The Devils playing in their second game back from a COVID-induced break, were facing off with the top team in the MassMutual East Division, if not one of the top teams in the entire NHL tonight.
And that same Devils team showed very little rust, defeating the Boston Bruins 3-2.
For starters, Sami Vatanen was back in the lineup. He made his season debut and Devils re-debut tonight. He ended the night with a shot on net and three hits in 14:44 of total ice time (including 1:45 on the PK).
With Dmitry Kulikov and Nikita Gusev coming off, that means that the only player remaining on the COVID Protocol list is Nico Hischier. Devils regular play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi also remains out with COVID, according to his Twitter account. Kenny Albert again filled in for him on MSG+ 2.
The Devils were looking to win their third straight coming in and ended the night outshot 27-26. They also won just 39-percent of the faceoffs (with Michael McLeod leading the centers with a 47-percent winning clip) and were outblocked 16-13. Where they did lead was in hits with 24 to Boston’s 21 and they had less giveaways at nine to the Bruins’ 11.
Between the pipes, Mackenzie Blackwood continued to be a force. He tied a Devils team record tonight for points earned to start a season with his 4-0-1 record. He stopped all of Boston’s even strength shots (21-for-21) and got all three of their shorthanded shots. He did let in two of the three power play shots he faced, with Boston going 2-for-3 on the man advantage. He was 25-for-27 with a .926 save percentage.
Blackwood was backed up by Aaron Dell, as Eric Comrie, having never played a game for the Devils, was reclaimed by Winnipeg off of waivers today.
Matt Tennyson, Ryan Murray and Scott Wedgewood were the Devils’ scratches.
Facing the Devils was Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 23-of-26 for an .885 save percentage. He was 21-for-23 at even strength and stopped both Devils power play shots. He let in the lone shorthanded shot the Devils fired at him.
The Bruins were in their third jerseys, a retro uniform that is not their Reverse Retros, so I can only assume that they are going to wear them in their game at Lake Tahoe this weekend.
After a scoreless first period, Kyle Palmieri got the Devils on the board at the 1:34 mark of the second period. Jack Hughes broke into the Boston zone and made a nice no-look, backhand pass to Palmieri, who had gotten in behind the Bruins’ defense. Palmieri cut in all alone and wristed a shot by Halak to make it 1-0 Devils.
Palmieri would strike again at the 10:38 mark of the second shorthanded. This one came when Jesper Bratt knocked down a Bruins’ pass in the neutral zone. Damon Severson then chipped the puck up to Palmieri, who broke in alone again and shot five-hole on Halak.
At this point, it was Kyle Palmieri 2, Boston Bruins 0.
Jake DeBrusk would put an end to that with a little help from… Kyle Palmieri?!
With the puck deep in the New Jersey zone and with Boston on the power play, Palmieri tried to backhand the puck out of the zone through the middle.
Unfortunately for the Devils, it went right to the stick of DeBrusk, who gathered the puck and shot, beating Blackwood to make it Palmieri 2, Bruins 1. That goal came at 12:36 of the second.
But while it had been the Palms show up to that point, it would be Pavel Zacha, he of the four game point streak, who would scored the game-winner for the Devils.
And it was a nice one.
Will Butcher broke into the Bruins zone and got the puck to Andreas Johnsson. Johnsson, to the right of Halak’s cage, stopped on a dime and made a nice pass to Zacha at the other faceoff circle. Zacha fired and score, making it 3-1 at 15:37.
And that would hold up. Albeit with some drama.
The Devils had a 5-on-3 power play killed off by Boston in the middle of the third.
But things would get really dicey when Ty Smith took a delay of game penalty with 3:11 left. The Bruins pulled Halak for the 6-on-4 man advantage. It would pay off at 18:54 when David Pastrnak shot from the point. The puck was tipped by Blackwood by Charlie McAvoy, in a shot he just would not be able to stop. Nick Ritchie had the secondary assist on the goal that made it 3-2.
But that would be it. After a chaotic final minute or so, the Devils held on and won.
Lindy Ruff passed the Jets’ Paul Maurice on the all-time NHL wins list with head coaching win number 752.
Kyle Palmieri was the game’s first star, Mackenzie Blackwood the second and Pavel Zacha the third.
Ice time was led by Severson with 22:54 almost a minute more than next up, Smith, who had an even 22 minutes. Miles Wood and Jack Hughes tied for the forwards lead with 18:14 of ice time each, although Hughes had more power play time at 4:33 to Wood’s 3:42.
Wood and Butcher led in shots on goal with three each, Nate Bastian led in hits with five, blocks were led by Janne Kuokkanen, Butcher and PK Subban with two each. Subban, Hughes, Kuokkanen, Wood, Mikhail Maltsev, Palmieri, Michael McLeod and Johnsson all led in takeaways with one each.
Next up, the Devils will play an early one on Saturday. They will face the Buffalo Sabres at 12:30 PM at Prudential Center. I will not be watching that live, but will have a recap up a little bit later.
Until then, stay safe everyone!