The Devils finished up the 2017-18 season with a 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. This puts a bow on what has been a fantastic (if not roller coaster-like) regular season and sets the stage for the Stanley Cup Playoffs: 2018 edition.
New Jersey was not fooling around with taking any chances tonight. They rested Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri in order to keep them healthy for the postseason. Keith Kinkaid did not dress, as Eddie Lack was called up from Binghamton to back up Cory Schneider – making his first start since March 20 at San Jose – and Marcus Johansson is still being held out. Deb Placey of MSG+ alluded to the fact that it might not be until further into the playoffs (should the Devils get there) that he will play.
Because of this, some guys were playing in what would be essentially an audition for the playoffs. Jimmy Hayes, Drew Stafford, Jesper Bratt and Damon Severson, who have all been healthy scratches lately, were all back in the lineup. How they played tonight will determine how the coaching staff form their lineup for the playoffs.
The Devils would likely have a dance partner for the first round by the end of the night. The only thing they knew was that they could not face the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the outcome of their game versus Washington, the Devils knew that they would be crossing over to the Atlantic Division as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They finished with exactly the same amount of points and ROWs as Columbus, but the Jackets took the season series against New Jersey, which is the next tiebreaker.
Whether it was Boston or Tampa Bay (whomever won the Atlantic would be their opponent), they would not know tonight. Boston won in regulation while the Hurricanes defeated the Lightning in overtime. The Bruins have a makeup game on home ice tomorrow against the Panthers that will decide the winner of the Atlantic. If the Bruins win that game in any fashion (regulation, OT or shootout), the Devils will face the Bruins. Should Boston lose, the Devils get the Lightning in the first round. The Bruins and the Cats are making up a game that was snowed out at TD Garden back in January.
Between the pipes, Cory Schneider went for the Devils. As stated, Eddie Lack was called up from the AHL to dress as his backup. Schneider, of course, has not won a game in the 2018 calendar year, and was looking to get in some good work before the playoffs began, as the Devils need him to be in good shape for the playoffs. He stopped 21 of 26 Caps’ shots. He also weathered a storm of shots by Alex Ovechkin later in the game. More on why that was later.
For the Capitals, Braden Holtby was in action. He is having a similar season to Cory in that the former Vezina Trophy winner has not been playing up to his own high standards. He made 23 saves on 26 Devils shots.
Ovechkin was looking to reach 50 goals this year. He would need a hat trick to reach that goal but it was certainly within reach for him. He kicked off the game’s scoring with his 48th goal of the year when he scored from his usual spot. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson had the assists on that goal just 2:21 in to make it 1-0 Caps.
The Devils would respond a few minutes later at the 8:10 mark of the first when Nico Hischier scored his 20th of the year from Patrick Maroon and Severson. Severson came in with a well-timed pinch to move the puck to Maroon behind the Washington net. Maroon quickly passed to Nico, who was cruising into the slot. He fired and beat Holtby to the stick side. The game was tied up at one.
According to a tweet by the guys at the great Devils Insiders podcast, with that goal, Hischier reached one of his Schedule A bonuses for the year and would recoup $212,500. Congratulations to Nico on that accomplishment.
Washington would regain the lead with just seconds to go in the first period when Nicklas Backstrom scored from Brett Connolly and John Carlson at 19:32 to make it 2-1 Caps going into the first break.
Michal Kempny scored at the 3:44 mark of the second period to give the Capitals at two goal lead. He got assists from Shane Gersich and Chandler Stephenson.
The Devils would cut it to 3-2 with a little under a minute to go in the second. Miles Wood scored his 19th from Maroon and Pavel Zacha as that line continued their hot streak. Maroon won a puck battle behind the Washington net, trying to pass on his forehand to Wood on the doorstep. That pass was blocked by the Washington defender and bounced back to Maroon’s stick. He skated to the other side of the net and came out from around it, passing on his backhand to Wood in front. Wood shoveled the pass by Holtby on his glove side.
Maroon had now assisted on all of the Devils goals in the last two games. But he was not done. He would get one himself just 2:04 into the third (assists to Zacha and Wood) to tie things up at three. Wood batted down a clearing attempt by the Caps at their blue line. He knocked it right to Zacha, who found Maroon cutting towards the net from the far faceoff circle. He shot and beat Holtby glove side to make it 3-3.
Unfortunately, that was it for the Devils’ offense this game. But it is a good time for the Wood-Maroon-Zacha combination to get hot and we are anxious to see what they can do in the playoffs.
The rest of the scoring for third period saw Ovechkin get one closer to 50 with his 49th unassisted at 5:11. That is where he would end. The game broke down late into a bizzare attempt by the Caps to get Ovechkin the puck at all costs as he tried to get to that magic mark.
Andre Burakovsky would add a fifth goal for Washington at 11:50 from Kempny and Backstrom and that was it for the season.
On the power play for the night, the Devils were 0-for-1 with two shots on goal while the Caps were 0-for-2 with two shots on goal. The Devils also had two shorthanded shots on goal.
Overall, shots were even at 26, the Devils won only 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs, the Capitals out hit the Devils 15-10 and the Caps also had more blocks at 13-11. Individually, Severson led the team in ice time with 21:19 (including 55 seconds on the power play) while Brian Gibbons led the forwards with 19:03 (2:48 on the PK – he had a good game killing penalties). Shots on goal was led by Wood with five. Maroon led in hits with three. Andy Greene led in blocks with three and Brian Boyle and Mirco Mueller led in takeaways with two each.
Next up: the playoffs. The Devils will find out who they will be facing tomorrow following the conclusion of the Boston Bruins-Florida Panthers contest. So far in the East, Washington will take on Columbus, Pittsburgh will face Philadelphia and the Maple Leafs will face the loser of the Atlantic Division – the Devils will get the winner. We will be with you through the playoffs whenever they do start for New Jersey.
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