If there was one team the Devils wanted to be playing going into the NHL’s Christmas break, it was the Chicago Blackhawks. In one of those strange statistical anomalies, the Blackhawks have lost the last six times they played their final game prior to Christmas, as per Steve Cangialosi of MSG Network. The Devils extended that streak to seven games as they routed Chicago 7-1 tonight at United Center.
This was the second meeting of the season between the teams, as Chicago took the last game at Prudential Center in a shootout earlier in December. It would also be the first meeting between Jesper and Adam Boqvist as the younger Adam was in the lineup tonight (he was not for the game in New Jersey). This marked the third time this season a Devil has faced his brother in a game, following Jack Hughes (brother Quinn – Vancouver) and PK Subban (Malcolm – Vegas). Their mother, father and aunt were all in attendance from Sweden. Unfortunately, things did not end well as both brothers got injured in the first period and neither one returned for the rest of the game.
Jesper Boqvist began the game on the Devils’ top line along with Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri and Adam Boqvist was on the Blackhawks’ top defensive pairing with Duncan Keith, which meant that the two would have matched up a lot had they stayed healthy.
Another Devil with family in attendance was John Hayden. His mother’s family is from the Chicago area and his 82-year-old grandfather was in the building to watch him. He would be good luck for John as we shall see later on. Hayden was playing against his former team in the Hawks and was facing John Quenneville, the player he was traded for. Quenneville was making his Blackhawks debut tonight, having been called up from Rockford of the AHL.
The Devils were back to 12 forwards and six defensemen as Connor Carrick, Kevin Rooney and Michael McLeod were the scratches.
In goal for the Devils was Mackenzie Blackwood, who stopped 32 of the 33 shots the Blackhawks fired at him for a .970 save percentage. The Blackhawks started with Corey Crawford who stopped 16 of 20 shots for an .800 save percentage. He was relieved by Robin Lehner who made 21 saves on 24 shots against for a .875 save percentage. The Devils ended the game with a total of 44 shots.
The game began with Jesper Boqvist taking a high-sticking penalty against his brother Adam just 37 seconds into the game. The Devils would kill it off, as they did seven times tonight. Chicago was held to 0-for-7 on the power play with eight shots. The Devils ended the game 0-for-3 with four shots. They also managed three shorthanded shots.
The Hawks got on the board first when Blackwood made two saves on Blackhawks shooters and the puck squibbed behind the net. Zack Smith picked it up and used the wraparound to bury it behind Blackwood and make it 1-0 Chicago. David Kampf and Matthew Highmore had the assists on the goal that came at the 3:21 mark of the first period.
It seemed like the Devils would have their work cut out for them. But, from there, Blackwood settled in and the Devils went to work. The Hawks’ Dennis Gilbert laid big hits on both Jesper Boqvist (resulting in the injury that he left the game for) and Miles Wood and Hayden had seen enough. Gilbert and Hayden went at it 8:22 and Hayden was given the fighting major plus a misconduct and the extra two for instigating. The Devils finished the first period with 25 penalty minutes and the game with 31 total. From here, the Devils comeback was beginning.
It began at the 14:46 mark of the first when Sami Vatanen pushed the puck up ice to Jack Hughes. Hughes lost it just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line and Wayne Simmonds grabbed it. He passed back to Hughes in the near corner. He skated out of the corner, made a nice move around the Chicago defense, and beat Crawford to make it 1-1. This goal also ended an 18-game goal drought for Jack Hughes.
The Devils took the lead on what would be the game-winner just 51 seconds into the second. PK Subban absolutely ripped a shot by Crawford through a few screens that beat the Chicago goaltender cleanly. Jesper Bratt and Palmieri had the assists on the goal that would go down as the clincher.
At the 7:22 mark, Damon Severson made it 3-1 when he came up the left-wing boards, took a pass from Nikita Gusev and cut towards the net. He shot and beat Crawford five-hole. Travis Zajac had the secondary assist on the goal.
The Devils made it 4-1 when Hayden got his first as a Devil and in his hometown against his former team to boot. It came at 10:40 of the second period when Will Butcher took a hit just inside the Blackhawks’ blue line while making a nice behind-the-back pass to Hayden, who was skating up the left-wing side. He beat Crawford to come within an assist of a Gordie Howe hat trick. Pavel Zacha had his other helper.
It was after this goal that Crawford was pulled in favor of Lehner.
And the Devils were not done in the second. Zajac scored shorthanded at 17:22 to make it 5-1. Vatanen had gone off for a hold against Quenneville at 16:47 and on the penalty kill, Zajac and Blake Coleman were off on a two-on-one. Coleman made the smart play and shot at Lehner. Lehner could not handle the rebound and it came right to a crashing Zajac, who put it home to put the Devils further up on top. Andy Greene had the secondary helper.
Blake Coleman would get one of his own just 18 seconds into the third period when Severson used a stretch pass to spring Coleman and Coleman broke in, shooting at Lehner’s five-hole while falling down. The puck went in and the Devils had scored a touchdown, making it 6-1. Nikita Gusev had the other assist.
Midway through the third, Chicago would hit a crossbar. The play was reviewed from Toronto and confirmed to be no goal, a sure sign that what could go wrong did go wrong for the Hawks tonight.
The Devils added the extra point when Gusev came up the right-wing boards, toe dragged around a Blackhawks defender and passed to a trailing Pavel Zacha. Zacha shot and beat Lehner to make it 7-1 which was our final. Severson had the secondary assist on this goal.
In the end, 14 different Devils registered a point with Zajac (2), Coleman (2), Zacha (2), Gusev (3) and Severson (3) all registering multiple points. Coleman (first), Severson (second) and Hayden (third) were the three stars of the game.
In the end, the Devils won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outhit the Blackhawks, 38 to 32, had more blocked shots at 22 to 21 and less giveaways at five to the Hawks’ seven.
Severson led the Devils skaters in ice time with 25:12 (ten seconds on the power play and 7:22 shorthanded) while Zacha led the forwards with 18:09 – nine seconds more than Hischier – with 1:48 on the power play and 4:48 on the penalty kill.
Stats-wise, Hayden led the Devils with 17 total penalty minutes. Wood led in shots with six and in hits with six. Mirco Mueller, Vatanen and Subban all led in blocks with three. Takeaways were led by Zajac and Greene, the vets, with two apiece.
Next up, the Devils will enjoy the Christmas break until Friday, the 27th when they will welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs to The Rock. We will see you then and, in the meantime, if you are celebrating, have a very merry Christmas!