The Devils had a chance to put some distance between them and the Columbus Blue Jackets in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a win tonight. Unfortunately, despite a first period where they absolutely dominated, the Devils were unable to muster enough for a victory and fell on home ice 5-3 in the second half of a home-and-home series with the Jackets.
It was Star Wars Night at The Rock, with lots of Star Wars characters on hand and a lot of promotions related to the venerable movie franchise. All of the graphics on the scoreboard were Star Wars related, in addition (with the Devils playing the Rebel Alliance, the good guys naturally; while the Blue Jackets took on the role of the evil Galactic Empire).
The lineup was largely the same as Tuesday night in Columbus, with Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout and Pavel Zacha all healthy scratches. For Zacha, this is his second game as a scratch and it will be interesting to see how his story plays out going forward. Also, defenseman Sami Vatanen, who was acquired last week from the Ducks, was making his home ice debut as a Devil.
New Jersey came out like gangbusters in the first period – getting a few great scoring chances early – but did not break through until the 8:29 mark of the first when Brian Boyle scored to make it 1-0. That goal came when Jimmy Hayes dumped the puck into the Columbus zone and Miles Wood chased it, pushing it to a supporting Hayes, who was now behind the net. He centered with a nifty backhand pass to Boyle, who was cutting into the slot. Boyle shot, beating Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky glove side to give New Jersey the early lead.
The Devils would double that lead later on in the first when Marcus Johansson scored at 14:10. That came when Travis Zajac sealed off a Blue Jackets player, freeing up a loose puck for Stefan Noesen. Noesen spun around and shot just to the stick side of Bobrovsky’s goal cage. Johansson was there to pick up the puck and tucked it in on a nice wraparound goal to make it 2-0 Devils.
The Devils had played a near-perfect first period and had a two goal lead to show for it. Despite that, the shots on goal were tied after the first period at nine apiece. That was almost a harbinger of things to come.
Just 2:29 into the second period, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored from Artemi Panarin to get the Jackets on the board and cut the Devils’ lead in half, 2-1. At the 5:44 mark, Lukas Sedlak scored (also with an assist from Panarin) to tie things up at two. And, finally, Columbus’ turnaround was complete 14:13 into the second when Scott Harrington gave them the 3-2 lead (assists to Panarin and Boone Jenner). Things had seemingly gone off the rails for the Devils.
New Jersey would get one back to tie things up with about 20 seconds remaining in the second when Brian Gibbons dropped a puck back to Steven Santini at the far point. He fired a shot that acted more as a slap pass back to Gibbons. Gibbons fed Blake Coleman, who was sneaking through the slot and went back door on Bobrovsky to tie things up at three. The Devils had gotten a late goal, one with less than a minute left in a period. That should have been demoralizing for Columbus – in theory.
It was not, however, as the wheels completely fell off in the third period. It began just 1:32 in to the third frame when Alexander Wennberg scored a power play goal with assists to Panarin and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Andy Greene had taken a tripping penalty for tripping Dubois just 20 seconds into the period and the Devils paid for it. It was now 4-3 Blue Jackets.
But they would get a reprieve when Markus Hannikainen was assessed a four minute double minor for high sticking Nico Hischier at the 11:05 mark. The Devils did not convert and, in fact, ended up taking a too many men on the ice penalty with seconds left on their four minute power play.
Ultimately, the Devils were 0-for-4 on the power play with two shots on goal while the Jackets were 1-for-2 with three shots on goal.
Zach Werenski would put things away for the Jackets when he scored at the 15:02 mark of the third from Panarin and Seth Jones. Panarin had, remarkably, factored in on all five Blue Jacket goals, notching five assists on the night and taking first star honors for the night. Brian Boyle of the Devils was star number two while Alexander Wennberg from Columbus was star number three.
For the goaltenders, Bobrovsky saw 24 Devils shots nad stopped 21 of them and Cory Schneider, who was pulled with roughly one minute left in the game for the extra attacker, saw 28 Columbus shots and stopped 23 of them.
Sami Vatanen, in his Devils home debut, was the team’s time on ice leader with 26:04 while Taylor Hall led in shots on goal with four. Zajac led in hits with three on the night.
Next up, the Devils will have to regroup hard as they play tomorrow night in Manhattan against the rival New York Rangers. A rivalry game could be a blessing in disguise in that it could get you up and ready to play, or the pressure could be too much. Add to that that the Rangers lost tonight to Washington and they will also be trying to bounce back. We will have it here for you as the Hudson River Rivalry is renewed tomorrow night.