Following Wednesday’s complete meltdown against the Arizona Coyotes, you can forgive Devils fans for not expecting a whole lot tonight when the top team in the Metropolitan Division, the Carolina Hurricanes, visited Prudential Center.
The Devils won 7-4 over the high-powered Canes, because of course they did.
The Devils made some roster moves today when defenseman Ty Smith was placed on Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury. With that, defenseman Colton White was recalled from the Taxi Squad and placed in the lineup. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton remains on IR with a fractured jaw. He has resumed skating and will be evaluated week-to-week.
Mason Geertsen, Marian Studenic and Jesper Boqvist were the Devils’ healthy scratches for the night as they had a full group of rosters to go.
In net, the Devils gave Jon Gillies his third start as member of the team, as Mackenzie Blackwood finally got a rest. And, it was Gillies’ 28th birthday, to boot.
And it was a birthday that he will remember. He got his first win with his new team under his belt by stopping 28 of Carolina’s 32 total shots for a nightly .875 save percentage. He also turned the Canes’ lone shorthanded shot and their only power play chance. Carolina was 0-for-1 in limited power play opportunities. At five-on-five, he got 26 of Carolina’s 30 shots.
He got his first win in the NHL since April 7, 2018, when he was a member of the Calgary Flames. That night, he beat the Vegas Golden Knights back then.
The Hurricanes were starting rookie Jack LaFontaine – making his first NHL start as a matter of fact. LaFontaine just turned pro last week after being signed from the University of Minnesota. He got 31 of the Devils’ 38 total shots for an .816 save percentage. He stopped New Jersey’s only shorthanded shot and let in their only power play shot. At even strength, he stopped 30 of the Devils’ 36 shots. The Devils went 1-for-3 on the man advantage as a team.
Tonight was Pride Night at Prudential Center as the Devils wore warmup jerseys with a rainbow theme to the logo pregame.
It was also the first time the Devils and Hurricanes had met since February 14, 2020 – before the COVID pandemic knocked out the rest of the 2019-20 season and put the Canes and Devils in different divisions for the 2020-21 season. That night back in 2020, the Devils won 5-2.
Also, on a historical note, it was mentioned on the MSG+ broadcast by Steve Cangialosi and Ken Daneyko that tonight was the 35th anniversary of the “334 Club” game.
On January 22, 1987, a major snowstorm dumped two feet of snow on the New Jersey area. The Devils’ scheduled game against the Flames was delayed and only 334 fans were able to make it out to the Meadowlands Arena to witness the Devils’ 5-2 victory over Calgary that night.
More than three decades on now, how would the current Devils fare tonight?
As it turned out, not too well to begin with.
Carolina took the early lead just 2:20 into the game. Brendan Smith dished to Vincent Trocheck just inside the Devils blue line and he immediately played give and go with Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov got it back and took a quick, seeing eye shot from along the left-wing boards that ended up just under the crossbar behind Gillies.
Svechnikov was just attempting to get the puck on net and it ended up in to give the Hurricanes the 1-0 lead.
And the Canes are a strong offensive team, so these things come in bunches for them.
Sure enough, at the 5:44 gone-by mark of the first, and just after Derek Stepan had hit the post for Carolina, the Devils were unable to clear the puck initially from their own zone. It got lost in some skates and Martin Necas eventually got the puck back to Ian Cole at the point. Cole ripped a shot right by Gillies as the Devils paid for not being able to clear.
Svechnikov had the secondary assist on the goal that doubled the Canes’ lead.
The Devils stick around, though down two, with Nathan Bastian helping to dig them out of their hole.
At the 17:26 mark of the first, the Devils had been pressing for a couple of shifts. Here, Janne Kuokkanen got the puck to Ryan Graves at the point.
His shot hit the end boards and popped into the air in front of the Hurricanes net. Nathan Bastian had fought for good positioning in front and used great hand-eye coordination to bat the puck out of the air and behind LaFontaine to cut the Carolina lead in half to 2-1.
Bastian struck again with less than a minute to go in the first period (the 19:06 mark) when Michael McLeod (Bastian’s Mississauga SuperBuddy) faked a shot from the far half wall and passed to Graves at the point after getting the Carolina defender to commit to his shot.
Graves now had an open shooting lane and let loose a bomb that Bastian – again camped in the hard area in front of the opposition’s net – got a stick on to redirect past LaFontaine to tie the game at two.
This was Bastian’s second career two-goal game at the NHL level.
The game was tied going into the second period as the Devils were keeping up with the Canes.
But Carolina is a very good team (to say the least) that can strike almost immediately.
Just 3:25 into the second, they retook the lead by one when Josh Leivo scored his first of season.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi swept the puck up to Leivo through the neutral zone and Leivo cut into the Devils zone. He made a power move on Gillies to score and put the Hurricanes up 3-2. Tony DeAngelo had the secondary assist.
