Devils Drop Shootout to Leafs

In a sign that the season is truly winding down and, thus, points will be at a premium for teams with playoff aspirations, the Devils paid their final visit to Canada of the 2015-16 season. They were in Toronto to take on a Maple Leafs team that is mostly out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, but would like to get another victory over New Jersey for their new boss, Lou Lamoriello.

The Devils were still without Michael Cammalleri, but defenseman John Moore did make his return to the lineup. Healthy scratches for New Jersey were Stefan Matteau, Tuomo Ruutu and Damon Severson.

One small area of concern was Cory Schneider’s health. The All-Star was rumored to have had suffered an undisclosed minor injury (though he is scheduled to start on Saturday afternoon against Washington). Coach John Hynes said that “he has no level of concern about Schneider’s injury” and Cory himself said that he was just a little sore from all of the hockey he has been playing. So it seems like normal wear and tear and nothing more. Hopefully, Cory can stay healthy because an injury to him could be catastrophic for this team.

With all of that, he would get the night off in Toronto, giving Keith Kinkaid his tenth start of the season. The backup had a good game, making 37 saves on 39 Maple Leaf shots. He played really well at times, making the big save when he had to. He will be getting some chances down the stretch as coach Hynes has mentioned that the team has “a lot of back-to-backs” and some tough opponents coming up. Hopefully, this gives him a chance to get some time in and be more comfortable coming off the bench.

Facing him was Toronto’s James Reimer. He made 32 saves on 34 shots faced and was perfect in the shootout, blanking the Devils there in the Leafs’ victory.

The Devils would take the lead early when the Maple Leafs’ Matt Hunwick took a delay of game penalty at 4:07. This set up a Devils power play, on which Jacob Josefson would convert at just nine seconds into. Travis Zajac won the faceoff in the Leafs’ zone, sending it back to David Schlemko at the point. He gave the puck to Josefson at the near halfwall. Josefson fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Reimer clean. Since coming back from injury, Josefson has been a boon to the Devils’ power play and helped to prove that here. The Devils had a 1-0 lead.

But the Devils would not get out of the period with the lead. Shawn Matthias scored at 8:34 off a redirect of a Tyler Bozak shot. Former Islander PA Parenteau had the secondary assist. The game was tied at one heading into the second.

There was no scoring in the second, but that does not mean there were not plenty of chances. Early in the period, Adam Henrique was called for hooking against Nazem Kadri. On the Leafs’ power play, the Devils developed a 2-on-1 with Stephen Gionta and Lee Stempniak. Gionta had seemingly scored, but the play was whistled dead when the linesman called offside. Gionta had gone in over the blue line just a step ahead of Stempniak and a Devils near-lead was taken away.

The third period saw an exciting finish. New Jersey retook the lead at 6:27 of the period when Joseph Blandisi picked up the puck in the corner, skated it behind the Leafs net, and gave it to Eric Gelinas at the far point. He slid it over to David Schlemko who one-timed it behind Reimer. Toronto coach Mike Babcock used his coach’s challenge here, asserting goalie interference on Reimer by Lee Stempniak. The replay showed that, while this was a much closer call than the challenge in the Rangers game, it still was pretty cut-and-dry. MSG+ analyst Ken Daneyko said that while Reimer was bumped by Stempniak, the contact came outside of the goal crease and Reimer still had time to get reset to see the shot. The goal counted and Toronto forfeited their timeout for later in the game. It was Schlemko’s second point of the game and the Devils led 2-1.

Two points in the game would move New Jersey past the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division standings, but it was not to be.

First, Babcock pulled Reimer with about 2:30 left in the third. Then, Bozak would beat Kinkaid with a snap shot off assists to Peter Holland and Dion Phaneuf. With just over two minutes left, the game was tied. It would stay that way, forcing another overtime chance for the Devils. The Devils did come away with a point, but would need a victory in the extra session or a shootout to move up in the standings.

Overtime was wild, simply put. The moment that best stands out was Blandisi (playing his first game in his hometown) being hit with a stretch pass that would have given him a breakaway and likely put the game winner on his stick. But he lost an edge just inside the Maple Leafs’ blue line and fell, nullifying the breakaway. Neither team would find the back of the net and it was on to a shootout for the second time in two meetings between these teams.

First up for Toronto was Holland and he missed. Reid Boucher missed for the Devils and it was on to the second round. PA Parenteau would score the only goal of the shootout, beating Kinkaid over the glove and Jacob Josefson was up. Although he usually seems automatic in these things, he missed and Kinkaid would have to stop Bozak to keep New Jersey alive. He did and it was up to Stempniak to tie things up for the Devils. His shot was saved by Reimer and the Devils dropped the game to Toronto.

