Rocky Mountain High: Devils Upset Top Team in NHL

If I have learned anything over the decade or so as a Devils fan, it’s not to get too high or too low with the team.

You know that while something might seem like it’s the end, the next game could prove that wrong and vice versa.

Tonight, though. Tonight felt good.

The top team, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire National Hockey League. Legit contenders for the Stanley Cup. A team built to win the Cup now, the Colorado Avalanche, made their way into the Prudential Center and the Devils defeated them, 5-3.

The Avs lost a game in which they had led by three goals for the first time since November 1, 2018 with the Devils storming back and scoring five straight goals and cutting Colorado down to size a bit.

The Avs had not lost the second half of a back-to-back in two seasons as well and the Devils knocked that away as well. The Avalanche had made their own comeback last night on Long Island when they came back to defeat the Isles 5-4 in regulation.

No doubt about it for the Devils this was a big win and a step in the right direction.

And it happened without a key part. The Devils did have Nico Hischier available as he was out with a lower body injury suffered in Sunday’s overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. Colton White and Christian Jaros were the healthy scratches while the Devils went largely with the same group.

The only changes were Mason Geertsen slotting in for Hischier and Pavel Zacha moving over from the wing to center the second line in Nico’s stead as well.

In goal, Nico Daws got the nod once again for the Devils, making 23 saves on 26 total Colorado shots to achieve an .885. At even strength he stopped 19 of 20 shots thrown on him. The weakness/strength for both teams seemed to be special teams. Daws stopped four of the Avs’ six power play shots as Colorado went 2-for-4 on the man advantage.

The Avalanche had Darcy Kuemper between the pipes and made 38 saves off of 42 total New Jersey shots for a .905 save percentage. He turned aside two of the Devils’ four power play shots. The Devils were also 2-for-4 as a team on the power play. At even strength he made 36 saves on 38 shots.

The Devils were celebrating “Gender Equality Night” at the Prudential Center tonight. They wore special warmups for the occasion again. These will once again be auctioned off to help raise money for the Devils Youth Foundation.

Each team had former members of the other franchise on their roster tonight. Former Devils defenseman Ryan Murray (who signed with Colorado as a free agent this past summer) played tonight on the Avalanche blue line and Ryan Graves – whom the Devils got in a trade from the Avs over the summer as well – was on the backend for the Devils.

The Devils came out flying a bit early on. Jack Hughes shot wide on a partial breakaway very early in the game creating New Jersey’s first great scoring chance of the game (although not recording an official shot).

The seal was broken by the Avs 9:04 into the game on the power play. Michael McLeod was banned for two minutes for slashing Andre Burakovsky at 7:48.

With the extra man, Mikko Rantanen funneled the puck from the point to Gabriel Landeskog down low. Landeskog’s shot was stopped by Daws and the rebound flew out towards Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon batted the puck out of midair and in behind Daws to make it 1-0 Avalanche.

It was the first power play goal the Devils had given up in 18 games. It was an impressive run, but the Devils were due to give up another one in the first period.

At 14:20 gone by in the first, Damon Severson was called for a trip against MacKinnon to put the Devils down a man again.

This one took less time for the Avalanche to cash in on.

Just seven seconds into the power play, the Avs won the offensive zone faceoff, as the puck was sent back to Cale Makar at the point. He moved the puck to MacKinnon, who set up Rantanen at the far side of the net near the post. The puck fluttered over Daws’ left pad and into the net to give Colorado a 2-0 lead.

With Makar’s helper on the goal, it marked the 13th straight game that the Avs’ star defenseman had recorded a point in.

Colorado was up 2-0 heading into the first intermission. Hey, I’m sure most of us were thinking, at least it was kept pretty close. Plus, the Devils had actually outshot the Avalanche 14 to eight in the opening frame.

Makar would make this a two-point night for himself 5:52 into the second period when MacKinnon (who ended the game with three points) rushed the puck up ice and dropped it for Devon Toews in a pretty pass. He shot and Daws made the initial stop, but Makar was there trailing to put the rebound in and make it 3-0 Avalanche.

Little did the fans know at that moment that Colorado would not score another goal in the game. The Devils were about to embark on quite a comeback.

Things began relatively simply at the 9:20 mark of the second period when Jonas Siegenthaler entered the Avalanche zone after receiving the puck from Jesper Bratt. Siegenthaler hit the post with his shot while Tomas Tatar was crashing Kuemper’s net. Tatar put the puck in while going towards the far post. It was a nice finish to a nice play with Siegenthaler knowing just when to jump up into the rush. It was now 3-1.

It was another defenseman, who was only recently back in the lineup after being benched for a handful, who cut the Colorado lead to one.

