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.

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