The Devils have had a rough time of it over the last few games. The bottom seemingly falling out in their defeat in Washington on Saturday night when the Caps came back and scored two goals late in the third.
They needed a remedy and it would come once again in the form of the New York Rangers. Much like the beginning of the season when the Devils beat the Rangers in overtime to notch their first win of the year, a rivalry game was all they needed to get things back on track.
To paraphrase Ken Daneyko: if you can’t get up for Rangers-Devils, you’d better check your pulse.
This was the 100th time the Devils have hosted the Rangers, the 99th time in New Jersey and then the one Stadium Series game in 2014 at Yankee Stadium where the Devils were the “home” team.
In lineup news, the Rangers were missing captain Ryan McDonagh, offensive powerhouse Rick Nash and Marc Staal (all injured). The Devils had Bobby Farnham, Eric Gelinas and Seth Helgeson as healthy scratches. Defenseman Damon Severson was back in the lineup for New Jersey.
The goaltending matchup was another good one: Cory Schneider against Henrik Lundqvist. Cory faced 19 Ranger shots, coming away with 17 of them. Lundqvist made 31 saves on 35 Devils shots at him. The Devils had 36 shots total including an empty net goal later in the game.
Things got off to a quick start when Cory was tested by a JT Miller shot just 12 seconds into the game. The Rangers would pressure in the Devils zone a lot early on which made it all the stranger when, at 4:47, Tyler Kennedy beat Lundqvist to give New Jersey the quick 1-0 lead.
Sergey Kalinin dug the puck out of the corner, giving it to Severson at the near point. He fired and Kennedy, in front of the net, tipped the shot in to give the Devils an early lead.
From there, things looked bleak for the Devils. New York continued the pressure and, at 8:17, Kevin Hayes took a pass from Viktor Stalberg and snapped one past Schneider to tie things up at one. Then, less than a minute later at 9:02, the Rangers took the lead when Dominic Moore scored from Keith Yandle and Marek Hrivik. It seemed like a replay of the Capitals game with the Rangers quickly jumping out to a lead seemingly out of nowhere.
But the Devils obviously learned from the loss in DC. Simply put, they came out flying in the second period. Adam Henrique had a nice chance just ten seconds in to the period. Then Reid Boucher hit a post. It was fire wagon hockey all the way in the second period and the Devils kept up with the Blueshirts.
Their hard work paid off when Mats Zuccarello took a tripping penalty at 9:37 of the second period. The Devils would be on the power play for the first time on the night (they would go 1-for-3 with the extra man, while the Rangers would not get a power play in the game – the Devils played a relatively disciplined game, plus caught a few breaks with coincidental minors). They would make the most of this first chance. At 10:28, New Jersey would tie things up when they played tic-tac-toe. Jacob Josefson worked the puck along the half wall, giving it to Joseph Blandisi down low, who found Kyle Palmieri sneaking in the high slot. He buried the puck behind Lundqvist and the game was tied at two.
The Devils would take the lead at 18:06 and from there, never look back. A rebound from an Adam Larsson shot bounced out to Blandisi, who grabbed it and switched lanes and passed to Lee Stempniak, who fired and victimized the Rangers yet again this season, scoring what would be the game winner. The Devils were now up 3-2.
This is where things got a little bit strange. With 19:59 left, Sergey Kalinin got into a scrap with JT Miller. It was a good fight and seemed to be business as usual. However, with the fighting majors came a match penalty against Miller and a five minute power play for the Devils. Why? It turned out that Miller’s right hand was taped below the wrist, down by the knuckles and Kalinin was cut on the nose due to the tape. It was considered intent to injure by the officials and Miller was thrown out of the game. The Rangers would be missing a key part of their offense and the Devils would be on an extended power play with a fresh sheet of ice in the third period.
It was a great break for the Devils, unfortunately, they could not convert. The Devils would get one more chance on the power play in the third when Derick Brassard went off for tripping Stephen Gionta. The Devils came closer here, with Palmieri hitting the post but, again, could not score.
The Devils would get their insurance goal at even strength. At 17:16 of the third, deep in the New York zone, the puck trickled back to the point but Andy Greene poke-checked the puck by the defenseman and chipped it to Kalinin who took off on a breakaway. He beat Lundqvist with a nice move to score the goal, give the Devils a 4-2 lead and complete the “Gordie Howe hat trick” (a goal, an assist and a fight) for the big Russian.
Adam Larsson would ice the game with an unassisted empty net goal at 19:31. The Devils had won the game 5-2 and snapped their three-game losing streak.
There were still some issues. One that comes to mind is Blandisi taking another embellishment call. The officials will be looking at him closer and even an innocent reaction to a play could result in a penalty, so he needs to watch out for that. Also, the power play did not seem to be clicking most of the night.
Other than that, the Devils played a very up-tempo game. The kind of game that the new regime had promised last summer. And they did it against their arch rivals at a time when they most needed it.
The Rangers are a good team. For the Devils to be able to skate with them was very promising. They now move within striking distance of Detroit for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Devils tour of the Metropolitan Division continues on Thursday night when they travel to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets. Hopefully, the Devils can continue the momentum they will have picked up from their win in the final meeting of the year between the Hudson River rivals. We will find out on Thursday as New Jersey looks to down the Blue Jackets in Ohio.