Happy 2016 everyone!
The Devils’ challenge was simple: In order to win their third straight and put together a winning streak of more than two games for only the second time this season, all they had to do was defeat the top team in the National Hockey League. The Dallas Stars are the top team in the Western Conference, the top offensive team in the NHL and lead the entire league overall with 60 points. They have Jamie Benn, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner as the NHL’s top scorer. They have a lot of offensive firepower with Patrick Sharp and Tyler Seguin. This was a challenge.
But challenges are made to be overcome and the Devils would do just that.
Tyler Kennedy was back in the lineup for the Devils due to an as yet undisclosed injury to Mike Cammalleri. Add that to the Devils’ list of challenges, as they would now be going into a game against the NHL’s best offense without their own leading scorer. Eric Gelinas and Tuomo Ruutu were healthy scratches for New Jersey.
Getting the start in net for the Devils would be Cory Schneider once again. He would make 29 saves off 31 shots on the night and have his shutout streak of 114:12 broken in the third period of this game. Opposing him would be Antti Niemi, the Stars goaltender sharing almost equal time with Kari Lehtonen. He made 27 stops on 30 shots.
But that only tells part of the story. Cory was brilliant again for the Devils, making some great saves and standing on his head at times. During the second intermission, MSG+ analyst Stan Fischler was discussing Schneider as a possible Vezina Trophy candidate and I do not think many at this point in the season can really argue that point. He has at the very least been the Devils’ MVP this season to date.
The first period began with a Devils power play just 24 seconds into the frame, with Dallas’ Antoine Roussel going off for interference. In regulation, overall, the Devils’ power play had four chances, when 0-for-4 on the night with four shots.
The scoring kicked off in just 1:02 into the second when David Schlemko kept the puck in the Stars’ zone and moved it down low to Kyle Palmieri, who scored on the wraparound. Just like that, the Devils were up 1-0. Adam Henrique had the secondary assist.
The Devils would double their lead at 6:02 of the second when Jordin Tootoo kept the puck in deep on the cycle. He dished off to Bobby Farnham who fired from the far faceoff dot and beat Niemi. Stephen Gionta had the secondary assist. The Devils now had the unlikely 2-0 lead.
But Dallas is a great third period team who has simply blitzed the NHL in the third stanza. And, of course, the Devils were no different.
First, at 10:54 of the third, Patrick Sharp cut the lead in half, beating Cory with a snap shot with John Klingberg and Mattias Janmark getting the assists. This is the goal that ended Schneider’s 114:12 shutout streak, dating back to the loss in Carolina the night after Christmas.
At 14:29 Colton Sceviour scored from Jason Spezza and former Devil Johnny Oduya to tie the game up at two. Dallas had struck again and the game was headed right for overtime. New Jersey, although they have a fantastic overtime record, did not really want to go toe-to-toe with the Stars three-on-three.
But they would get some help. Just 1:07 into the extra session, the Devils would develop a two-on-one odd man rush with Travis Zajac driving towards the net. He was impeded by Jamie Benn, but kept his legs moving in order to draw the penalty. With the delayed call, the Devils got Cory off the ice and kept up sustained extra man pressure for almost one minute. When Dallas finally touched the puck, Benn went off for hooking and the Devils called their timeout to give their power play unit a breather.
After that, all it took was 40 seconds for John Moore to fire a failed Dallas clearing attempt, beating Niemi with the slapshot. The goal came unassisted and gave the Devils the two points against the league’s top team.
By beating Big D, the Devils had slayed the beast and show that they continue to rise to the occasion when they face the NHL’s top teams. They can beat the Rangers, Canadiens and Stars of the world, but seem to have trouble with the weaker teams in the league.
Which brings us to the Devils’ next challenge: The Detroit Red Wings, who share an Eastern Conference wildcard spot with the Devils currently, are coming back to town on Monday. The Devils have two wins over the Wings, one in overtime and one in regulation. Can they keep that streak alive and overtake the Rangers for third place in the Metropolitan Division (they are only one point behind after the Blueshirts lost to Florida tonight). The Devils are in striking distance, now is the time to make things interesting.