The push to the playoffs is coming down to the wire and the Devils are looking better and better with each passing game. Tonight they defeated their cross-river rivals 5-2 to move their magic number to clinch to just two. They would not clinch tonight, as Florida beat Nashville 2-1 in regulation to keep their hopes alive, but they did leapfrog the Flyers as Philly lost to the Islanders 5-4 in Brooklyn. They did not leap over the Blue Jackets either, as they beat the Red Wings in OT 5-4 in Ohio.
This was the second to last home game of the year for the Devils, they do have Toronto at home on Thursday, but this one was a big one against a rival with so much at stake for New Jersey.
Some roster moves first. The Devils scratched Jesper Bratt tonight with Brian Gibbons slotting back in at forward. Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Johansson and Drew Stafford were also out with Damon Severson scratched on defense.
The D would remain the same with Severson out and Lovejoy in. The lines were shaken up a little bit with Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Kyle Palmieri were the top line combination and Pavel Zacha, Michael Grabner and Patrick Maroon rounding out the top six.
The goaltending matchup saw Keith Kinkaid, who tonight became the winningest goalie in the NHL since February 15 go against Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist. It was a relatively light night for Kinkaid, as he stopped 22 of 24 Ranger shots. Lundqvist, however, was under siege most of the night. He made 39 saves on 44 Devils shots.
This is uncharted territory for Lundqvist, who is playing meaningless hockey for the first time in his career. The Rangers are set to miss the playoffs for only the second time since 2005-06 and Lundqvist was on the team in 2010 that missed on the final game of the season – a shootout loss in Philly.
The Devils got the most from their power play tonight too. They went an amazing 3-for-4, scoring on four power play shots. The Rangers went 0-for-2 with a single shot with the man advantage.
The Devils had won three of four games against the Blueshirts this year and were gunning for the fourth of five. They would not waste time in getting there.
Just 25 seconds into the game, Travos Zajac scored from Blake Coleman to make it 1-0. The Devils broke into the New York zone on a 2-on-1. Zajac dropped to Coleman, who was trailing as the Ranger backchecker was getting back quickly. Coleman got a shot off as he was falling to the ice. Lundqvist made a good save to stop him, but Zajac was right there to tap in the rebound as Lundqvist had come way too far out of his crease.
The Devils had their foot on the gas and they would not let up. The Rangers were given a too many men on the ice bench minor at 3:14 of the first and the Devils were on their first power play of the night. Taylor Hall would take it from there. Will Butcher, at the point, passed to Kyle Palmieri down low. He one-touched to Maroon at the doorstep. Lunqvist made the save there, but the rebound jumped out to Hall stationed at the far faceoff dot. He shot and beat Lundqvist to make it 2-0. The goal came at 3:41 of the first and was scored unassisted, but I believe that at least Butcher was given an assist later, as I think he would end the night with a goal and two assists. Although Palmieri and Maroon would make more sense as the two assists.
The Devils would make it 3-0 at 10:40 of the first. That one came on the power play also as John Gilmour was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. Butcher scored from Palmieri and Hall to convert there. Hall weaved in the far corner to alieviate pressure before finding Palmieri at the far point. He faked a shot and went point-to-point with Butcher, who ripped a one-timer towards goal that beat Lundqvist for the Devils’ third goal of the young contest.
The Rangers would push play a little bit towards the end of the first, finally breaking through when Ryan Spooner scored from Jimmy Vesey and Filip Chytil at 17:47 to make it 3-1.
The second period would belong to New Jersey, however. Butcher scored again on the power play at 6:53 of the second from Hall and Zajac while New York’s Ryan Sproul was off for high sticking. Hall skated down the left wing and dropped for Butcher at the near point. He unleashed one, beating Lundqvist again to make it 4-1 Devils. This was Butcher’s first career NHL multi-point game and pushed him past Slava Fetisov for most points by a Devils’ defenseman in their rookie season with 44.
A scary moment while the Devils were killing off a penalty midway through the second period. A Pavel Buchnevich one-time shot hit Kinkaid square in the mask and knocked it off. He would get his backup mask and continue on.
At the 15:45 mark of the second, Taylor Hall was hauled down on a breakaway by Rangers d-man Brady Skjei. The referee’s arm went up and fans did not know if it was a tripping minor or a penalty shot. It was a penalty shot to be taken by Hall. He skated in and went high over Lundqvist’s glove, converting and making it 5-1 Devils. With that goal, Hall moved past Anze Kopitar of the Kings and into a top six spot in the NHL scoring race. He would hear chants of “M-V-P” from then until he came out for his TV interview after being named the game’s first star.
Midway through the third, Brian Boyle and Vesey would drop the gloves but would not fight. Linesman Tony Sericolo jumped in and the two were only assessed matching roughing minors instead.
New York would score one more at 14:26 of the third when Kevin Hayes took a giveaway in front of the Devils net and scored unassisted to make it 5-2. But the Devils had this one in hand with a 5-2 victory.
Statistically, John Moore led the Devils in ice time with 21:23 (including 1:17 on the power play and 52 seconds on the PK) just edging out Sami Vatanen, who had 21:06 of TOI. On a night when every Devil registered a shot on goal except for Andy Greene, Hall and Lovejoy tied for the lead with five each. Stefan Noesen and Moore both had two hits to lead in that category, Lovejoy had two blocked shots and Zajac had three takeaways to lead there.
Team-wise, the Devils won 58-percent of the game’s faceoffs, outshot New York an impressive 44-24. They were out hit 23-8 and the Rangers had more blocks, 12 to 9.
Next up, the Devils take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at home. Again, the magic number is two – either two points gained by the Devils or lost by the Panthers will get them in. Florida also plays on Thursday, at home agaisnt the Bruins. Hopefully everything will shake down in the Devils favor and we can begin to talk about potential first round matchups.
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