With a win tonight, the Devils could move within two points of their opponents, the New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They were able to come away with the win at the Prudential Center but it was not without some drama at the end.
Some relatively big trade news to talk about first as the Devils sent Sergey Kalinin to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for defenseman Viktor Loov. Kalinin had cleared waivers yesterday and was to be sent to Albany before the Leafs came calling. He will now report to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL while Loov will also report to the AHL, he will go to Albany.
This was the first meeting of the year between the Devils and Islanders, as it took almost three quarters of the season for New Jersey to meet their streaking Metro Division rivals. The Isles were in last place in the East this time last month. After the coaching change from Jack Capuano to Doug Weight, they have gone 9-3-2 and have surged up the board to the point where, if they had won tonight, regardless of what Toronto did in their game against Ottawa, the Islanders would have taken over the last playoff Wild Card spot currently occupied by the Leafs.
In some major lineup news, Michael Cammalleri, who is enduring an 18-game goal scoring drought, was a healthy scratch on the night. He joined Seth Helgeson in watching from the press box. The veteran has been having a rough go of it of late and the benching will hopefully get him back on track. He is a very streaky scorer, so maybe this will jumpstart him and get him going. Taking his place in the lineup was Devante Smith-Pelly, who would be skating on a line with Joseph Blandisi (who was playing center tonight) and Miles Wood. This line would play a big role in tonight’s game on the scoresheet.
The Islanders were without Travis Hamonic and Cal Clutterbuck (who are injured) and Adam Pelech and Shane Prince. Up for the Islanders was former Devil Stephen Gionta. Gionta would get a nice video tribute by the Devils on the big board at Prudential Center and a nice reception from the Devils faithful in his return.
The starting goaltenders were Thomas Greiss for the Islanders, who made 18 saves on 21 shots faced and Cory Schneider for the Devils. Cory made 40 saves on an amazing 42 shots faced from the Isles.
About four minutes in, Taylor Hall had a breakaway and was stopped by Greiss. Greiss was able to just get his stick on the puck and knock it off of Hall’s stick before he could get a shot off. This set the tone for the game right off of the bat.
The Devils would connect at the 7:10 mark of the first period when Devante Smith-Pelly took a pass from Travis Zajac that sprung him for a breakaway. He went to his backhand and slid the puck five hole by Greiss to make it 1-0 Devils. Jon Merrill had the secondary assist on the goal.
Cory Schneider made what would be a huge save for the Devils at the 8:10 mark of the first when he stopped John Tavares on a penalty shot. Zajac was called for a hook on a Tavares breakaway to set that up. Cory’s save would end up looming very big later on in the game for the Devils.
The Devils had a chance to double things up when former Islander PA Parenteau hit the post on New Jersey’s first power play of the evening. It was also in the first when the Isles got a bit of a scare as both Johnny Boychuk and Anders Lee left the game for them. They would both return for New York, however.
The second period featured a nice scrap between New York’s Scott Mayfield and the Devils’ Miles Wood. Wood’s father, Randy, played for the Islanders for five years. The fight was triggered after what was a clean hit on Brock Nelson.
The Devils would double their lead on the penalty kill. New Jersey’s Taylor Hall was called for roughing at 8:03 to put New York a man up. Adam Henrique just missed on a chance right before he grabbed the puck in the Devils zone and sped away on a two-on-one with Travis Zajac. He made a nice pass to Zajac, who ripped the puck by Greiss to make it 2-0 Devils at the 8:49 mark. The Devils had scored another shorthanded goal this year to double their lead. For the game, New York went 0-for-3 on the power play while the Devils were 1-for-2.
That power play goal would come at the 6:21 mark of the third. Pavel Zacha had that one when the Devils zig-zagged the puck through the Isles’ penalty kill. It started at the far point with Damon Severson, who side across to Parenteau. He went back across to the top of the far faceoff circle to Zacha, who fired a shot just over Greiss’ shoulder and under the crossbar stickside to make it 3-0 Devils.
From there, the Islanders began their comeback. Andrew Ladd scored at 8:58 of the third from Calvin de Haan to make it 3-1. The Devils challenged this goal for goalie interference, alleging that Tavares had bumped Schneider and kept him from being able to make the save. The call on the ice and from Toronto was a goal and that was where it stood after the review. The review showed that it was actually Andy Greene who got caught up with Cory, impeding him from making the save.
Anthony Beauvillier of the Islanders would score to make it 3-2 Devils at 13:48 from Alan Quine and Boychuk. Things were beginning to get even tenser.
At the 16:57 mark of the third, Henrique was called for cross checking Tavares in front of the Devils net. The Islanders would pull Greiss with about 1:30 left in the game and about 25 seconds left on that power play (giving them a brief 6-on-4 man advantage). But the Devils stood pat and Kyle Palmieri even blocked a big shot with seconds left before the Islanders shot themselves in the foot with consecutive offside calls. Time ran out and the Devils came away with the 3-2 victory.
Next up the Islanders, but this time at the Barclays Center. The Devils travel to Brooklyn trying to take two straight from New York in what should be a very tense playoff-like battle. The Isles are 8-0-2 in their last ten at home and the Devils have been a very good road team all season long. As MSG play-by-play man Steve Cangialosi put it: something has got to give.