The Devils looked to have quite a feat in front of them when the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks came into Newark on Friday night for the first meeting between the teams this season (they face them again next week in Chicago – a thought not lost on the Devils, as they could set the tone for these two games right off the bat).
The Blackhawks have been off to a rough start to this season. If the playoffs started today, the champs would not get to defend the Cup, as they are on the outside looking in in the Western Conference.
It would be a reunion of sorts for Travis Zajac and Jonathan Toews, who played together a decade or so ago at the University of North Dakota, a team that also included TJ Oshie of the Capitals and former Devils captain Zach Parise. While they were all skating for the Fighting Sioux, current Devils coach John Hynes was coaching the United States Men’s National Developmental Team and a young player named Patrick Kane. Most of these names would play a big part in tonight’s game.
Both the Devils and Blackhawks were coming off of rough losses. The Devils gave up a late goal against the Islanders to fall in Brooklyn the other night while Chicago scored five goals against the Blues and still fell to St. Louis in overtime on Wednesday. Both were looking to regroup.
The Devils came out flying, as Adam Henrique had an early chance on a 2-on-1 when a pass from Lee Stempniak was tipped to him by a sliding Hawk. He could not finish there, but the Devils would still get on the board at 3:48 of the first when Stempniak grabbed a turnover deep in the Chicago zone and scored on goaltender Corey Crawford. The Devils were staked to an early 1-0 lead and would not look back.
On a faceoff deep in the Blackhawks’ zone, Travis Zajac won the draw, used his body to block out the Hawks’ centerman and deadened the puck flat in the slot for Palmieri to snap it past Crawford at 17:48. The Devils were now up 2-0. At this point in the first period, Toews, the Blackhawks captain, saw that his team needed a spark. At 17:54, he would slash at Henrique through the neutral zone to get his attention as play resumed and the two dropped the mitts. Toews hoped that this fight would light a fire under the Blackhawks, but it ended up doing the opposite, it would only seem to frustrate the Blackhawks more.
At 18:14 of the first, Zajac scored his first even strength goal of the year when he scored to put the Devils up 3-0 (assists to Damon Severson and Stempniak). The Devils had built up a good lead after twenty minutes of hockey, now they needed to keep it going against a high-powered Chicago offense.
Coming out for the second period, the Blackhawks replaced Crawford with Scott Darling, who had come in in relief a few times during their playoff run last spring and was more than capable.
But the Devils would keep up the pressure. With 7:28 gone in the period, the Devils rushed into the Chicago zone and Kyle Palmieri dropped a pass for Severson, who sent a no-look pass to Mike Cammalleri, who quickly snapped the puck by Darling, giving the Devils a 4-0 lead. It was a pretty passing play that stopped Cammalleri’s four-game point drought.
A first in Devils history happened at 9:22 of the second period when Sergey Kalinin drove towards the net and Palmieri seemingly scored on the rebound. However, the official quickly called the goal off, saying that Kalinin had bumped into Darling before the puck crossed the goal line. It was here that John Hynes would call for the first coach’s challenge in team history. The call on the ice was upheld upon further review, the question was whether Trevor Daly, the Hawks’ defenseman had bumped the goalie before Kalinin. He had not and the call stood.
It was interesting to note that, as John MacLean pointed out on the MSG+ broadcast, the video review room in Toronto only guides the on-ice officials to make the right call. Toronto does not make the final call on challenges. Just a bit of insight into how that process works.
The Devils had their backs against the wall for the first time late in the second period when Patrick Kane scored at 18:42, beating Cory Schneider glove side with a wrister and notching his ninth straight game with a point. Then David Schlemko took a high-sticking penalty at 19:39. Chicago was now only down three with almost a full power play on clean ice to enter the third period.
The Devils, however, were equal to the task on the penalty kill, yielding no shots, despite Chicago applying lots of pressure.
The Devils would go short-handed again when Adam Larsson was nabbed for cross-checking at 5:05, however, things would be evened up ten seconds later. Jacob Josefson had a short-handed breakaway, only to be hauled down by Brent Seabrook, putting him in the box to go four-on-four.
Early in that four-on-four, Severson had a great chance, only to be pulled down by Trevor van Riemsdyk, the Middletown, New Jersey native was not called for an infraction on the play and things resumed.
About five and a half minutes into the third, another play came under review, this time by the referees, when it looked like a puck may have snuck past Cory (who made 27 saves on the night). However, replays showed that the puck wedged between Schneider’s arm and the goal post and then fell underneath him, staying out of the goal.
From here, it got tricky for the Devils. Chicago pulled Darling with 6:42 remaining in the game and down three, going up six-on-five. Although New Jersey never scored with almost seven minutes of empty net (Stephen Gionta came closest, missing wide at one point) and had trouble clearing the puck from their defensive zone, the Hawks only scored once. That goal came at 18:34 of the third period and was Tanner Kero’s first NHL goal. Chicago pulled within two, but that was as close as they got, as the Devils came away with a 4-2 victory over the Stanley Cup champions.
Many Devils had good games tonight, Palmieri and Zajac come immediately to mind, but the team as a whole really pulled together following a rough loss in Brooklyn against the Isles to rebound nicely. They will continue to be put to the test as Vancouver comes to town on Sunday. The Canucks have not lost in regulation on the road this season yet, so it will be a good way for the Devils to see what they are made of. Can they keep up the tempo against another tough Western Conference foe?