The Devils needed to get some momentum at home coming off of their recent loss to the San Jose Sharks at the Rock. They, like most teams have this year, struggled following their bye week and they were in danger of falling behind in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
Enter the Colorado Avalanche, the last Western Conference foe the Devils have not seen already this year. The Avs might be struggling on paper this season, but they are a much better team than their record would suggest. Among some of the teams that they have beaten this season include Pittsburgh, Chicago, Minnesota, Montreal and Columbus. That is quite the hit-list there. Add to that that the Avalanche are 9-0-1 in their last ten games against the Devils and this game had “St. Valentine’s Massacre” written all over it.
But the Devils were able to survive, staying in to earn a 3-2 win against a pesky team that just could not be put down.
In lineup news, Jon Merrill was back in for the Devils, coming off of his injury. Kyle Quincey and Beau Bennett remain out with injuries and Seth Helgeson and Devante Smith-Pelly were the healthy scratches for New Jersey. Colorado sat Rene Bourque and Patrick Wiercioch.
The goaltending matchup was an interesting one. Cory Schneider started for the Devils, making his eighth straight appearance for the team. Making the start for Colorado was 27-year-old Jeremy Smith, making his first ever NHL start. He was originally drafted by the Avs in 2007, ten years ago, bounced around the minor leagues for various organizations for eight years and ended up coming back to the Avalanche and, with Semyon Varlamov injured, got to make his NHL debut with the team that drafted him. Cory made 28 saves on 30 Avalanche shots. Smith made 37 saves on 40 Devils shots.
One player that the Devils would keep an eye on all night was the veteran Jarome Iginla. The former Calgary Flame was Taylor Hall’s favorite player growing up, as Hall grew up a Flames fan in Calgary – he also played his first game in the NHL, with the Oilers, against Iginla and the Flames.
In milestone news, tonight was Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog’s 400th NHL game already for the young superstar.
The Devils struck first at the 2:04 mark of the first period when a good Devils forecheck flushed the puck back to Damon Severson at the point. He gave to Jacob Josefson, who shot the puck on net. The rebound came out to Stefan Noesen, who chipped at it. That rebound then came out to Pavel Zacha, who finally backhanded it home for his seventh goal of the year. That quickly, it was 1-0 Devils and that was a big goal for New Jersey, as Colorado is 3-22-2 this season when trailing after the first period.
Following that goal, the Devils had a chance to nearly double their lead when Taylor Hall hit the outside of the goal cage. Replays showed that Landeskog actually got his stick on the shot, deflecting it in a nice defensive play.
The second period would see the Avs get back into it beginning at 5:16, when a Devils power play was negated by Miles Wood being called for high sticking. This would lead to a little over a minute of 4-on-4 play followed by an Avalanche power play. Once the Avs got the extra attacker, Mark Barberio was able to put one by Schneider at 6:43, assists to Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. It was Barberio’s first goal as a member of the Avalanche. The game was tied at one.
The Devils would get that goal back at the 8:55 mark in a strange way. The Devils were back on the power play after Andreas Martinsen was called for hooking at 8:52. Right off of the faceoff, won by Travis Zajac, the puck went right back to Andy Greene at the point. He fired a shot that beat Smith cleanly, but referee Justin St. Pierre immediately waved the goal off on the ice, citing goaltender interference by Miles Wood. The Devils challenged from the bench, saying that the puck had already gone by Smith when Wood interfered with him in the crease. The replay showed that they were correct and the call on the ice was overturned – Wood was actually outside the crease when the interference occurred as well. The Devils had regained a 2-1 lead. That goal was Greene’s fourth of the year. Both teams were 1-for-3 on the power play.
The Devils picked up a two goal lead at the 16:25 mark of the second period. A failed attempt by the Avs to keep the puck in the Devils’ zone saw Kyle Palmieri grab the puck and go speeding off on a two-on-one with Hall. Palmieri gave to Hall, who passed back to him and Palmieri buried it into the empty net as Smith was leaning towards Hall to shoot. The Devils now had a 3-1 lead and that goal would prove the game winner for New Jersey.
But it was not the final goal of the game. Colorado made things interesting at the 18:34 mark of the second period when Mikhail Grigorenko scored from Matt Duchene to make it 3-2.
The third period was a nail biter for the Devils and their fans. Early in the final frame, Cory made a big save on Carl Soderberg in front of his net. Josefson hit the official while trying to pass the puck in the zone to Ben Lovejoy. The puck deflected right to Soderberg in front, but Cory made the save to preserve the lead. The Devils had a late scoring chance on a two-on-one, but Wood could not settle the puck down enough to get it to Michael Cammalleri.
With about a minute and a half left in the third period, the Avs pulled Smith. With the open net and a handful of seconds remaining on the clock, Cammalleri shot from the Devils zone for the empty net, instead of taking a few strides and gaining the red line to avoid the icing. The shot missed the net and an easy icing call was made, putting a final faceoff in the Devils’ zone. They lost the faceoff, but after a mad scramble in front of Cory’s net, were able to come away with the 3-2 win.
The Devils now find themselves five points out of the final playoff spot. The Islanders lost to Toronto tonight, but Buffalo picked up two points over Ottawa, so the Leafs remain in front of the Devils, while the Sabres move even with New Jersey and the Devils move past the Isles.
Next up for the Devils a playoff team in the Ottawa Senators on Thursday at home in Newark. We will find out if the Devils can keep their momentum going at home, by beating a good Sens team that is in second place in the Atlantic Division.