The Devils traveled to North Carolina with a chance to put more distance between themselves and the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference playoff race. And they almost battled back to do so, despite an undisciplined first period that saw the Canes take what would go on to be an insurmountable lead for the Devils. They ended up falling 3-2 to the Hurricanes at PNC Arena to fall back behind that same Carolina club in the race for a playoff spot.
Some good news first out of the Devils camp, as Cory Schneider has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to March 4. This was done so that he could practice this Monday with the Albany Devils of the AHL, since the Devils do not have a team practice scheduled between now and Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins. He will, however, probably not play in that game against the Bruins at Prudential Center. So, with Schneider on the comeback trail, the Devils got a little bit of good news.
Some other good news for the Devils of the statistical kind is that Adam Henrique (27) and Kyle Palmieri (29) went into this game on the verge of scoring 30 goals on the year. Since 30 goals has kind of replaced 50 as the standard for anyone not named Alex Ovechkin, this is good news too. The last time the Devils had a 30 goal scorer, they actually had three of them. It was the 2011-12 season when Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson each topped or equaled that number.
Of note in the Hurricanes’ lineup was center Patrick Brown, wearing number 36. He is a rookie and is the son of former Devil Doug Brown. Doug Brown played a big part in the Devils’ 1988 Cinderella run. Could some of that mojo rub off on the current Devils?
In net, Scott Wedgewood would finally seem human as he made 20 saves on 23 shots fired his direction by Carolina. He would suffer his first ever regulation loss in this game. Facing him this evening was Cam Ward, who made 23 saves on 25 shots for Carolina. With the Capitals’ overtime goal the other night, Wedgewood’s shutout streak was ended at just over 159 minutes, the longest for a Devils goaltender since Martin Brodeur in 1994.
The Devils would look to start things off on the right foot after Vojtech Mozik was called for interference and New Jersey went on the penalty kill. Adam Henrique picked off a pass in the Devils defensive zone and he and Travis Zajac were off on a 2-on-1. Ward made the save, but the team looked to be going okay.
Unfortunately, the Devils would beat a path to the penalty box and that would be their undoing in the first period.
It actually started with a Carolina penalty. Brad Malone cross-checked Tuomo Ruutu and was whistled for that, however in the ensuing scrum after the whistle, Malone and Bobby Farnham got into a scrap. The Devils would lose Farnham for five minutes, Carolina would lose Malone for five plus Jeff Skinner would be off for two, as he would serve the cross-checking penalty.
Eighteen seconds into the Devils’ power play, the Hurricanes got in on a 2-on-1 shorthanded and Travis Zajac was called for holding Jordan Staal on that play. Because of this, things would be evened up at four-on-four. The Hurricanes took advantage of the extra room to move when Ron Hainsey beat Wedgewood off assists from Staal and Jaccob Slavin and jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead at 9:10.
The Hurricanes would then go on the power play when Joseph Blandisi was nabbed for tripping Brett Pesce. Carolina now had a 4-on-3 man advantage and Victor Rask would connect, scoring his 19th of the year from Elias LIndholm and Justin Faulk. The power play goal came at 9:46 and made it 2-0 Carolina.
But the Devils were not done taking undisciplined penalties yet. Devante Smith-Pelly was called for tripping Slavin at 13:22 and decided to jaw at the referees, who added an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to his time in the box. New Jersey would now need to kill a four minute Hurricanes power play. They would (with the help of some big saves by Wedgewood) and would get out of the wild first period only down 2-0. After all those penalties called in the first period, only one more penalty would be called the rest of the night (a Carolina hooking call to Jay McClement).
Just 2:01 into the second, though, Rask would strike again, scoring his 20th from Skinner to make it 3-0 Carolina. The Hurricanes seemed to be in complete control at this point and the Devils were fully behind the eight-ball.
But things would get interesting starting at 6:27 of the second. The Hurricanes were unable to clear the puck when the Devils dumped in. Malone turned the puck over to Bobby Farnham in the slot and he beat Ward with a wrist shot to make it 3-1, Hurricanes. It was Farnham’s first goal since January and ended an 88-plus minute Devils goal drought, going back through the Washington game.
The Devils ratcheted up the pressure just 1:50 later when Palmieri went in strong on the forecheck and Ward turned over the puck. Palmieri passed to Blake Pietila with a wide open net in front of him. His shot trickled off a Carolina stick right to Zajac, who buried his 13th of the season to make it 3-2.
But once the momentum shifted to the Devils, Carolina coach Bill Peters did a smart thing: he quickly called his timeout. This killed the Devils’ comeback on the spot and, although they would pull Wedgewood in the waning minute or so of the third, the Devils were never able to score on a frantic finish.
The only other thing of note that happened late was midway through the third period when Sergey Kalinin fell awkwardly into the boards and seemed to be injured. He would, however, return.
So what is next for the Devils? Well, New Jersey played their final game against a Metropolitan Division foe with this game against the Canes. All of their games from here to the end are against Atlantic Division opponents, starting with the Boston Bruins Tuesday at The Rock, which will feature the return of Lee Stempniak to New Jersey.
The Bruins have been struggling of late, but are still in position to make the playoffs in the Atlantic. Will the Devils be able to pick up points against a playoff contender? Or will this loss to the Hurricanes have crippled their playoff chances beyond hope? We will find out on Tuesday.