Hall Has Hart: Taylor Hall Named NHL MVP

It was a great night for the New Jersey Devils at the 2018 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

First, Brian Boyle, after overcoming a form of leukemia he was diagnosed with in training camp, was named the winner of the Masterton Trophy for best exemplifying “the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

And while that would have made for a very successful night for New Jersey in and of itself, the main event was Taylor Hall being named the Hart Trophy winner as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player for 2017-18.

Hall had a tremendous year, of course, the 26-game point scoring streak, but his leadership was what was highlighted by most people who talked about the award. According to Ken Daneyko on the NHL Network’s NHL Tonight show, he also became a more well-rounded player.

An interesting note by ESPN Stats & Info was that Hall’s Hart win came without him finishing in the top four in NHL scoring (he finished sixth). The last time that happened was in 1991-92 when Mark Messier won while finishing tied for fifth in scoring. Bobby Clarke finished sixth when he won the award in 1974-75 and Gordie Howe won in 1959-60 when also tied for fifth in scoring.

Hall becomes the first Devil to win the Hart Trophy in franchise history while Boyle is the first Devils recipient of the Masterton since Daneyko in 2000.

Other award winners named tonight include Connor McDavid of the Oilers winning the Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player voted on by the NHLPA. Hall was also in the running for this award, but former teammate McDavid, who had a great season on his own (and would have possibly challenged for the Hart had Edmonton made the postseason) won it instead.

Victor Hedman of the Lightning was named Norris Trophy winner as best defenseman. The King Clancy Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contribution went to a pair this year: the retiring Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin of the Canucks. The Sedin twins become the first co-winners of this award in NHL history.

Matthew Barzal of the Islanders won the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year. According to Devils beat writer Amanda Stein, two Devils received votes for this trophy. Nico Hischier finished seventh in voting with 111 points (no first place votes, seven second place, six third place, six fourth place and 14 fifth place) and Will Butcher finished ninth with 37 points (no first place votes, one second, two third, five fourth and five fifth).

The hometown Vegas Golden Knights took home an amazing four awards, not surprising after their great maiden voyage of a season in 2017-18. William Karlsson was named the winner of the Lady Byng Trophy for most gentlemanly player, Gerard Gallant was Jack Adams Award winner for top coach, former Devils draft pick and longtime Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland was given the Messier Leadership Award and George McPhee was named top General Manager.

Anze Kopitar, who came in third in the Hart Trophy voting did get some hardware. The Kings forward won the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward.

Pekka Rinne of the Predators took home his first Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the NHL. Also at the show, Rinne’s teammate, PK Subban, was announced as the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

And finally, a new award was given out, the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. The first recipient was Darcy Haugan, awarded posthumously. Mr. Haugan was the coach of the Humboldt Broncos, the Saskatchewan junior team that was involved in a tragic bus accident earlier this season while traveling to a playoff game. A nice fitting tribute to a team and community that the hockey world has rallied around all year.

The Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award will be presented to those who commit to “improving lives and strengthening communities through hockey.” Christina Haughan accepted the award on behalf of her late husband.

Overall, it was a successful night for the Devils and their fans. Congratulations to Brian Boyle, Taylor Hall and all of the other NHL award winners. We will have coverage here tomorrow of the NHL schedule release, as we will know just where the Devils’ itinerary will take them in 2018-19. On Friday and Saturday, we will also have coverage of the NHL Draft. The Devils pick 17th overall in the first round.

Boyle Named Finalist for Masterton Trophy

The nominees for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, “awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey,” have been named. The Devils’ Brian Boyle is one of three finalists for the award, joining Roberto Luongo of the Florida Panthers and Jordan Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Boyle, who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid luekemia at the beginning of training camp will be up for the award on Wednesday, June 20 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

In addition to fighting his own medical battles, Brian’s son, Declan, has been battling medical issues of his own. His bio on the NHL.com nomination page says that “(h)e worked his way back into the lineup by Nov. 1 and notched 10 goals over his first 25 games.” Noted among those goals was the goal he scored against the Canucks on the Devils’ Hockey Fights Cancer Night at The Rock on November 24.

The bio also noted that he participated in the NHL All-Star Game, substituting for an injured Taylor Hall and missed only three games after his debut with New Jersey. It also said that “(w)hile handling his own illness, his family and his career, Boyle has approached every day with the same optimistic attitude and perseverance that has inspired and lifted the Devils’ locker room.”