The Devils kept fighting, however and got rewarded at the 8:47 mark of the period.
The other half of the Mississauga Connection struck here when Michael McLeod scored.
Andreas Johnsson shot from the point, just getting the puck in on LaFontaine and McLeod, who got free in front of the Carolina net, was there to push the rebound by the Hurricanes goaltender. PK Subban had the secondary assist. It was again tied, this time at three.
And it would continue back-and-forth through the middle period with momentum slowly changing.
At 11:16 gone by, Johnsson ended a personal 18-game goalless drought when he scored.
Pavel Zacha – also ending a point scoring drought here – fought off a check in the Devils zone and was off with Dawson Mercer and Johnsson. Zacha gave the puck to Mercer at the far wall in the Canes’ zone.
He immediately spotted Johnsson trailing the play and all alone in the middle of the ice. Mercer connected to him and Johnsson finished to give New Jersey their first lead of the night at 4-3.
Carolina was still there, though and we were all reminded of that with 15:34 gone in the second.
The Hurricanes were in on a partial 2-on-1 on Gillies with Brady Skjei trailing to make it a 3-on-1. Derek Stepan dropped to Skjei, who beat Gillies to tie the game at four apiece. Leivo had the secondary assist.
Things were starting to get wild and the Devils were not done, they would retake the lead prior to the second intermission.
With 1:41 left in the second period, Jesper Bratt padded his team-leading goal tally when he scored his 11th of the year.
Graves collected his third assist of the night when he took a shot from the near point. Yegor Sharangovich redirected the shot as a pass towards Bratt, who was stationed near the far post. The pass was put in under LaFontaine in one move by Bratt and the Devils had an unlikely 5-4 lead as we were going into the second break.
That would also end up as the game-winning goal. The third period belonged to the Devils on the scoresheet.
New Jersey began to put the game away 11:51 into the third. Cole was given a holding penalty to put the Devils on the power play and it took Jack Hughes exactly one minute to score.
With 12:51 gone by in the period, Hughes went to work on the half wall. He played give-and-go with Damon Severson, who was set up at the point. With Severson briefly in control of the puck, Hughes got himself into position for a clear shot. Severson got the puck back to him and he shot, beating LaFontaine to make it 6-4 Devils.
Nico Hischier chalked up the secondary helper.
Zacha put the game on ice at 13:55 gone by in the third when the Devils recovered a turnover and Johnsson got the puck to Mercer. Mercer was into the Carolina zone and shot off the rush. He hit the inside of the near post and it came right out to Zacha, who was trailing. He potted it to give us our final of 7-4.
It almost was not the final though.
With 2:57 remaining left in regulation, Mercer was crashing the net, causing a mad scramble in front. LaFontaine seemingly kept the puck out and the call on the ice was no goal. The Situation Room in Toronto did a review of the play to determine if the puck had crossed the line prior to the whistle stopping the play. The review upheld the referee’s call and there was no goal.
Play would continue to tick down. The Devils had the win in the bag when Leivo was called for a high stick with 4.9 seconds to go in the game, putting New Jersey on the power play to end what little of regulation was left.
Johnsson (one goal, two assists, three points), Bastian (two goals, two points), Mercer (two assists, two points), McLeod (one goal, one assist, two points), Zacha (one goal, one assist, two points) and Graves (three assists, three points) were the Devils who ended up with multi-point nights.
As a team, the Devils outshot Carolina 38-32. They won 41-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Hischier won 59-percent of his personal draws to lead Devils centers.
The Devils did outhit the Hurricanes 35 to 31 and had 15 blocked shots to the Canes’ 12. The Devils also ended with 25 team turnovers to Carolina’s 12.
Severson led all Devils skaters in time on ice with 26:34 total (including 2:11 on the power play and 1:01 shorthanded). Jonas Siegenthaler led the defensemen on the PK with 1:33 out of his 23:48 of total time spent killing penalties.
Among the forwards, Hischier led in total time with 18:13 (2;11 on the PP and 58 seconds on the PK). Hughes led in power play time with 2:17 logged out of his 15:32 total while McLeod led in shorthanded time with 1:08 out of his 16:11 of total TOI.
Hughes led in shots on goal with five. Jimmy Vesey, Bastian and Siegenthaler each had five hits to lead in that category. Siegenthaler also led in blocks with three. Siegenthaler and Hughes had the most personal giveaways with three while Mercer led in takeaways with two.
Next up, the Devils will continue their homestand when they welcome in the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow. The Kings are already in town as they practiced at Prudential Center this morning.
Puck drop for that game is at 7 PM and it will be televised on MSG+. We will have coverage for you here following the game. Please note that, due to a family commitment, I may be a little behind on the game. I am recording it so as to not miss anything. I will try to get a recap post up as soon as I can though.
See you tomorrow as the Devils try to keep a little bit of momentum going forward.