Devils Waste Four Goal Lead/Sharangovich Hatty and Fall to Cats in OT

In a game played the day after April Fool’s Day, you’d still think that this was a cruel joke bring played on Devils fans.

The Devils watched a four-goal lead dwindle away in the third period as the Florida Panthers came back with five unanswered goals to defeat the Devils 7-6 in overtime at Prudential Center on Saturday.

Firstly, I apologize for the lateness of this recap. I had attended a concert last night in Atlantic City (Jerry Cantrell at the Music Box venue at the Borgata casino in case anyone is interested) and had to record this game – as well as yesterday’s game against the Islanders – and was not too keen on watching it or writing this up once I found out the results. I will have yesterday’s game up on Monday afternoon/evening.

The Devils came into this game looking to start the last month of the regular season on the right foot. Especially following the 8-1 debacle in Boston this past Thursday. They were also starting a four-game homestand and take the season series against the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division leading Panthers.

The first two games between these teams had come back in November with the Devils winning in Newark while the Cats returned the favor a few days later in Sunrise.

But starting tonight, the Devils had little more to play for than pride and Draft Lottery positioning. They were mathematically eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention with the loss at the Bruins last week.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have dreams of winning the Cup and are jockeying for playoff seeding.

The Devils made some changes to the lineup that they iced up in Boston by sitting Colton White and Mason Geertsen. Pavel Zacha is still day-to-day with an injury and Miles Wood was out as well. Head coach Lindy Ruff said that Wood’s absence from the lineup had to do with his “bumps and bruises” that were “to be expected” as he is just coming back from his hip surgery. So, essentially this was a maintenance day for him.

Coming back was Janne Kuokkanen, who had not played since February 7 due to a wrist injury. He was out for 20 games and had just been cleared from Injured Reserve prior to the Bruins game. He slotted in up front.

Also making his return from IR and making his Devils debut was goaltender Andrew Hammond. He wore number 35 and made 34 saves on 41 total Florida shots for an .829 save percentage on the day. He stopped all five Panthers power play shots and, at even strength, made 29 of 36 shots against.

Hammond was the seventh goalie to start a game for the Devils this season and was making his first start in about four weeks due to his injury suffered while with the Montreal Canadiens.

Nico Daws backed Hammond up as Jon Gillies was a healthy scratch for the game.

Florida started Sergei Bobrovsky who stopped 19 of 25 total shots for the Devils with a .760 save percentage in the first 40 minutes of the game. He let in one of New Jersey’s two shorthanded shots and got all four of their power play chances. At five-against-five, he stopped 14 of the 19 shots he saw.

Spencer Knight came on in relief for the third period and overtime and pitched a shutout. He got all six shots the Devils peppered him with – all of which came at even strength.

As a team, the Devils were 0-for-2 on the man advantage while the Panthers were 0-for-3. Between the two Florida goaltenders, the Devils finished with a total of 31 shots.

It was Nickelodeon Weekend at Prudential Center for the kids with a 12:30 PM matinee puck drop and even Ken Daneyko getting “slimed” by current Devils players prior to the game for social media.

The Cats have retooled as they head down the stretch and try to make their run at the championship. They acquired forward Claude Giroux and defensemen Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg at the Trade Deadline.

The Devils kicked things off when Yegor Sharangovich scored just 3:25 into the game unassisted.

It came when the Devils were able to force a turnover in the Florida zone and the puck was moved to the point and Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton took shot low that got in on Bobrovsky, who made the initial save. Sharangovich was able to get a subsequent shot off and and score to make it 1-0 Devils.

For Sharangovich, a new career high for a single season as that was the 17th goal of the season for number 17 and it he was not even done for the afternoon.

The Devils only needed 17 seconds to double their lead as well. Hughes notched his 26th of the season when his forecheck caused Bobrovsky to turn the puck over to him while the Florida goalie was trying to get the puck from behind his own net to his defenseman in the near corner. Hughes grabbed the puck, skated to the front of the Panthers net and scored to make it 2-0 New Jersey. That goal also came unassisted.

But, in a pattern that was to repeat very late in the game, the Cats stayed in things. The Devils outshot the Panthers 12-5 in the first period but kept things close still.