The 33-year-old Devils forward will see him up against two other players nominated by their local chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA): Luongo, the Panthers’ 39-year-old goalie and Staal, the 29-year-old member of the Canes.

Luongo was nominated due to his comeback from an injury that nearly led to the Panthers completing a run for an Eastern Conference playoff berth. His bio notes that in a span of 13 games beginning on February 17, in the heat of the playoff battle, Luongo was 9-3-1 “with a 2.44 GAA and .928 SV%.” He also has lived in Parkland, Florida for 12 years, according to his bio and helped that community heal following the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The bio says that he gave “a heartfelt, unscripted speech to the crowd at BB&T Center prior to Florida’s game against Washington” on February 22. This was during a ceremony in which the Panthers honored the victims of the shooting at the school.

Staal was nominated due to his role with the Hurricanes as a leader (he was named co-captain prior to the season according to his bio) amidst a family tragedy. Jordan and his wife, Heather, lost their newborn daughter, Hannah in late February. His bio says that she “was delivered stillborn due to a terminal birth defect previously diagnosed by doctors.” Staal would miss only three games for Carolina after this devastating tragedy. His career accomplishments for the season saw him play in his 800th NHL game on December 27 and score his 200th NHL goal on January 12.

All three finalists are well deserving of the honor, as they showed true dedication to the sport through some horrible personal tragedies. The page on NHL.com also states that “(a) $2,500 grant from the PHWA is awarded annualy to the Bill Masterton Scholarship Fund, based in Bloomington, Minn., in the name of the Masterton Trophy winner.”

Should Boyle be chosen the winner, he would be the third player in franchise history and the second in team history to win the award named in honor of the late Minnesota North Star. Glenn “Chico” Resch won the award while a member of the Colorado Rockies in 1981-82, the season prior to the team coming east. Ken Daneyko then won in 1999-2000 as a member of the Devils.

Boyle is Devils’ Masterton Nominee

Brian Boyle has been named the Devils’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy by the New Jersey chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Boyle best exemplified the “qualities of perseverance and sportsmanship” that the trophy is awarded for. Boyle was diagnosed on September 19, during training camp, with chronic myelogenous leukemia. He vowed to play this season and he has, notching 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points in 63 games played this season. Of those 13 goals, five have come on the power play.

But beyond stats Boyle, a veteran of ten NHL seasons who was signed by the Devils as a free agent on July 1, is a leader. He wears an A as an alternate captain for a reason. As coach John Hynes told Abbey Mastracco of the North Jersey Record, “One of the things that I think has helped him have some credibilty in the locker room is what he’s done on the ice his whole career and how he goes about his business every day.”

Hynes did not stop there in his positive assessment of Boyle as a person. He told Mastracco: “I think when you look at his personality, he’s very well-spoken. He’s thoughtful before he speaks and he treats people really well. And when you do that, you can hold guys accountable, give them advice. He’s been a big part of what we’ve tried to do here.”

Mastracco mentioned that Boyle’s ultimate goal for this season is to get the Devils into the playoffs. He told her: “I’ve got a lot of motivation, I certainly want to do my part and that’s elevate my game. That’s kind of everybody’s responsibility. I want to do well in the big moments. But from what I’ve seen and the support system I’ve had, I’m certainly motivated to do my best for a lot of reasons.”

The 33-year-old native of Hingham, Massachusetts would not be the first Devil or member of the franchise to win the award, should he do so. Glenn “Chico” Resch won it in 1981-82 as a member of the Colorado Rockies and Ken Daneyko won it in 1999-2000.

This is certainly a much-deserved nomination. There has been no inspirational story on par with Boyle’s this season in the NHL. He was dealt a blow by life, but was able to overcome it and continue his playing career. And not only did he continue his career, he has contributed in a big way to a surprising Devils team.

Making the playoffs would be the big reward for him, but here’s wishing him good luck that he does take home some hardware this June.

Devils Knock Off Preds in Shootout

The Devils set off on the road trip to end all road trips tonight as they played the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. They were kicking things off with the Central Division leaders and would, by the time they got back to Prudential Center on March 24, have faced three of the four division leaders in the NHL. That first home game back is against the Atlantic Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning, by the way.

This road trip is also make or break for the Devils’ season, as they are hanging on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth. Florida beat the Rangers in a shootout tonight, moving them within a point of the second wild card spot, which the Devils occupy now because Columbus moved ahead of them yesterday into the first wild card spot.

So this was the beginning of a couple of must-wins for the Devils. And what did they do? They won, 3-2 in a shootout over a Nashville team that has not lost since February 17.

