Devils Win Wild One in Minnesota

The Devils traveled to St. Paul to begin their longest road trip of the season against the Minnesota Wild, trying to end a three game losing streak. It was a cold day in Minnesota (as was evident to anyone who watched the Minnesota Vikings-Seattle Seahawks NFL playoff game from earlier today), but the Devils had been in St. Paul since yesterday to prepare for their tough Central Division opponent.

The Devils got some good news with David Schlemko and Tyler Kennedy returning to the lineup. In addition, Joseph Blandisi was called up from AHL Albany to fill in a spot on the second line wing. He played on a unit with Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak.

Eric Gelinas and Stefan Matteau were healthy scratches for New Jersey, while John Moore is still out with the injury suffered in Montreal a few games back.

Cory Schneider got the nod for the Devils again, making 17 saves on just 18 Minnesota shots faced. In goal for the Wild was backup Darcy Kuemper, making his first start since December 21. He had suffered a concussion and was not available since then. He made 15 saves while the Devils peppered him with a measly 17 shots.

On the topic of shots, the Devils would hold the Wild to no shots for 19 minutes spanning the first and second periods. It was definitely a defensive struggle, but there were flurries of offensive chances. NBCSN analyst (the Devils were playing their one and only nationally televised game tonight) Pierre McGuire attributed it to puck possession and the Devils ability to not turn over the puck. He praised the Devils new style under John Hynes and said that they are not passively waiting in the neutral zone for a turnover, but attacking.

There was no scoring throughout the first two periods, but the second period saw a nice scrap between Jordin Tootoo and ex-Devil Ryan Carter. Tootoo won the fight decisively. It was set up earlier with some physical play by Tootoo. Tootoo will often try to use his fights to wake the Devils up and get them going. It would take another period, but the Devils would respond.

The first goal of the game came unassisted when Blandisi took a breakout pass from Stempniak. Blandisi lost the puck briefly and the Minnesota clearing attempt was intercepted by Henrique, who wristed one by Kuemper. The Devils had a 1-0 lead just 1:21 into the third.

Then the power went out. Literally.

NBCSN had technical difficulties that kept fans from seeing the next two goals. They cut to the studio and then live look-ins of Detroit-Anaheim and Edmonton-Florida. When the feed came back in, it was 2-1 Devils as Zach Parise (from Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter) had scored for the Wild and defenseman Jon Merrill had scored what would become the game winner for the Devils (from Sergey Kalinin and Kyle Palmieri).

For Parise, it was the first goal he had ever scored against his former team in four career games against New Jersey. He has now scored against every team in the National Hockey League.

The Wild would pull Kuemper twice, but would never be able to sustain an attack in the Devils’ zone with the extra man. The Devils held on for a 2-1 win, snapping their losing streak and coming away with two points. This got them back into the second wildcard playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 47 points, moving ahead of Tampa Bay and tying them with Boston in points (although the Bruins have three games in hand).

The Devils have clawed their way back into a playoff spot. If they can stay where they are or improve while they weather the injury storm, they will be in good shape.

But things do not get any easier for New Jersey. Up next, they head to St. Louis on Tuesday to take on the Blues, another strong Central Division team. The Devils lost to the Blues back in November at Prudential Center. They then face Colorado on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday. These are tough opponents and this is a rough stretch of the schedule. Once the team gets healthy, they will hope that they have picked up some wins in this, the “Dog Days” of the NHL season.

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