Before it began, Taylor Hall called this trip “critical” to the Devils’ season. If it was, the Devils certainly answered the bell. With tonight’s 4-3 win in St. Paul over the Minnesota Wild, the Devils have crawled back to one game over NHL .500 and took seven of a possible eight points on their latest western sojourn.
Minnesota recently took over the top spot not only in the Central Division, but in the Western Conference when they defeated Chicago. They had put together a twelve game winning streak earlier this season and had not lost in regulation since Columbus did it back over New Year’s. So what the Devils did tonight was no small feat. Simply put, the Wild are one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
The Devils did it without Yohann Autvitu and John Moore, who are still on injured reserve. Andy Greene and Vern Fiddler are also still out with their injuries. Luke Gazdic, Seth Helgeson and Sergey Kalinin were the Devils’ scratches for the evening as the lineup was largely the same as the one iced in Vancouver. Minnesota scratched Nate Prosser.
The goaltending matchup was a dandy, as two of the best right now squared off. In goal for the Devils was Cory Schneider. He made 32 saves on 35 Wild shots on goal. Minnesota countered with a guy, in Devan Dubnyk, who is a candidate not only for the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie, but also the Hart Trophy as league MVP. His 1.78 goals against average and .940 save percentage coming into tonight are tops in the league. He made 22 saves on 26 Devils shots.
Cory kicked off the game with two amazing saves with a little bit of help from the post and defenseman Damon Severson. But later on in the first, the Wild were able to break through as Jared Spurgeon batted the puck out of the air and behind Schneider at 17:58 to give Minnesota the 1-0 lead. Nino Niederreiter and Mikko Koivu had the assists on that. That goal came on the power play when Devante Smith-Pelly was in the box for roughing Spurgeon. Minnesota was 1-for-3 with the man advantage. The Devils converted on their only chance.
It remained that way going into the second period. Jason Zucker began the second by firing a puck over the Devils net, an early narrow miss for the Wild. He would not miss at 9:24 when his goal from Mikael Granlund and Koivu gave Minnesota the 2-0 lead. That goal began with a stolen puck in the neutral zone and ended with New Jersey being down by two.
The Devils’ comeback began when Koivu was called for hooking Pavel Zacha at 12:33. And, much like the Minnesota power play goal, it was the guy who drew the penalty who also converted on it. Karl Stollery had the puck at the point and gave it to Kyle Palmieri who was streaking along the boards. Palmieri quickly passed cross-ice to Zacha who buried the one-timer to cut the Minnesota lead to one, 2-1. That goal came at 13:19 of the second. That was Zacha’s first goal since November 25.
From there, it was back-and-forth as both teams traded odd man rushes. Later in the second, it would seem that the Devils had tied things up when the Devils were killing a penalty and got a chance shorthanded. Adam Henrique’s shot seemed to be in, but replays showed that the puck had not completely crossed the goal line. The call on the ice stood, no goal.
But Henrique would get his goal just 5:23 into the third frame. Taylor Hall took the puck in the neutral zone, protected it and made a nice pass to Henrique, who was bolting down the left side. He skated into the Wild zone and fired, beating Dubnyk short side. The game was now tied up at two.
But a few minutes later, at 9:08, Erik Haula would score a similar goal to Zucker’s to give Minny the lead back, 3-2. Charlie Coyle and Spurgeon had the assists on the goal.
So now the Devils were fighting from behind again. They would begin the comeback less than 30 seconds after Haula’s goal. At 9:30, Damon Severson threw the puck into the near corner. Michael Cammalleri retrieved it and sent it to Palmieri on Dubnyk’s glove side. He jammed at it and celebrated, although the call was initially no goal on the ice. The officials conferenced and reversed their call and the game was now tied at three.
The game winner would come at 17:43 when Blake Coleman skated the puck into the near corner. He then connected on a nice pass to Beau Bennett in the slot. Bennett ripped a shot by Dubnyk and the Devils were suddenly in the lead, 4-3 with just about two minutes left in the game. The primary assist was Coleman’s and it was his first NHL point. Miles Wood had the secondary assist.
The Devils would weather a last onslaught from Minnesota, including pulling Dubnyk for the extra skater. Cory came up big in the last few moments and the Devils had taken another win from a Western Conference contender.
This game has to be a huge confidence builder for New Jersey. To go into the Xcel Energy Center and beat one of the top teams in the NHL is no small feat.
Next up, the Devils return home to take on the Atlantic Division leading Montreal Canadiens on Friday. That will be the beginning of a back-to-back – they travel to Philly Saturday night. It is another tough test for a team with playoff aspirations, but one that they have to feel that they can now overcome after this road trip.