At the 9:02 mark, the Panthers attempted a wraparound that was stopped by Hammond, who ended up with his back to the shooter. He actually made the save with the back of his left leg as the shot came from around the near side.

Devils defenseman Damon Severson swooped in to help and swept the puck away – right to a pinching in Cats d-man Ben Chiarot, who was creeping in from the point.

Chiarot then wristed a shot by Hammond as the Panthers scored on just their second shot of the game. The goal was unassisted as well and came was Chiarot’s first goal as a Panther. It was 2-1 headed into the first intermission.

If the Devils had given a glimpse of how they could get ahead on the powerful Panthers in the first period, the second period became 20-minutes of dominance for them.

It began with Sharangovich’s second goal just two minutes in, his 18th of the season and second of the game.

Dougie Hamilton had a chance stopped by Bobrovsky that Florida recovered and tried to clear. Dawson Mercer, however, won the puck off of a battle on the far boards and passed to Sharangovich at the bottom of the far faceoff circle.

Sharangovich made a quick spin around and snapped a shot by Bobrovsky to make it 3-1 Devils.

Just 45 seconds after Sharangovich’s second goal, the returning Kuokkanen scored his first goal since December 31, 2021 against Edmonton.

On this one, Ty Smith was able to keep the puck alive in the Panthers zone, making a well-timed and high-risk play to hold the zone. He then passed Andreas Johnsson, who then hit Kuokkanen with a pass. Kuokkanen was cutting in towards Bobrovsky down low and made a nice move to his backhand to score and make it 4-1 Devils.

But once again, the Cats were never far out of things. Immediately following the Kuokkanen goal, Nico Hischier was stopped on a Devils 3-on-1 to thwart a chance that would have put New Jersey up by three.

Later in the period, at 11:17 gone by, Radko Gudas cut the lead in half at 4-2.

Gudas had just come out of the penalty after Florida killed a two-minute minor for tripping.

He got the puck up the left side from defenseman Brandon Montour and gained the Devils zone. His initial shot was stopped by Hamilton in front, but a Panthers player was then pushed into Hammond as Gudas followed up on his own rebound. That shot went in to make it 4-2 Devils.

Ruff and the Devils’ coaching staff looked at the play but declined to use their coach’s challenge to have it reviewed due to a Devils player pushing the Panthers player in ot Hammond. There just was not enough to get a call of goalie interference and overturn the call on the ice which was a good goal.

However, the Devils would pick right back up where they left off by scoring two more goals to add to their lead.

First, Sharangovich completed the hat trick at the 14:44 mark of the second period, shorthanded.

Hamilton was called for holding Jonathan Huberdeau at 13:26 to put Florida on the man advantage.

But a little more than halfway through that kill, Hischier forced a Florida turnover at the left wall just inside the Devils zone. Nico chipped the puck up and Sharangovich got around the last Panther to beat, took the puck and was off to the races in on Bobrovsky. He cut in alone on the Cats goaltender, went to his backhand and roofed the puck over Bobrovsky to make it 5-2 and complete Sharangovich’s first career NHL hat trick.

It was the first Devils hatty since Blake Coleman turned the trick in Toronto in January of 2020 and the first at the Prudential Center since Kyle Palmieri did it in October of 2019 as pointed out by Devils play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi. Of course, in an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Cangialosi also pointed out that New Jersey had actually lost those two games.

Johnsson would add one more to the Devils’ coffers before the second period was out.

On this goal, Jesper Boqvist recovered a puck that had been stolen by him from Mackenzie Weegar in the Florida zone. He passed low to Kuokkanen, who then hit Johnsson (who was cutting back door), who scored. The Devils had a 6-2 lead going into the third period and just needed to hang on for 20 more minutes.

Easier said than down against a powerhouse like the Florida Panthers.

The Cats began the third by making a goaltending change and installing Spencer Knight between the pipes.

That made all the difference for them.

Johnsson took the only penalty of the third period when he was called for a cross-check against Sam Bennett to put Florida on the power play at 3:28 gone by.

