The Montreal Canadiens quickly established themselves as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference for 2015-16. Tonight, in the New Jersey half of a home-and-home, back-to-back set with the Habs, the Devils were able to stay with them, even out-playing them for two periods. In the end, though, after 65 minutes failed to yield a winner, it took extra rounds in a shootout to finally put the Devils down.
For the Devils, Tyler Kennedy, who was signed to a two-way, one year contract earlier in the day, would make his debut. Kennedy had been traveling with the team since they were in Calgary, but with Jiri Tlusty being put on injured reserve, a roster spot was open and Kennedy was inserted into the lineup.
In goal, it was a battle between Cory Schneider and Canadiens backup Mike Condon. Condon, who played college hockey for the Princeton Tigers, was filling in for an injured Carey Price. Price hurt his leg the other night against the Rangers in a Habs win at Madison Square Garden and is not projected to return for some time.
Knowing that the Canadiens were without the reigning Vezina Trophy and Hart Trophy winner in goal, the Devils would try to sneak a few past a goaltender who only made his NHL debut in October.
The first period saw no scoring, but the Devils did outshoot Montreal 9-5, giving the Devils something positive to build on going into the intermission.
The second period would see the Devils with Montreal on their heels, peppering them with odd-man rushes and shots on Condon. New Jersey finally broke the 0-0 tie when Adam Henrique, who has been on a tear lately, scored at 1:09 of the period. Montreal turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Lee Stempniak grabbed it, playing it over to Henrique, who played back-and-forth with John Moore before snapping it behind Condon to put the Devils up 1-0.
At 8:15 of the second, Montreal’s PK Subban took a tripping call to put the Devils up a man. The Canadiens power play and the Devils power play were about evenly ranked going into the night, with the Habs just working at a slightly better pace. The Devils would connect on this power play, putting them up 2-0. Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri and Stempniak played tic-tac-toe on the play, with Stempniak finishing at the side of Condon’s goal crease at 9:06 of the period.
But from there, Montreal slowly found their way back into the game. Sven Andrighetto scored at 15:17 of the second to make it 2-1. But the third period has been the Habs’ time this season. They are a good third period team and they applied a lot of pressure to New Jersey until finally breaking through at 11:14 of the third when Alex Galchenyuk scored on a pretty move, moving to his backhand on a breakaway to tie the game at two.
The Devils had stayed in the game partly due to the play of Cory Schneider. He was great again, making 25 saves en route to being named the game’s second star.
The game remained tied through regulation, with the Devils having earned a point against one of the top teams in the NHL; they would look to finish it 3-on-3, where they have not lost this season so far. Montreal is 1-1 in overtime.
Overtime, in keeping with the theme of the game was extremely exciting. The Devils seemed to have things in hand when Andrighetto went off for holding at 2:24 into the extra session. Up a man, they allowed Tomas Plekanec to bank the puck off the glass to himself and skate his way around Eric Gelinas, giving him a breakaway. Gelinas had no choice but to hook him around his hands to slow him up. He got whistled for hooking and things would be back to 3-on-3 for about one minute and then Montreal would go on an abbreviated power play to end the game. Cory again came up big and the game was headed to a shootout.
Up first was Galchenyuk, who beat Schneider top shelf, glove side after twisting him into a pretzel. With the Habs up in the shootout, Condon stopped Cammalleri. David Desharnais missed his opportunity for Montreal and Jacob Josefson was up for the Devils.
Josefson, who has been struggling to score in regular conditions, has been almost Mr. Automatic in shootouts. Sure enough, he used a head fake and went to his backhand, beating Condon over his glove to even the shootout at 1-1. The Canadiens Max Pacioretty missed his opportunity and Stempniak was up for the Devils to finish. He almost did too, beating Condon only to hit the far post with his shot, keeping it at 1-1.
Lars Eller and Adam Henrique both missed their chances and Sven Andrighetto was up for Montreal to give them a lead. The Swiss born right wing fired one past Schneider’s glove to give the Canadiens what would be their game-winner, as Elias would not be able to keep the Devils alive in round five of the shootout.
While Montreal came away with the hard-fought victory, New Jersey has something to be proud of. The Devils worked hard in this game and skated with one of the NHL’s best. They certainly came out with more energy than they had at the beginning of the Columbus game.
Next up, the Devils travel to Quebec tomorrow night to take on the Habs in the backend of the home-and-home back-to-back on Hockey Night in Canada. The Devils will try to pick up a full two points in Montreal and show that they can be competition for some of the league’s upper echelon.