Hischier the Hero as Devils Outlast Flyers

Philadelphia has a Super Bowl coming up on Sunday, but tonight the Flyers traveled up the New Jersey Turnpike to renew their rivalry with the Devils. And the Devils were able to outlast – more like survive – the Flyers tonight as they won the game 4-3.

It was Pride Night at Prudential Center, part of the NHL’s You Can Play initiative, which strives to make the sport inclusive to people of all ethnicities, orientations and creeds. Proceeds from sales of special rainbow Devils logo t-shirts went to local LGBTQ organizations in the Newark area.

The Devils were coming off a 3-1 win in Buffalo which got them out of their pre-All-Star funk. The Flyers were playing the second half of a back-to-back, they were in Washington last night and lost 5-3 after jumping out to a 2-0 lead. They gave up five straight goals in that game as they took the loss to the Capitals.

In Devils injury news, Cory Schneider skated on his own and Marcus Johansson is working out off ice. There was no update on Brian Gibbons pre-game. New Jersey went largely with the same lineup they iced in Buffalo, going with eleven forwards and seven defensemen. Jimmy Hayes and Steven Santini were the healthy scratches.

In goal, Keith Kinkaid (who equaled his win total from last year with the win in Buffalo) made his second straight start for the Devils. He made 22 saves on 25 Flyer shots. For Philadelphia, Alex Lyon was making his first NHL start tonight. He came on in relief against Washington last night, but this was his first start. He made 18 saves on 22 shots against.

The first period was a wild one to be certain, as the fists flew and four power play goals were scored between the two teams. It started 3:42 into the period when Kyle Palmieri (who was celebrating a birthday) scored to make it 1-0. It came when Nolan Patrick was called for hooking Nico Hischier and went off. The Devils had put a new wrinkle into their power play attack, as the MSG announcers kept talking about in Tuesday’s game in Buffalo. They did not get to show it there, as they did get a power play opportunity, but they did tonight. The play developed when the puck was wound around the boards in the Flyers’ zone to Taylor Hall at the far half wall. He made a nifty little pass to Pavel Zacha inside the far faceoff circle. Zacha then fed Palmieri at the far faceoff dot. He fired and beat Lyon to give the Devils the early lead.

The Devils got into some penalty trouble. First, at 5:31, Mirco Mueller was called for interfering with Jordan Weal. While the Devils were on the penalty kill, Travis Zajac was called for cross checking at 6:31 to put the Flyers up 5-on-3. Claude Giroux scored on that power play to tie the game up at one. That goal came at 6:47 off assists to Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.

Then came the shenanigans. First, Radko Gudas laid a big hit on Palmieri and was called for interference. Palmieri was slow to get up and replays showed that while Gudas did not seem to want to make a dirty hit on him, he did leave his feet while colliding with Palmieri. Gudas went off for his infraction. Meanwhile, a scrap broke out between Damon Severson and Brandon Manning which resulted in five minute fighting majors for them while Voracek and Hall got into it resulting in roughing calls on them. When it was all said and done, the Devils would be on the power play due to the Gudas interference call. All of those penalties came at 12:47 of the first period.

On that power play, New Jersey converted when Drew Stafford scored at 13:49. It came when Sami Vatanen faked a shot at the blue line and went point-to-point with John Moore. Moore shot and Stafford was there to redirect the puck into the Philly net. The Devils had retaken the lead at 2-1.

But the Devils were still seething about the Gudas hit on Palmieri. It was part of a bigger picture with the Brad Marchand hit on Johansson in Boston and other liberties that have been taken with the Devils’ star players lately. Travis Zajac decided to take matters into his own hands.

He went one-on-one with Gudas and thoroughly beat him, winning the fight but taking the instigator penalty along with it. The Flyers were on another power play at 14:48. It was Zajac’s first fight since March 23, 2017 when he fought future teammate Brian Boyle.

It did not take Philly long to connect on their power play as Simmonds scored at 15:46 from Voracek and Shayne Gostisbehere. The game was tied again, this time at two.

All told, the power play totals for the game saw the Flyers go 2-for-3 with six shots while the Devils were 2-for-4 with four shots. The Devils had come into the game 0-for-11 on the power play in their last four games, so hopefully this will get them jumpstarted in that department.

Following the crazy first period, there would be only one other penalty called the rest of the game: a Travis Konecny tripping call against Philadelphia in the second period.

But that was not it for the goal scoring. The Flyers took their first lead of the night when Gostisbehere scored on a shot that went in off of Damon Severson’s skate at 7:01 of the second from Valtteri Filppula and Taylor Leier to make the score 3-2.

But Severson would redeem himself as the Devils began the comeback in the third period. At 11:00 of the final frame, The Devils won a puck battle along the boards in the far corner. The puck squirted out to Zacha, who fed Severson in the slot. Severson did not miss and just like that, the Devils had tied things at three.

But they were not done yet. Knowing they did not want to go to overtime and give up a point to a Metropolitan Division rival, the Devils needed the win. Enter Nico Hischier. At 18:33, Ben Lovejoy moved the puck up to Blake Coleman. He skated into the Flyers’ zone and cut wide before finding Nico crashing the net. Hischier got a stick on the puck just enough to redirect it through Lyon’s five hole as Hischier was falling. It was a highlight reel goal but also a crucial one. The Devils were up 4-3 with about 2:30 left.

The Flyers would pull Lyon with about a minute to go in the game, but it was to no avail. The Devils held on and avoided losing their first three games of the year to the Flyers since 1983-84 – coincidentally the last time the Flyers have swept a season series with the Devils.

It was a big win for New Jersey. They kept pace in the division, as the Rangers also lost to the Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes defeated the Canadiens in games featuring other Metro teams. They also did not give up a point to Philly, who were only two points behind them coming into the night.

Stats-wise for the Devils, Andy Greene led in ice time with 20:22, a few seconds more than Hall, who led the forwards with 20:17 (he was being double shifted late in the game). Shots on goal was a four-way tie with Hall, Boyle, Stafford and Zacha all having three. Boyle also led in hits with four and Miles Wood led in blocks with two. Boyle also led in takeaways with two. The Devils won 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

Next up for the Devils, Saturday at home against the Penguins. The Pens have been surging up the Metro Division standings and will also be playing the second half of a back-to-back on Saturday (they have Washington on home ice on Friday). This will be a good chance for the Devils to continue their momentum and pick up some points in the Metro Division race.

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