Major League Baseball began today, with the Mets getting a big win over St. Louis in Queens earlier. But while the baseball season is just beginning a marathon, the NHL and the Devils are coming down to the wire. Points are at a premium and New Jersey needs to pick them up.
They were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight, a team that they were trying to sweep in a season series for the first time since the 2009-10 season. But that was not to be. The Devils lost 4-3 in overtime to the Pens, picking up only a point.
Some roster moves for the Devils to get to first. Patrick Maroon was back in, playing on the second line with Pavel Zacha and Michael Grabner (who was back in a top six role). Jesper Bratt was out up front, scratched along with Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Drew Stafford. Kyle Palmieri was moved up to the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico HIschier.
The checking line of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac and Stefan Noesen would be called upon to contain the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin unit again, as they would be key if the Devils were to win this game and complete the sweep. That line along with the Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen defense pairing did a lot to stop those superstars tonight.
Also, on the injury front, Marcus Johansson has started practicing with the team. He had been skating on his own for a few days.
In goal, Keith Kinkaid was called on to do what he has been doing best down this stretch run for the Devils: get a win. This would be a little bit easier on home ice. The Pens, according to MSG+, were 15-20-4 (34 points) away from PPG Paints Arena coming into tonight. Kinkaid ended up making 31 saves on 35 shots.
Opposing him was Matt Murray. Murray made 28 stops on 31 Devils shots.
Kinkaid was tested early when the Penguins broke in on a 2-on-1 just seconds in. He made a big save and the game was off and rolling.
It was Murray who blinked first, though with Palmieri beating the Pens’ goalie at 12:18 of the first off an assist to Hischier. Nico was relentless meeting Malkin at the Devils’ blue line, stripping him of the puck and using a soccer-style play to kick the puck up to his stick. He dished off to Palmieri on the rush. Palmieri skated in and deked Murray using a head fake to open him up and scored through the five hole. It was a beautiful play as Hischier was relentless on the puck and Palmieri finished the play. It was 1-0 Devils.
Nico’s assist gave him 50 points on the year, making him the first rookie since Adam Henrique in 2011-12 to notch at least that many points.
But it would only take 25 seconds for a response from Pittsburgh. Conor Sheary scored at 12:44 from Patric Hornqvist and Jamie Oleksiak to tie things at one.
The Pens began the second period with Justin Schultz hitting the post right away to get the frame started. And Pittsburgh would grab the 2-1 lead when Kris Letang scored at the 6:59 mark from Carl Hagelin and Brian Dumoulin. On that one, Letang beat Kinkaid up high while he was all alone in the slot. The puck was on end and he just roofed it.
The Devils seemed to be behind the eight-ball, but at 13:40, Oleksiak was sent off for interfering with Maroon. It was then that Hall went to work. He scored his 34th of the season from Will Butcher. On that one, Maroon was strong on the forecheck and rushed the Pens’ clearing attempt. Butcher held the line and gave to Hall at the far point. Hall walked in, had time and space and shot a laser beam that clanged off of the far post and in. Maroon was providing a screen in front, just careful not to interfere with Murray and the game was tied up at two.
Overall on the night, the Devils were 1-for-3 on the power play with five shots on goal. The Devils kept the Penguins off of the scoresheet again on the power play, as Pittsburgh went 0-for-2 with five shots as well.
As if all of that action in the second period were not enough, the session ended with a spirited scrap between Miles Wood and Matt Hunwick. The fight got the crowd pumped up and into the game even more and things were at a fever pitch going into the third.
The Devils would oblige the home fans early on when Coleman scored at the 5:11 mark of the third frame to make it 3-2 Devils. Travis Zajac had the lone assist. It came on a delayed penalty against the Pens when Coleman intercepted a Pittsburgh clearing attempt at their blue line. He broke in with Zajac, giving to him and driving towards the net. He got the puck back and went to his backhand. Murray got the first one, but Coleman roofed his own rebound by him to put the Devils in front.
The Devils would hold that lead until the 11:26 mark when Hornqvist scored a weird one. His shot, which came off like a knuckle puck, took a perfect bounce behind Kinkaid and bounced off the post and into the net. Kinkaid clearly had some trouble with the shot as it beat him. That goal made it 3-3 and Hornqvist got assists from Dumoulin and Riley Sheahan.
After about a half a period of frantic, playoff-like action, the final horn sounded and the game went to overtime. It was in the OT period where Sidney Crosby took a pass from Letang 19 seconds into the extra session. He shot the puck off the post and batted his rebound out of mid-air and behind Kinkaid to win the game for Pittsburgh. It was a signature Crosby move (he has done it a few times before) and fitting for a day when the baseball season kicked off.
So where does that leave the Devils? In exactly the same place they were at the beginning of the night. The Panthers lost in OT on a penalty shot goal by the Senators to only take home a point. There remains three points separating the two teams. It was the best possible outcome for the Devils barring an outright Florida regulation loss.
Statistically, New Jersey won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs, were outshot by the Pens 35-31, were outhit 27-17 and out blocked 10-7. Individually, Vatanen led the way in ice time with 23:43, Hall led in shots with seven, Coleman, Greene and John Moore led in hits with three each, Brian Gibbons led in blocks with two and Hischier led in takeaways with three.
Next up, the Devils take on the Islanders at home this Saturday. It should be a good one, as a local rival who has already been eliminated from playoff contention will come in and try to play spoiler while the Devils just need to play their game and get two points. We will see you then.
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