It was a rollercoaster of an afternoon for Devils fans, watching the team fall behind early, fight back and ultimately lose to their rivals 6-3.
It was also an afternoon of breakthroughs as the Devils finally solved Rangers’ netminder Igor Shesterkin to the tune of three goals.
This was the third of four straight meetings between the teams and the second straight at Madison Square Garden.
Jesper Bratt (day-to-day, lower body injury) and Pavel Zacha (also day-to-day) were out of the lineup again. Will Butcher, Tyce Thompson and Scott Wedgewood were the healthy scratches. Mackenzie Blackwood served as the backup goalie. Matt Tennyson slotted in for Butcher and Nate Bastian returned from injury (suffered against the Penguins last month) to slot in for Thompson. Bastian was reunited on the fourth line with Miles Wood and Michael McLeod.
In goal, Aaron Dell got the nod between the pipes for the Devils, stopping 24-of-28 for an .857 save percentage. He stopped the Rangers’ lone shorthanded shot, turned aside six of their eight power play shots (the Rangers were 2-for-3 on the power play) and got 17 of 19 Rangers shots at even strength.
For the Rangers, the aforementioned Shesterkin got 30 of the Devils’ 33 shots for a .909 save percentage. He turned aside all four Devils’ power play shots and was 26-for-29 at even strength. The Devils went 0-for-3 on the man advantage.
Of note for today’s game: today is “Mr. Devil” Ken Daneyko’s birthday, so a big happy birthday to him. Also, one of the linesmen working the game, Kory Nagy, was actually a Devils draft pick back in 2008. He never made it out of the minor leagues and, so, retired to work as an official. He worked his way through the ECHL and AHL to finally get to the NHL according to Devils play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi.
Pavel Buchnevich got the scoring started 7:26 into the game. The Devils turned the puck over to Artemi Panarin and nothing good comes of that. He got it to Mika Zibanejad, who broke in with Buchnevich on a 2-on-1. Zibanejad passed and Buchnevich finished to make it 1-0 Rangers.
The Devils got themselves into some penalty trouble at 9:08 when first Damon Severson went off for a hold. Less than a minute later, at 9:52, the Devils were hit with a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The Rangers had a 5-on-3 to work with for 1:15.
They would convert to say the least.
First, at 10:27, Ryan Strome scored. A Panarin one-timer was stopped by Dell, who gave up a rebound directly to Zibanejad. He passed to Strome at the side of the Devils’ net and Strome tapped it in to make it 2-0.
The Rangers still had the too many men penalty to work with and converted there too.
At 11:48, Dell made a save on Colin Blackwell and the rebound came right out to Buchnevich. Buchnevich roofed it by Dell to make it 3-0. K’Andre Miller had the secondary assist.
So, even before the first intermission, the Rangers had built up a three-goal lead and things would get worse for the Devils 32 seconds into the new period.
Panarin took a pass from Strome in the neutral zone and cut into the Devils’ zone with speed all alone. He shot, beating Dell glove side, with Dell getting a piece of it. That made it 4-0 New York.
But the Devils were about to get a little bit of retribution.
At 12:37 of the second, Michael McLeod finally solved Shesterkin when he scored. The puck came out of a broken play in the far corner to McLeod at the side of the net. McLeod put the puck in which ended a 199-plus minute shutout streak by Shesterkin against the Devils. That made it 4-1. Bastian had the primary assist while PK Subban had the secondary.
With the shutout streak broken and Shesterkin out of the Devils’ heads, it was time to make a comeback.
At 5:34 of the third, PK Subban cut the New York lead in half when Jack Hughes got a puck dug out from behind the Rangers net up high to Subban at the point. He stepped into one and drove an absolute bomb by Shesterkin, with the puck going in and out of the net fast. That made it 4-2. Yegor Sharangoich had the secondary assist.
Exactly 1:04 later, Yegor Sharangovich made it 4-3 when Hughes broke into the Rangers’ zone, drew a Ranger defender to him and passed to a trailing Sharangovich. He beat Shesterkin to get the Devils to within one. The Devils had scored three unanswered and were back in the game. This goal came while the teams were at 4-on-4.
With the tying goal in sight, the Devils pulled Dell with about 1:57 to go in regulation. Buchnevich then completed his hat trick – the first of his career – at 18:39 from Zibanejad and Panarin to make it 5-3.
The Devils were still within reach and would pull Dell again.
Chris Kreider made it 6-3 Rangers when he iced it at 19:38 into the empty net. Strome and Ryan Lindgren had the assists.
The Devils fought but ultimately failed to catch up to their foes.
The Devils narrowly outshot the Blueshirts 33-30, won 60-percent of the game’s faceoffs and had more hits at 26-19. They also had less turnovers at seven to the Rangers’ twelve. The Rangers led in blocked shots at 17-13.
Ty Smith led in ice time with 23:06 while Hughes led the forwards with 20:38. Hughes also led in power play time with 3:55, just ahead of Smith, who quarterbacks the first unit and had 3:54 of power play time.
Hughes led in shots on goal with six, Bastian – in his return – led in hits again with four, blocks were led by Matt Tennyson (also in his return to the lineup) and Subban with three each. Takeaways were led by Smith with two.
Next up, the Devils finish off their four-game set and the season series with the Rangers tomorrow at Prudential Center. Puck drop for that one is 3 PM. I will be a little late in getting my post up, as I have a family function to attend.
Until then, stay safe everyone!