the season with an up by defeating the Florida Panthers 4-3 in overtime down in Sunrise. It was a game with a little bit of everything for both teams that got a little bit chippy at times.
The Devils never actually officially announced anything, but Taylor Hall did not play tonight, missing the remainder of the season. Also, Erika Wachter revealed on the pregame show that Jesper Bratt missed the end of the season due to an ankle injury. Sami Vatanen also remained out, missing the final few games. Disappointingly, Kyle Palmieri missed tonight. He was three goals shy of the 30 mark with 27 and it would have been great to see him get to that milestone. Kurtis Gabriel also missed tonight injured.
Healthy scratches were Mirco Mueller (with Egor Yakovlev slotting in on the second defensive pairing with Connor Carrick) and Stefan Noesen (with Brett Seney subbing on the fourth line with Michael McLeod and Kevin Rooney for him).
Two guys who did play were defensemen Damon Severson and Andy Greene, who were the only Devils in this injury-riddled season to play in all 82 games. Congratulations to them on that marker.
In goal for the Devils was Mackenzie Blackwood, making his final start of the year. He stopped 37 of the Panthers’ 40 shots for a .925 save percentage. Opposing him for Florida was the ageless Roberto Luongo. He may or may not be playing in his final NHL game (Steve Cangialosi did note that he still does have three years on his contract) at age 40. He stopped 23 of 27 Devils shots for an .852 save percentage on the night.
On special teams, in a game that, as noted, was very chippy at times, the Devils went 1-for-5 on the power play with six shots and a shorthanded shot as well. The Panthers were 0-for-3 on the man advantage with six shots as well. They also have five shorthanded shots to go with that. Florida takes a lot of shots, much like the Carolina Hurricanes, but Blackwood was largely equal to the task all night.
One other interesting note as brought up by Cangialosi was that referee Conor O’Donnell was officiating his first National Hockey League game. The interesting point was that he was a junior teammate of Taylor Hall with the Windsor Spitfires where they won a Memorial Cup together. Their coach there? Current Florida coach Bob Boughner.
The Devils kicked off their final game by taking the lead just 1:27 into the game. Will Butcher gave the puck to Nico Hischier, who used his body to protect the puck versus Florida d-man Aaron Ekblad. He then passed to Nathan Bastian backdoor, who scored to make it 1-0 Devils early.
The Devils seemed to make it 2-0 when Kenny Agostino fired from the point with 13:10 remaining in the first period and Drew Stafford tipped it by Luongo. Initially, it was called a goal on the ice. The officials then met and overturned that to no goal. They checked with Toronto and the call on the ice of no goal was confirmed. Stafford had tipped the puck by Luongo with his stick above the crossbar, making it a high-stick.
The Devils went through the majority of the first period without a shot on net, being stymied for almost 18 minutes from the first goal that was scored.
But they would break through in the second period to double their lead. At 7:41 into the second frame, Yakovlev grabbed a loose puck (a Blake Coleman shot that was blocked in front) and shot from a sharp angle. It actually went right to Bastian, who was set up in front of the net and who redirected the puck by Luongo to make it 2-0. Bastian had the first two goals for the Devils and would be named the game’s third star at the end of the night. Blake Coleman has the other assist on this goal.
But the Panthers would begin a comeback from there. At 11:58, Aleksander Barkov took a Jonathan Huberdeau pass in the neutral zone. He made a few fakes through the Devils’ defense and scored five-hole on Blackwood to make it 2-1. That was Barkov’s 95th point of the season, breaking the single season point record for the Florida franchise. He passed Pavel Bure’s record of 94.
The Devils would retake the two goal lead on an absolute beauty of a goal. After the Devils killed off a Pavel Zacha hooking penalty, Zacha came out of the box and grabbed a puck from Joey Anderson. He then went outside while rushing up the right wing boards with Ekblad draped all over him, comes inside and made a nice move on Luongo to score into the empty side of the net. It was a nice goal and one that will live on in the highlight reels for years to come. It also gave the Devils a 3-1 lead. Kevin Rooney had the secondary assist.
Up to the third period there were very few penalties. In fact, none were called in the first. But the third period was a completely different story. The third frame contained a combined 64 penalty minutes, including four 10 minute misconduct penalties. There was also a fight between Michael McLeod and Josh Brown that was pretty good. McLeod gave the much bigger Brown a good fight and really held his own.
Florida cut the Devils lead to one at the 16:35 mark of the third when Huberdeau scored just as Luongo was going to the bench for the extra attacker. He took a centering pass from Evgenii Dadonov, who was at the side of the net, and scored. Keith Yandle had the secondary assist on the goal. It was now 3-2 Devils.
The Panthers would pull Luongo again and, exactly two minutes after the Huberdeau goal, at 18:35, Mike Hoffman scored to tie it up at three. Following a mad scramble in front of the Devils’ net, the puck squirted out to Hoffman in the slot and he fired, beating Blackwood to level the game off. Vincent Trocheck had the other assist.
Things seemed to be headed for overtime, but, with exactly one second remaining in regulation, a different wrinkle was put into things. Huberdeau fired the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt in the Panthers’ zone at 19:59. A delay of game penalty was called and the Devils would begin the OT period with an extra attacker.
And they would convert. Just 56 seconds into OT, Travis Zajac takes a great pass from Severson and fired from the left hash marks. He became the first Devil this season to score in OT other than Nico Hischier (Nico was lost to one of the misconduct penalties mentioned earlier) and gave the Devils their first victory in Sunrise since October 11, 2014. The Devils had the 4-3 win and that was that on the 2018-19 season. Zacha had the secondary assist.
The Devils were out shot on the night 40-27, won 43-percent of the faceoffs, had 37 hits to the Panthers’ 35 and had 15 blocked shots to the Panthers’ six. The Panthers had more giveaways at 27 to the Devils’ seven.
Individually, Severson led all Devils skaters with 23:47 (including 5:11 of PP time and 2:11 of shorthanded time). Pavel Zacha led the forwards with 21:31 total ice time (5:44 on the power play and 2:28 on the PK). Coleman led in shots on goal with five, Bastian, in addition to his two goals, also led in hits with six, Andy Greene once again led in blocked shots with three and McLeod led in takeaways with three.
And that puts a wrap on the 2018-19 season. We will have coverage here on Tuesday on the NHL Draft Lottery and will also have a post up later tonight on Ty Smith and the Spokane Chiefs’ playoff game in the WHL. We will also be continuing coverage of the Devils all offseason long.
Have a great Summer everyone!