The Devils would play tonight’s game without both Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac. The two centers are day-to-day with upper body injuries. With that, Drew Stafford slotted back in at forward and Brian Gibbons moved over to center to fill a void there. He played on a line with Michael Grabner and Kyle Palmieri. According to Deb Placey on MSG, Zacha and Zajac could rejoin the team as they head out west, although she did not specify when exactly that would be. Mirco Mueller and Jimmy Hayes were the healthy scratches.

With Cory Schneider’s play slipping a bit of late, the Devils went with Keith Kinkaid in net tonight. Simply put, Kinkaid played the game of his life. He made 34 saves on 36 Predators shots. He also had two saves in the shootout, facing five Nashville shooters. The Predators also went with their number two and Juuse Saros played just as well for them. He made 25 saves on 27 Devils shots against. He also had two saves in the shootout against five shooters.

It was Hockey Fights Cancer Night in Nashville as Brian Boyle took the ceremonial faceoff for the Devils. The puck was dropped by a young cancer patient.

There was a playoff-like atmosphere in Nashville as the crowd was just hot and loud all night. And the Preds gave them a lot to cheer early. Mattias Ekholm scored unassisted at just 1:17 into the game. The Devils were on their heels early and it resulted in Ekholm’s goal, just like that it was 1-0 Nashville.

It would take the Devils until the 7:13 mark of the first, but Sami Vatanen would see to it that the game got knotted at one. He scored from Miles Wood and Will Butcher and the goal came when Wood skated up the right wing and chipped the puck by the Nashville defender. He got to it in the far corner and got it to Vatanen at the far point. Vatanen fired and the puck found twine cleanly making it 1-1. For Wood, the primary assist was his first point since February 22 (against Minnesota).

Brian Boyle scored twice, including the game winner in the shootout versus Nashville. Photo: Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports

The Devils got a break with 19:43 left in the first period when the Predators received a bench minor for too many men on the ice. The power play would be primarily played on fresh ice at the beginning of the second period. They would not score on it technically, but Brian Boyle would make it 2-1 Devils just as the penalty was expiring. It came at 11:24 of the second and Damon Severson and Patrick Maroon assisted on it. The goal occurred when Stefan Noesen chipped the puck deep into the Nashville zone. It went around the boards to Maroon, who went low-to-high to Severson at the point. Severson shot and Boyle, camped out in front of Saros, tipped it by him.

The goal would be reviewed by Toronto for a potential high-stick, but replays showed that it was played below the crossbar. It was a good goal and it was 2-1 Devils.

And that is where we would hang on as Kinkaid made some great saves to keep New Jersey in it. Blocked shots were also key and the Devils threw themselves into keeping the puck out of the back of their net.

They almost succeeded too, clinging to their 2-1 lead. But, with 2:09 remaining in the game, Saros was pulled by Nashville coach Peter Laviolette. With the extra skater on, Ryan Johansen scored his eleventh of the year from Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. Just like that, the lead evaporated and it was 2-2. After a frantic ending, we were headed to overtime.

OT was pure end-to-end, back-and-forth hockey. The Devils seemed doomed when, with a little less than two minutes remaining in the extra session, Grabner was called for tripping Viktor Arvidsson. But with a couple of spectacular saves from Kinkaid, some good penalty killing by Ben Lovejoy and a timely blocked shot by Boyle, the Devils weathered the storm and got to a shootout.

On the power play, both teams were 0-for-3 on the night. The Devils ended with four shots with the extra man while the Predators had four as well.

With at least a point secured, the Devils were looking for the full monty in the shootout. Kyle Palmieri went first for New Jersey, but Saros stopped him. Ellis missed for Nashville, Jesper Bratt missed fot the Devils as well. Kevin Fiala missed for the Preds and Drew Stafford was stopped by Saros. Kinkaid stopped Filip Forsberg to get the shootout to a fourth round. There, Taylor Hall converted for the Devils. Kyle Turris responded with a goal to keep the Predators alive. Finally, Boyle ended things when he beat Saros in the bottom of the fifth round. Kinkaid made one final save and the Devils came away with the two point victory.

On the stat sheet, Vatanen led the Devils in ice time with 26:52 (including 3:48 on the power play and 2:14 on the penalty kill). Taylor Hall led the forwards with 22:19 total and 3:45 on the power play and 21 seconds on the PK. Noesen led in shots with four, Blake Coleman led in hits with three, Ben Lovejoy led in blocks with four and Drew Stafford led in takeaways with two. The Devils won a solid 49-percent of the faceoffs, including some key ones in the OT and on penalty kills.