And, although it was not officially a power play goal, it was scored just moments after the penalty was killed off at 5:34 to make it an even strength goal. Mason Marchment passed the puck around to Anthony Duclair at the far half wall. He then moved it to Montour at the point. Montour’s shot tipped by Hammond off of a Devils’ skate in front to make it 6-3.

The Panthers were still around and, sure enough, at 7:03 gone by in the third, Gustav Forsling scored unassisted when the Devils lost a defensive zone draw. Florida got the puck in on Hammond, who made the initial save, the rebound of which came out to Forsling in the corner. He came out of the corner, made a move around a Devils defender and stuffed the puck by Hammond to make it 6-4.

The Panthers nearly scored again with 11:15 left in the game when a shot by Weegar was tipped in by Carter Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe, however, had had tipped the puck by Hammond with his stick up above the crossbar, a high stick and the goal was immediately waved off. Weegar’s initial shot had come from the top of the far faceoff circle. The score would remain 6-4.

For now.

It became 6-5 fir real at the 15:23 mark. Knight had been pulled with almost five minutes remaining in the game for the sixth attacker and Florida began pressing even more.

Jonathan Huberdeau – whose 71 assists on the season was already an NHL record for an NHL left-winger in a season – added to that total when he passed to Bennett. Bennett fed Aleksander Barkov down near the hash marks of the far circle. His shot then snuck in between Hammond’s left arm and the post to make it a one-goal game for real.

And it would be Barkov who would do things again about a minute later.

The Cats once again pulled Knight with a little over two minutes to go in the game.

With an extra skater on, the Panthers were able to move the puck around the horn.

From Huberdeua to Weegar to Barkov at the far faceoff circle’s low hashmarks at the right-side boards.

He unloaded a one-timer from that right side that eluded a Hammond could not get across his crease in time and get set and square to Barkov That made it 6-6 as the Cats had roared back with four unanswered goals to tie and, when the final hor sounded, to force overtime.

The Panthers came in with an OT record of 8-2 while the Devils were 5-1.

It only took 1:45 for the Panther to claim victory too.

Bennett skated the puck into the Devils zone, curled around and dropped it to Forsling. Forsling looked for room and then wristed a shot by Hammond’s glove for the win.

It was a hard lesson in learning to win and hang on against a tough team in a moment of adversity for the Devils.

Team-stats wise, the Devils wee outshot by ten at 31-41 and won just 34-percent of the game’s faceoffs. Hughes led all Devils skaters by winning 44-percent of his draws.

New Jersey finished with six penalty minutes as a team while the Panthers only had four. Hits saw Florida play the more physical game with 27 connected hits to the Devils’ 23. The Devils had 19 blocked shots to Florida’s nine. Team giveaways saw the Cats with 11 while the Devils had just one less at ten.

Sharangovich led the Devils in scoring with his hat trick while Johnsson had two points (a goal and an assist) in his being named a star of the game. Kuokkanen was the other Devil with a multi-point night with two points (a goal and an assist) in his return.

Ice time saw Severson led all Devils skaters with 25:03 of total time on ice. His 2:29 on the power play led the defensemen in that category while he logged 3:55 on the penalty kill. Jonas Siegenthaler actually led the blue liners in shorthanded time with 4:02 out of his 22:06 of total TOI.

Forwards were led in total time by Hughes with 21:22 (included 2:30 of power play time). Jesper Bratt led in PP time with 2:34 out of his total of 16:42 while Michael McLeod led in PK time with 3:46 out of his 12:01 total ice time logged.

Sharangovich led in shots on goal with six – scoring three goals on those six shots, which works out to a 50-percent shooting percentage if my math is correct there. Nathan Bastian led in hits with six. Tomas Tatar and Siegenthaler had three blocks to lead in that column.

As for personal giveaways, Sharangovich had three to lead there. On the flip side, Hughes and Ryan Graves recovered two turnovers each to lead in takeaways.

Next up, the Devils played yesterday afternoon on TNT against the New York Islanders at Prudential Center.

I recorded that game as well and will have that recap up for you by tomorrow afternoon or evening. This weekend just set me back a little bit but should be caught up by Monday night.

Looking at the results and hearing some things about what actually went down yesterday in Newark, I don’t know just how much I am actually looking forward to this.

Until then!

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