Ty Smith scored at the 12:18 mark of the second – his second goal in his second game back – when Jack Hughes got the puck to Smith just inside the Avalanche blue line. Smith skated it deep into the Colorado zone, shooting from just above the Avs goal line. The puck squeaked between the far post and Kuemper’s left pad as he was trying tot squeeze the post. That made it 3-2 Avs. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist.

The Devils completed the comeback to tie the game late in the second period. This goal came on the power play as the Avalanche began to get more undisciplined in the second period.

Jack Johnson was assessed a tripping penalty to Bratt at 16:40 and the Devils got to work.

Zacha passed to Hughes, who found Severson up top. The Devils blue liner had a clear shooting lane and blasted a shot after settling the puck down. He beat Kuemper cleanly with no deflection to make it 3-3.

And suddenly, we were back at square one as the teams got prepared for the third period.

Colorado’s Landeskog had been called for hooking Hughes at the 18:24 mark of the second, so the Devils started the final frame on the power play for about 40 or so seconds.

Although the Avs killed that off, the Devils began to slowly turn things in their own favor.

Graves, playing versus his old team, was stopped early in the period when he also jumped into the offense and took a pass from Bratt that was smothered by Kuemper. It would have been a great story for the Devils defenseman to score the game-winner against the team that traded him.

Instead, that heroism was being saved for another Devils (re)acquired this season.

It was Nate Bastian, who began the year in Seattle, who gave the Devils their first lead of the night.

At a crucial point in the game, with 12:35 gone in the third, Rantanen was given a tripping minor to put the Devils a man up midway through. It was Siegenthaler who drew that penalty as he once again had a quietly solid game.

On the ensuing power play, at the 13:04 mark of the period, the Devils moved the puck from up top at the quarterback position to Bratt at the far half wall. Bratt connected with Hughes cross ice on a nice seam pass at the near faceoff circle. Hughes had time to snap off a shot that Kuemper could not handle. Nathan Bastian was then able to fight off the Avs defender to get to the loose puck in the crease and put in the greasy goal to make it 4-3 Devils.

It was Bastian’s first goal since January 31 and a timely one at that. Now all New Jersey needed was to hang on defensively to retain the lead and knock off off the top team in the league.

Easy, right?

Well, not without some hiccups.

PK Subban was called for tripping Nazem Kadri with just a little more than three minutes to go in the game. Colorado would pull Kuemper about halfway through the power play for the 6-on-4 advantage.

But the Devils penalty kill was relentless. They endured and Sharangovich would ice the game into the empty net when Dawson Mercer fed him and he deposited the puck into the vacated cage for the empty net, shorthanded goal to make it 5-3 Devils, our final.

Kuemper was pulled again with about 1:15 left in the game and the Subban penalty expired. Finally, after a few icing calls delayed the inevitable, time ticked down and the Devils had taken the two points.

In the end, Bastian (game winning goal) was named the third star while Hughes (two assists) was the second star and Bratt, with three assists on the night, was the number one star. Sharangovich also finished the game with two points (a goal and an assist).

The Devils outshot the Avs by a nearly two-to-one margin at 43 to 26. The Devils also won 52-percent of the game’s faceoffs – with Zacha, reinstated as a center in Nico Hischier’s absence – led the Devils regular faceoff takers with a 63-percent personal winning clip.

Each team accumulated eight minutes in penalties while the Devils outhit the Avs 17 to nine. The Devils also had more blocked shots than Colorado at 14 to nine. Each team had 11 team giveaways.

In ice time, Severson again led everyone with 27 minutes logged. This included 3:50 on the power play and 4:43 on the penalty kill.

Hughes led the forwards with 20:48 of total ice time (which included 3:50 of power play time) while Sharangovich led the forwards in PK time with 2:56 out of his 18:55 of total logged ice time.

Hughes led in shots with six. Zacha and Siegenthaler each had three hits to lead in that category. Blocked shots were led Dougie Hamilton with three. Personal giveaways were led by Zacha and Jesper Boqvist, who each had two while personal takeaways were led by Jimmy Vesey, who had three.

Next up, the Devils’ homestand continues with a special one.

On Thursday, the team will host the Winnipeg Jets while also paying tribute to Travis Zajac, who retired this past summer after finishing his career with the New York Islanders. Zajac will have a pregame ceremony to be acknowledged by fans and MSG+2 (who is broadcasting the game) promised to have some special guests interviewed.

Puck drop is 7 PM and we will have coverage for you right here following the aftermath. The Devils are trying to avenge their rough loss in Winnipeg back in early December and we will see how it unfolds.

Until then, have a great week!

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