Next up, the Devils make their first ever trip to Las Vegas as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday – yes, they have three days off in between games. New Jersey will try to take revenge on the Pacific Division leaders for the loss at The Rock earlier this month. The team will then jet off to California. A couple of big victories (and these would all be big) would go a long way in keeping the Devils’ playoff hopes alive. We will see you Wednesday.

If you enjoyed this post, please do not hesitate to follow us on Twitter @LGDevilsNet. You can also email us at LetsGoDevilsNet@gmail.com or simply leave a comment in the comment section below this post.

Note: The photo of Keith Kinkaid at the top of this post is copyright New Jersey Devils, downloaded from NewJerseyDevils.com.

Hall Extends Point Streak; Devils Hang on to Beat Habs

The New Jersey Devils had lost three in a row with a rough stretch of games staring them right in the face. There was this homestand where the Devils faced high-powered teams like Vegas and Winnipeg. And then there is the western road trip against Nashville, the California teams, Vegas and then ending in Pittsburgh that could make or break this season.

Coach John Hynes did not want to use the word “desperate” – saying that that sounded like the Devils were not in control – and preferred the term “urgent” instead. But simply put, the Devils needed this game tonight against a weak and depleted Montreal squad. They got the two points, defeated the Canadiens 6-4 following a late surge by the Habs.

It was a special night at The Rock as the Devils were honoring the women’s US Olympic hockey team who won gold in South Korea last month. The eleven members of the team that were there talked to young female hockey players before the game and were on the broadcast talking during the pregame and the first intermission to Deb Placey and Bryce Salvador of MSG Network. They also participated in a ceremonial puck drop between Devils captain Andy Greene and the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher and were there to generally promote women’s hockey. With Team USA defeating Canada for their first gold medal since 1998, the women’s game has never been stronger.

The Devils made some changes to their lineup with Jesper Bratt slotting back into the lineup (in for Drew Stafford) and back on the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Hynes switched up some of the lines with the second line consisting of Michael Grabner and Kyle Palmieri centered by Pavel Zacha.

The Canadiens were without the injured Max Pacioretty and Shea Weber (who will be missed for the rest of the season). They were also missing goaltender Carey Price to injury. In his place started Charlie Lindgren who stopped 27 of 33 shots faced.

For the Devils, Keith Kinkaid went as Hynes said that he wanted Cory Schneider to practice more to get some of the rust off of him. He also felt that Kinkaid deserved another start (his career high 28th appearance) in light of how he has played of late. He made 29 saves on 33 shots.

So with the Canadiens making their only trip to Jersey this year, the Devils were ready to go. It only took to the 8:25 mark of the first period for Stefan Noesen to get the Devils on the board, getting assists from Will Butcher and Travis Zajac. The goal came when Zajac won a battle along the boards in the far corner. He slid it to Butcher at the far point. Butcher fired a shot on goal that was tipped in front by Noesen to make it 1-0 Devils. As Ken Daneyko pointed out on the MSG telecast, it was all made possible by Zajac’s strong play along the boards.

Butcher’s assist on that goal would be his first point in 12 games. He had a good game and also took a puck to the face for which he would leave briefly to get repaired, but would return.

The Devils’ other Plano, Texas import, Blake Coleman, would give them their second goal at the 16:33 mark of the first off assists from Butcher and Brian Boyle. That one developed when Boyle came down the right wing and made a move to drive around the Montreal net, coming out from behind and giving the puck to Butcher at the far point. Butcher fired on net again (something Hynes said that the coaching staff had asked him to do more of) and Coleman buried the rebound to make it 2-0.

The Devils’ onslaught would continue in the first period as Zajac notched his first of two at 18:08 of the first from Palmieri and Sami Vatanen. That one came on the power play – set up when Jacob de la Rose was called for slashing. On that one, Hall stickhandled into the Habs’ zone along the near boards. He dished to Vatanen at the point. Vatanen gave to Palmieri at the top of the far faceoff circle. He fired, with Zajac tipping the puck by Lindgren with Patrick Maroon providing a screen in front. It was now 3-0 Devils.