The Devils do not have long to dwell on this loss. Next up, a 1 PM matinee Saturday in Newark against the high-powered Washington Capitals is in the cards. Alex Ovechkin will be back in the lineup for the Caps and Cory Schneider will be back between the pipes for the Devils. An upset win would go a long way in helping the Devils, plus Marty Brodeur will be in attendance to drop the puck in the ceremonial faceoff prior to the game. With an all-time legend in attendance, we will see what the Devils can do on Saturday.

Schlemko’s Game Winner Lifts Devils Past Rangers

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Devils knew they needed some energy in their game and something to get up for. The NHL’s schedule makers had just the tonic for that: the New York Rangers.

The Hudson River rivalry was renewed tonight at Prudential Center with playoff positioning and points on the line. And, despite some (at times) sloppy play and a good effort by the Rangers’ JT Miller, the Devils came away with the two points and bragging rights for the next six days.

The Devils would play the game without sniper Michael Cammalleri, who is back on injured reserve. John Moore would also be out. The word from the Devils was that he took the morning skate and was okay, the team just wanted to keep him out one more game to make sure everything was alright. Healthy scratches for the Devils included Stefan Matteau and Tuomo Ruutu.

The Rangers were also missing a key part of their offense, as Rick Nash was still out with injury.

The goaltending matchup was a now familiar one: Cory Schneider versus Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist made 22 saves on 25 shots faced while Cory was bombarded with 33 shots and made 31 saves. But that only tells part of the story. He was amazing again at times tonight. Schneider has left no doubt that he is the Devils’ MVP and really earned his All-Star spot in Nashville.

Both teams came out flying. The energy level from the two rivals was at an unbelievable level.  There was a lot of back-and-forth action in the first period that was befitting of a rivalry game that had so much on the line.

The scoring kicked off at 13:31 of the first period when Miller scored his 14th from Derick Brassard and Jesper Fast. The Rangers had staked out a 1-0 lead and it looked like business as usual, as the Rangers have been dominating the Devils at Prudential Center recently (their domination of the Devils at New Jersey’s home rink also includes the 2014 Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium at which the Devils were the “home” team).

But this is a different Devils team, younger and more resilient. At 19:54 of the first, the Rangers’ Derek Stepan took a hooking call against David Schlemko. The Devils would have 1:56 of clean ice in the second period to work their power play.

They would convert at 1:34 of the second when Tyler Kennedy kept the zone, giving it to Adam Henrique who dished it to Eric Gelinas at the point. He fired and Lundqvist had trouble with the rebound, allowing Lee Stempniak to bury the puck. It was yet another point scored by Stempniak against one of his seven former teams. He had eight goals and six assists in 13 games against his former franchises coming into this game.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault elected to use his coach’s challenge, alleging goalie interference, but the replay showed that Stempniak was right at the edge of the crease, not doing more than blocking Lundqvist’s view of the shot. The call on the ice stood, the Rangers lost their timeout and the game was now tied, 1-1.

The third period was when things got really crazy and showed that the Devils had a comeback in them. The Rangers retook the lead when Miller scored his second of the game at 2:06 from Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle. The Blueshirts were now back up 2-1.

But the Devils would respond just 1:17 later when Andy Greene banked a pass around Mats Zuccarello in front of the Devils bench, springing Joseph Blandisi along the wing. He sped up, beating the Ranger defenseman and beat Lundqvist with a snapshot on the stick side. Damon Severson had the secondary assist. And just like that, the game was tied at two apiece.

The Devils’ game winner came when Oscar Lindberg of the Rangers took an interference call against Jacob Josefson at 9:19. This set up the Devils second power play of the night and they would convert.

The goal developed when a Ranger penalty killer’s stick broke, essentially making it a 5-on-3. Kennedy gave the puck to Stempniak along the Rangers goal line. He quickly found David Schlemko at the right faceoff circle, he fired and beat Lundqvist over the glove to give the Devils the 3-2 lead. The goal gave Stempniak a second point against his former mates and gave Schlemko his first ever NHL power play goal.

And that was where it stayed. Adam Larsson was whistled for holding at 11:59 in the third, but the Devils penalty killing unit, like their power play, was perfect tonight, killing all four New York power plays.

The Rangers would pull Lundqvist, but the Devils weathered the storm late and held on for the victory.

New Jersey picked up two crucial points on the Rangers, a team they would see two more times this month (once at the Garden next Monday and once more at The Rock later in February). The Devils now stand just outside the playoff picture, tied with Pittsburgh in points. This month is big for the Devils; they face the Rangers three times, the Flyers and Capitals twice and the Islanders once. These are all tough divisional games that will go a long way in deciding who ends up where at the completion of the season.

Next up for New Jersey: the Toronto Maple Leafs. They head up to Toronto to pay a visit to Lou Lamoriello and the Maple Leafs for the second time this season. Will the Devils be able to continue their recent run and put the Leafs down, picking up two more points in the standings? We will find out on Thursday when the Devils suit up next.