One day ago, Scott Wedgewood was named the third star of the game for the Albany Devils in an AHL contest against the Utica Comets. Albany had just won 5-1 over the Vancouver affiliate. Twenty four hours later, he was being named the first star in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in his first NHL start. Wearing number 31, the 23-year-old Wedgewood was just the tonic that New Jersey needed to defeat Columbus, who have been a constant thorn in the Devils’ side all season long.
The Devils are the walking wounded at this point in the season: Jacob Josefson, Jon Merrill, John Moore (who was a game time decision, but did not play), David Schlemko, Cory Schneider and Jordin Tootoo are all out with injury. Add to that Tyler Kennedy, who left this afternoon’s game with a lower body injury and you have quite a team out with just injuries.
So, in addition to Wedgewood, defenseman Vojtech Mozik also made his NHL debut in this game. The 23-year-old Czech Republic native wore number 53. He led Albany in plus/minus and shots at the time of his call up. Both Wedgewood and Mozik got the (now) traditional rookie treatment of being left to skate out onto the ice by themselves during warmups, taking a few laps before their teammates joined them.
The goaltending matchup saw Wedgewood making his NHL debut and making 27 saves on 28 shots. He is the third Devils goalie to start a game this season and the fourth to make an appearance in a game. His NHL save percentage stands at .964 as of right now. Opposing him down the rink was Joonas Korpisalo for Columbus, who went 20 for 22.
The Devils would get on the board first when Kyle Palmieri took a chip pass from Andy Greene just outside the Devils’ zone. Palmieri skated it through the neutral zone and then gave it back to Boucher. Boucher ripped a shot from the slot, beating Korpisalo to give the Devils the quick 1-0 lead at 4:32 of the first period.
The Devils would buzz for the rest of the period, including a flurry of activity in the Blue Jackets’ zone in the middle of the first.
The score would stay 1-0 until just after the start of the second period. At 2:43 of that frame, Jared Boll scored his first of the season from Dalton Prout and Gregory Campbell. It seemed like business as usual for Columbus, as the Jackets looked to be back on the warpath.
Late in the second, at 9:48, though, Prout was called for roughing Devante Smith-Pelly. The Devils had a power play and would look to add to their lead. When David Savard was whistled for slashing, the Devils found themselves on a 5-on-3 man advantage. The Devils would not score on the 5-on-3, in fact both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play for the night.
New Jersey would see a little bit of trouble when the Prout penalty expired. As he exited the penalty box, he was sprung on a breakaway. Wedgewood made a huge save on this play and the game was still tied at one.
Midway through the third, Smith-Pelly was denied on a breakaway off a nice neutral zone feed from Joseph Blandisi. But he would not be denied the eventual game winner at 8:38 of the third. Smith-Pelly was aggressive on the forecheck, turning the puck over. Adam Larsson kept it in the Columbus zone, firing a pass to Smith-Pelly in front of the net. He tried the backhand and Korpisalo made the save, but Smith-Pelly followed up on the rebound and it was buried seconds later. The Devils now had the 2-1 lead and would nurse that to the end.
Boucher almost had his second of the night on a 2-on-1 with Travis Zajac late in the third, but he hit the outside of the pipe with a wide-open net. So the Devils would have to weather Columbus pulling Korpisalo and getting the extra man on late. A bunch of icings would make things interesting, but the Devils would come away with the win as Wedgewood made one final save on Brandon Dubinsky in the waning seconds.
So where does this leave the Devils? They are still barely in the race, a few points behind Philadelphia and would need to really run the board and win all of their final nine or so games to overtake Detroit for the final wild card spot.
They do not play again until Thursday, when they take on the Penguins in Pittsburgh. That will kick off the final back-to-back of the season when they also play Washington at home on Friday. Not an easy task there, as Pittsburgh is just rolling right now and Washington qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs already last week. But the Devils will take on this challenge with a new-found confidence instilled by a young goaltender (much the same way the arrival of Sean Burke from the Canadian Olympic team sparked the 1988 Devils to make the playoffs?) and a win over an opponent that had pushed them around significantly this season.