In the tight Eastern Conference wild card race, there is little room for error. The Florida Panthers, with a win over the Ottawa Senators, got to within a point of the Devils last night. Columbus beat the Rangers to move into a top three spot in the Metro Division and the Flyers got a point in a shootout loss to Detroit, putting five points of separation between them and the Devils in the wild card race.
With all of that, the Devils did themselves no favors by losing to the San Jose Sharks 6-2 at the SAP Center in Northern California.
The Devils, right away were missing something as Miles Wood did not play tonight due to the arm injury he suffered at Anaheim. Wood is listed as day-to-day, but it is not long-term as per Deb Placey of MSG+. In his place in the lineup, Jesper Bratt slotted in, playing on a line with Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford. Mirco Mueller, Jimmy Hayes and Pavel Zacha were also scratched for the Devils, although Zacha is still injured and not with the team out west.
The Sharks would be the Devils’ final Western Conference opponent this season – from here on out (eight games) it is all Eastern Conference – but they would be a tough one. San Jose were winners of four straight coming into this game, scoring 21 goals in that span and had won seven of nine since obtaining forward Evander Kane at the trading deadline. It would not be an easy task.
Taking that task on in net would be Cory Schneider. He was making his first start since March 8, a loss to Winnipeg. He did not last the entire game, getting chased after giving up four goals. He made ten saves on 14 shots against. He was pulled at the 9:22 mark of the second period. Keith Kinkaid relieved him and made nine saves on 11 shots. The Sharks had a total of 25 shots on goal.
Facing the Devils would be Martin Jones, who stopped 26 of 28 New Jersey shots. Jones is now 5-1 lifetime against the Devils.
Things started out modestly enough. The Sharks got on the board first, with Eric Fehr taking a Paul Martin shot that went far wide and putting in behind Cory. Brent Burns had the secondary assist on that goal which came at 5:32 of the first and made it 1-0 San Jose.
Things seemed going in the Devils’ direction shortly after that when. at 6:04, San Jose’s Dylan DeMelo was called for interference against Michael Grabner. Forty seconds after that, the Devils found themselves on a 5-on-3 when Melker Karlsson went off for hooking Sami Vatanen. THe Devils would have 1:20 of 5-on-3 time, but would fail to find the back of the net on it.
The Devils wound up 0-for-4 on the power play with six shots. The Sharks were a perfect 2-for-2, scoring on each shot they had with the man advantage.
But it would only take the Devils a few minutes after that to tie the game on a great individual effort by Taylor Hall. Hall scored his 32nd of the year when Drew Stafford chipped the puck up ice, Hall grabbed it in the neutral zone and skated behind the San Jose defense, using his quick acceleration, beating Jones top shelf to make it 1-1. That goal came at 11:19 of the first and was initially credited as unassisted until Stafford was awarded an assist later on.
That, however, was the last time the game was within reach for the Devils. The Sharks scored five unanswered and just demolished the Devils.
Joe Pavelski started it at 12:25 when he tipped a shot by former New Jersey Rockets youth hockey player, Kevin Lebanc, by Schneider. Burns had the secondary assist. That goal came on the power play, as Brian Boyle was off for tripping. It was 2-1 and the Sharks would not look back.
Jannik Hansen would score on a breakaway at 15:14 to make it 3-1. DeMelo and Barclay Goodrow had the assists.
In the second period, Goodrow scored the goal that chased Cory at 10:38 off of a 2-on-1 with Brenden Dillon. That made it 4-1.
Logan Couture scored his 30th of the season when he roofed one under the crossbar to beat Kinkaid and make it 5-1 at 11:18. Dillon had the lone assist on that one.
Mikkel Boedker ended the masacre on the power play at 18:20. He scored from Burns and Chris Tierney to make it 6-1. The Devils had taken a too many men on the ice bench minor to set up that power play.
A scary moment for Taylor Hall following the Couture goal, as he was hit by Kane and had the wind knocked out of him. He got up slowly and Devils fans held their collective breath. But the superstar forward was able to return without missing a shift.
The Devils would add one more late in the third, at 18:24 to cut the lead to four. This meant that they did not equal their worst defeat deficits of the season: five, which happened twice (once against Arizona in December and again against Columbus in February).
The goal was scored by Blake Coleman and assisted by Patrick Maroon and Stafford. It came when Coleman wristed a pass from Maroon by Jones while set up in the slot. Coleman did not do much celebrating on his tenth of the year, but that cut the score to 6-2.
And that is how it would end.
Stats-wise, the Devils won 46-percent of the game’s faceoffs and outhit the Sharks 28-17. They also blocked more shots 22-17. Individually, Vatanen led everyone in ice time with 21:30 (including 4:15 on the power play and five seconds on the PK). Hall led the forwards with 18:54 – including 4:02 on the PP. Hall and Stafford led in shots on goal for the Devils with four each. Stefan Noesen led in hits with four. Andy Greene led in blocked shots with six and Hall, Bratt and Will Butcher each had a pair of takeaways to share the lead in that category.
Next up, the Devils’ epic road trip concludes back east at the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Devils have beaten the defending champs twice already this season and will meet them two times within a week. Now would be a great time for a win and the resulting confidence boost that would give them.
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