The Devils played the Nashville Predators close in John Hynes’ return to Prudential Center, but ultimately, it was Hynes who had the last laugh when his team won in a shootout 6-5.
The game was broadcast on NBCSN, the Devils’ last such appearance this season, and the storyline for them going in was PK Subban’s second meeting with his former teammates. The return of John Hynes kind of fell into their lap when the Preds hired him a month or so after he was fired by the Devils. Hynes was facing his friend and former assistant Alain Nasreddine.
As for Subban, he had been dealing with an illness and was a game-time decision but did play. Connor Carrick remained the Devils’ lone scratch as the lineup stayed largely the same as against Ottawa on Monday night.
The Devils paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant prior to the game. Bryant had some connections to the Devils. Wayne Simmonds shared a practice facility with him and the Lakers when Simmonds was playing for the Kings and got to know him a little, as mentioned by Matt Loughlin on Twitter, for one. PK Subban was also friends with Bryant. Also, Bryant’s Lakers defeated the then-New Jersey Nets in the 2002 NBA Finals to claim another championship for the storied Los Angeles franchise.
The goaltending matchup featured Mackenzie Blackwood for the Devils making 25 saves on 30 shots for Nashville. He finished the night with an .833 save percentage. He also stopped one of three Predators’ attempts in the shootout. Facing him was Pekka Rinne, who turned aside 27 of the 32 shots the Devils fired at him for an .844 save percentage. He stopped two of the three Devils shootout attempts.
The scoring began 42 seconds into the game, quite an indication of what was to come. Mattias Ekholm scored that one when he took a slap shot that redirected off of Blake Coleman’s stick and up and over Blackwood’s shoulder. Jarred Tinordi and Matt Duchene had the assists on the early goal that made it 1-0 Nashville.
It would take the Devils about four minutes to respond.
The goal came shorthanded and the sequence began when Colton Sissons of the Preds was called for a high stick on John Hayden at 2:53. The Devils were on the power play until a Damon Severson trip at 4:22 nullified the last 30 seconds or so. That up things at 4-on-4.
Just as the Sissons penalty expired, at 4:54, Nico Hischier won the puck in the far corner and passed out of the corner to Pavel Zacha camped near the front of the Predators’ net. Zacha than skated in on Rinne and beat him to tie the score at one apiece. It was the first of a three-point night for Zacha. Sami Vatanen had the secondary assist.
Before the first frame was up, however, Nashville would get that one back.
On this goal, which came at the 8:17 mark of the first, Kyle Turris took a shot on Blackwood with Filip Forsberg driving to the net. Forsberg put the rebound in to make it 2-1 Nashville. Viktor Arvidsson had the secondary assist.
That put the Preds up going into the first break. And in the second, it would take some time, but the Devils would really warm to the task.
It began at the 8:44 mark while on the power play. Nashville’s Ryan Johansen was called for a hook on Nikita Gusev to put the Devils on the man advantage. Then, a Zacha shot was redirected in off of Dante Fabbro’s stick and past Rinne to tie the game at two. Gusev had the lone assist on the goal, on his way to a two-point night.
And that second point came less than two minutes after Zacha’s goal. Duchene was assessed a high-sticking penalty on Gusev at the 9:59 mark and the Devils’ power play went to work again. At 10:26, both Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis and goalie Rinne were left without sticks. Gusev took advantage when he shot from a sharp angle from below the goal line that went in to an empty net. Zacha had the primary assist and Severson had the secondary. That assist for Severson was his 150th NHL point according to NBCSN’s in-game crawl.
But just as this game had gone so far, the Predators would tie it again, just a little more than two minutes later. At 12:48, Nick Bonino scored when he and Craig Smith and Rocco Grimaldi went in on a 3-on-2 into the Devils’ zone. A shot was blocked behind the Devils’ goal cage and it came off the backboards right to Bonino. He then beat Blackwood to make it 3-3.
However, before the second intermission, the Devils would retake the lead to make it 4-3. This one came at 17:24 when Will Butcher got the puck up ice to Jesper Bratt quickly. Bratt moved it to Kyle Palmieri, who broke in and shot. The puck again went behind the goal cage and Palmieri pounced on it. He passed to Bratt, who was crashing the Nashville net and scored to make it 4-3 Devils.
The second period prepared us for a crazy third that began when Nashville tied it 33 seconds in.
This one came off the rush when Duchene shot and his attempt deflected off of Devils defenseman Andy Greene and fluttered end-over-end by Blackwood to make it 4-4. Roman Josi and Johansen had the assists on the goal.
But again, in this game no lead was safe for long. At the 6:37 mark, Hayden scored when Kevin Rooney won a faceoff deep in the Nashville zone. Rooney cut in off the left wing and behind Rooney to grab the puck and fire it off of a Predators’ player’s stick. Again, the redirection beat Rinne to make it 5-4 Devils.
Forsberg would tie things up on the power play at the 9:57 mark of the third to send this one off to overtime. It was set up when Simmonds was sent off for hooking Sissons. On the ensuing power play, Forsberg kind of flubbed a pass then recovered and wristed one under the crossbar and by Blackwood to tie things at five each. Josi and Turris had the assists.
On the power play, the Devils went 2-for-3 with three shots. They also had the shorthanded goal off of two shorthanded shots. Nashville went 1-for-3 with two shots, plus a shot while down a man.
The Devils nearly lost things late in regulation when Greene lost the puck in his own zone with nine seconds to go. The puck was bouncing and Greene fell down trying to control it. He gave it up to a Predators player, but Blackwood made the save to bail him out.
And with that, we were off to overtime. New Jersey did not get their first shot of the OT period until about four full minutes were played. But they held on with three shots in the OT and when that could not decide things, it was to a shootout for the second straight game for the Devils.
In the first round, Forsberg scored and Gusev also scored, beating Rinne five-hole. In round two, Duchene went backhand and upstairs to beat Blackwood and Jack Hughes was stopped. In the third round, Blackwood stopped Johansen’s shot with a toe save and it was up to Palmieri. He was stopped by Rinne and the Devils could not repeat their magic from Ottawa three night ago as they lost, 6-5.
The Devils were beaten in the faceoff circle, winning only 46-percent of the game’s draws. Rooney led all Devils centers with a 67-percent average on faceoffs. The Devils outhit the Preds by ten, 27-17, but had less blocked shots at 15-13 and more giveaways at ten to Nashville’s two.
Individually, Zacha led the team in points on his way to being named the game’s first star. The Predators’ Duchene was second and Gusev the third.
Severson led all Devils skaters in total ice time with 24:04 (2:02 on the power play and 2:28 on the penalty kill) while Hischier led the forwards with 21:03 (2:19 on the power play and 23 seconds on the penalty kill).
Shots were led by Severson with six, hits by Coleman with eight, blocked shots by Greene and Butcher with three each and takeaways by Hischier with two.
This win by the Predators also made their general manager, David Poile, the winningest GM in NHL history, surpassing Glen Sather in the record books. Congratulations to him on this great achievement. (Even if it did have to come against the Devils.)
Next up, the Devils face the Dallas Stars at home on Saturday. This will be the 20th anniversary celebration of the 2000 Stanley Cup champions. I will be attending this game live, so my post on the game will be up a little bit later than usual. Until then, enjoy the rest of your week everyone!