There was a playoff-like atmosphere at Prudential Center tonight. Sure the building is always amped up when the Devils and Rangers get it on, but it has been a long time since this much has been at stake in the Hudson River Rivalry.
With only two points separating the two teams in the Metropolitan Division standings, a lot was on the line and the fans – and players – knew it. In addition to the tight Metro Division standings, this was the first time in more than four years that both teams have been in a playoff position this late in the season and that just added to the tension in the building. But in the end, the Devils prevailed 4-3 in a shootout to defeat New York and come away with the full two points in a real hard fought victory.
In roster news, the Devils traded off one Swede for another in terms of injuries. They got Marcus Johansson back from injured reserve, and he would play tonight. However, Jesper Bratt would not. He was injured blocking a shot against the Ducks and will be day-to-day. Kyle Palmieri, who returned a few nights ago, would play on the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout were the Devils’ healthy scratches for the night.
In one other note, Brian Gibbons was playing in his 100th NHL game tonight.
The goaltending matchup was a marquee one and it did not disappoint. Henrik Lundqvist went for New York and made 45 saves on a whopping 48 Devils shots. He also made two saves in the shootout. He really kept the Rangers in a game that they had no business being in at times. Not to be outdone, but on a smaller scale, Cory Schneider went for the Devils. He stopped 25 of 28 shots and stopped three shots in the shootout. This was a real goalie duel and a game that both goalies can be proud of. As mentioned, Lundqvist stood out for the Rangers, standing on his head for them and keeping the Devils at bay.
The Devils seemed to be behind the eight ball all night long, but actually notched the first goal of the contest. John Moore, who was playing in his 400th NHL game tonight against a former team of his, took a pass from Nico Hischier, who had gathered the puck from Hall taking a hit along the half wall. Moore skated into the slot and shot high over Lundqvist’s glove hand to give the Devils the 1-0 lead at just the 7:22 mark of the first period. Kyle Palmieri had the secondary assist on the goal.
But the Rangers would respond quickly. Jimmy Vesey scored from Paul Carey and David Desharnais at 9:55 off a mad scramble in front of Cory to tie things up at one. New York would grab the lead before the period was out, with Nick Holden scoring at 11:59 from Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. His goal came on a rebound and gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead going into the second period.
But a funny thing all night was that the Devils would just not go away. After Will Butcher broke up a 2-on-1 early in the second and Cory made a nice stop midway through the period on a New Jersey giveaway in front of his net, a pivotal moment in the game occurred. Nico Hischier had seemingly had scored to tie things up. The goal was immediately waved off on the ice due to Palmieri being called for cross-checking Holden in front of the Devils’ net. The Devils seemed to be in a hole for the first time all night, but Blake Coleman would see that things would move in their direction.
He intercepted a soft pass by Kevin Shattenkirk and skated up ice, shooting from the far faceoff dot. He beat Lundqvist gloveside to tie things up at two. It was Coleman’s first career shorthanded goal and the team’s sixth shorty of the season so far. That goal came at 16:24 of the second period and Steven Santini had the lone assist on it.
There was drama before the period ended too. First, Michael Grabner took a slashing call on Palmieri that can only be described as a good penalty. Palmieri was wide open in front of an empty net and would have scored to give New Jersey the lead had Grabner not taken the infraction. That came at 17:38 of the second and the Devils seemed to be in business. However, at the 18:33 mark, Hall took a holding penalty against Mika Zibanejad to not only event things up, but to give the Rangers a short power play going into the third period. They would not score on the fresh ice and in fact, went 0-for-3 on the night with the man advantage with no shots on goal. The Devils ended the night 1-for-4 with six shots on goal. The power play was merely a microcosm of the night for these two teams.
Despite the shot disparity, however, the Rangers would again take the lead early in the third period when Kevin Hayes, Jimmy’s brother, scored at 1:48 from Brendan Smith and Mats Zuccarello to make it 3-2. The Devils’ collective backs were to the wall again.
This time, the hero was Brian Boyle. On the power play after Kreider had gone off for elbowing, Boyle stationed himself in the slot and took a pass from Hall out of the far corner. Boyle spun around and fired a backhander that beat Lundqvist just over the glove, tying things up at three. The goal came at 11:54 of the third and Palmieri had the secondary assist, giving him two points on the night.
And that was it for the scoring. Once regulation ended and the game was headed for overtime, the fans of both teams were on pins and needles. The OT saw lots of back-and-forth action until the 3:52 mark when Brady Skjei broke in on Schneider and Hall was called for a hooking penalty that, again, he almost had to take or give up a clear scoring chance. The remainder of OT would be played 4-on-3 and all seemed lost for the Devils faithful.
But New Jersey killed it off and we were now headed to a shootout. Hall shot first for the Devils and Lundqvist made the save. Schneider stopped Zuccarello and then Palmieri scored for the Devils. A stop would win it for the Devils, but Zibanejad found the back of the net behind Cory to even things up. The next round saw Drew Stafford stopped by Lundqvist and Vesey stopped by Cory. Boyle was up and connected on what would be the game winner. The game was on Shattenkirk’s stick and Cory stopped him with a right pad save to end it. The Devils had pulled out the two points against all odds.
In the end, Palmieri was named the game’s third star while Coleman was the second and Boyle, the former Ranger-turned-Devil the game’s number one star. Stats-wise, Sami Vatanen led all Devils’ skaters with 24:11 total ice time. He also tied in the shots on goal lead with six along with Palmieri. Hall, Stafford, Stefan Noesen, and Santini all had two hits apiece to tie for the lead in that category. As for blocks, Andy Greene and Santini each had four to lead the Devils. The Devils won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs.
The story of the game, however, was New Jersey outshooting the Blueshirts by twenty shots. A really amazing statistic and showed that the Devils earned the victory as they were relentless on the puck all night, clogging up passing lanes and gobbling up the puck.
The Devils now take the lead in the season series with the Rangers, having split the two at Madison Square Garden earlier this season. They have one more meeting later on in the year at the Prudential Center that will hopefully be even more important.
Next up for the Devils, Saturday night, they faceoff with the Chicago Blackhawks at The Rock. It may not be the same intense rivalry atmosphere as tonight, but it will be an important game against a Western Conference foe who has been playing better of late and has the chance to be a statement game for the Devils, as they can sweep the season series from Chicago.