The Chicago Blackhawks may not be what they used to be, but they still have the tools to be quite dangerous. They defeated the Devils 2-1 in a shootout tonight at Prudential Center.
The Devils had few roster changes prior to tonight’s game to get to first. Jack Hughes was back in the lineup after missing the last three due to a lower body injury. Defenseman Matt Tennyson, following the hit he took in the Vegas game, has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to December 3. Colton White was recalled from Binghamton to take his spot on the roster, although he did not play tonight (John Hayden was the other healthy scratch for New Jersey). Mirco Mueller slotted in for Tennyson. Connor Carrick was taken off of IR and was sent to Binghamton on a conditioning stint. Finally, Nico Hischier missed tonight’s game due to illness.
One roster move from the Blackhawks would have an effect on a Devil personally. Jesper Boqvist’s brother Adam plays for Chicago but was sent down to the AHL Rockford IceHogs and so, the first NHL meeting between the two was delayed. It would have been the third time a Devils player would have faced his brother this season following Jack and Quinn Hughes (Vancouver) and PK and Malcolm Subban (Vegas).
It was Star Wars Night at the Rock and the Devils were hoping the Force was with them as they headed into battle with Chicago.
Things started right for the Devils, with just the wrong bounces. The Devils had a nice scoring chance when the puck rolled along the goal line behind Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, but did not go in.
A scrap in the first period got things going for the crowd and the Devils. Dennis Gilbert of the Hawks hit Hughes with a clean hit, but Wayne Simmonds took exception to it. It was coming along the boards and Hughes seemingly had his head down. Again, it was a clean hit, but it led to a spirited fight between Gilbert and Simmonds that saw Simmonds get the win with the takedown.
The Devils had some early power play chances – three of them to be exact – but did not connect until the third. At 12:30, Chicago’s Zack Smith took an elbowing penalty against Nikita Gusev. On the ensuing power play, Gusev played catch with Sami Vatanen from the far wall to the point. Vatanen, at the point, passed to Taylor Hall at the near half wall and he wristed one through a Pavel Zacha screen and by Crawford at 13:31 of the first. It was Hall’s first goal since November 23rd against the Red Wings. The Devils had the 1-0 lead that would last them into the second period.
But the Blackhawks would tie things up, also on the power play, at the 9:35 mark of the second. Vatanen had gone off for a hook on Patrick Kane and the Hawks went to work. Moving the puck around the perimeter, they got it to Kane at the near faceoff circle. He shot and the rebound came to Alex DeBrincat. He shot from a weird angle and put it into an empty net, as Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood could not get across his crease in time. Dylan Strome had the secondary assist on the goal that knotted things at one.
Following a scoreless third period, Chicago was off to their second straight overtime game, as they had beaten the Bruins last night in OT. The third was not completely eventless, as the Devils lost Sami Vatanen when he got hit in the face with a puck. There was no word in Alain Nasreddine’s postgame press conference about his status, but he did not return.
OT saw some back-and-forth hockey, but no goals – although a shot from the Hawks’ Erik Gustafsson missed the net by inches just as time was expiring.
Following that, we were headed to a shootout.
In the first round, Jonathan Toews went for Chicago, going forehand/backhand to beat Blackwood. Gusev went for the Devils and scored five hole with Crawford only getting a small piece of the puck.
The second round saw Kane up for the Blackhawks. He slowed down on his approach and beat Blackwood through the five hole. Boqvist finished out the round for New Jersey and he scored off the post and in.
From there, the goals dried up a little bit. In the third round, Chicago sent out DeBrincat and he was stopped by Blackwood Kyle Palmieri was up for the Devils and he was stopped by Crawford.
In fourth round, Blackwood made a stop on Dylan Strome and Hall’s shot was saved by Crawford.
It was down to the fifth round with the Devils having been unable to close things out. Kirby Dach went first for the Hawks and he went top shelf over Blackwood’s glove to put Chicago out in front. The game was down to Hughes as his goal would tie things up. Crawford stopped his attempt and the Blackhawks came away with the victory.
Over the night, Crawford was 29-for-30 for a .967 save percentage. Blackwood turned aside 28 of the 29 shots he faced for a .966 save percentage.
The Blackhawks’ power play was clicking at a fifty-percent rate tonight, as they went 1-for-2 with two shots. They also pumped two shorthanded shots in on Blackwood. The Devils went 1-for-4 with three shots on goal with the man advantage.
The Devils were back on top in the faceoff circle, winning 53-percent of the game’s draws. They had 18 hits to the Hawks’ 13. Both teams had the same amount of blocked shots at 20 apiece. Giveaways saw the Devils rack up 13 to Chicago’s eight.
Shots on goal were led by Hall with six, hits by Kevin Rooney and Simmonds with three each, blocks by Vatanen with five before he got hurt and takeaways by Blake Coleman with two.
Time on ice was led by Damon Severson with 26:49 (3:04 on the power play and 57 seconds shorthanded included). Vatanen was limited to 17:52 (3:22 on PP and 28 seconds on the PK) before leaving the game with an injury. Hall led the forwards with 22:28 (including 5:03 on the power play).
Next up, the Devils will travel to Nashville tomorrow night for a game with the Predators. It will be PK Subban’s first trip back to Nashville since being traded to the Devils. We will have that for you here following the 8 PM puck drop.