The Devils would build up a 4-0 lead with Zajac’s second of the game. He scored with 12 seconds remaining in the first from Hall and Vatanen. This one also came on the power play, as Montreal’s Andrew Shaw had gotten a double minor for high sticking Greene and cutting him at the 19:39 mark. This one came when a faceoff was won back to Vatanen at the far point. He one-touch passed to Hall, who was set up at the other point. Hall fired on goal and Zajac cleaned up the rebound in the slot. That assist for Hall extended his personal point scoring streak to an amazing 26 games.

According to Steve Cangialosi on MSG, the last time Hall failed to register a point was December 30 at the Washington Capitals. He has scored a point in every game he has played in the 2018 calendar year. This was also the first time this season that the Devils had scored four goals in the first period of a game.

There would be some crossover penalty time into the second period, as only the first two minutes of the double minor were extinguished when New Jersey scored their second power play goal. Overall on the power play, the Devils were 3-for-5 with eight shots while the Habs were 0-for-2 with three shots on goal. The Devils power play had had some struggles, but now seems to be back on track somewhat.

The second period would see four more goals. The first came off the stick of Gallagher, who made a nice power move on Kinkaid’s net to make the score 4-1. He got assists from Jeff Petry and Paul Byron at 10:27 of the second.

Patrick Maroon had his first goal as a Devil. Brian Boyle also scored a goal on the night. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils would get that one back less than a minute later at 11:36 when Maroon scored his first as a Devil. He got assists from Hall and Palmieri on the power play to make it 5-1. It came when Hall won a draw back to Vatanen at the point. Vatanen faked a shot and passed to Palmieri at the near half wall. Palmieri found a nice seam to Hall at the far faceoff dot. He fired and the rebound came right to Maroon, who gobbled up the rebound and put it home to extend the Devils’ lead to four.

That was not all for the Devils’ scoring in the second, either. At 15:14, Brian Boyle scored from Coleman to make it 6-1. It came on the rush with Coleman trying to pass to a cutting Grabner in front of the net on a 2-on-1. Instead, the puck came to a trailing Boyle, who scored his first goal since prior to the All-Star break. The Devils had put up a half dozen on the Canadiens, but that was it for their offense on the night.

From there, it was the Habs who were in comeback mode. That started when de la Rose scored with 14 seconds remaining in the second period from Phillip Danault and Jordie Benn. It was 6-2 New Jersey.

In the third period, de la Rose would strike again, this time from Andrew Shaw and Mike Reilly at 14:40. The Devils’ lead was now cut in half at 6-3.

Byron Froese would score the final goal of the game at 19:01 from Daniel Carr and Reilly. On this one, the Devils did use their coach’s challenge to see if there was goaltender interference, but review showed that the Habs player was pushed into Kinkaid by the Devils’ defender which meant that the call on the ice stood: it was a good goal. It was now 6-4 Devils.

Monteal coach Claude Julien would pull Lindgren with about a minute remaining to get the extra attacker, but a well-timed clear and then some pressure from the Devils would result in a win, the 100th of John Hynes’ NHL career.

In the end, seven Devils had a multi-point night: Hall, Boyle, Zajac, Coleman, Palmieri, Butcher and Vatanen. Butcher was named the game’s third star while Hall was second and Zajac first, with two goals and an assist for three points.

Vatanen would lead the team in ice time with 23:26 total, including 3:10 on the power play and 1:24 on the penalty kill. Hall led in shots on goal with four. Boyle, Stefan Noesen and Ben Lovejoy all had three hits to lead the Devils. John Moore and Greene each had three blocks to lead in that category. Hall led in takeaways with two. The Devils won 52-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

Next up, the Winnipeg Jets come to Prudential Center on Thursday in the next stiff test for the Devils, who got points 75 and 76 tpnight. The Jets beat the Rangers tonight off a Patrik Laine hat trick. The Devils will then go on a two week road trip that will see then play some of the best teams, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire NHL. Hopefully they can play well agaisnt Winnipeg and come away with at least a point in a crucial time in their schedule.

If you enjoyed this post, please do not hesitate to follow us on Twitter @LGDevilsNet. You can also email us at LetsGoDevilsNet@gmail.com or leave a comment below the post.

Note: the photo of Taylor Hall at the top of this post is copyright Adam Hunger/Getty Images.

Pacific Division Wins All-Star Game; Brock Boeser Wins MVP

In the 2018 NHL All-Star mini tournament, it was the Pacific Division that reigned supreme, defeating the Central Division in the first game, 5-2 and then taking the final over the Atlantic Division by the same score.

In the first game, the Central got goals from Nathan MacKinnon and PK Subban while the Pacific got goals from Drew Doughty, two from James Neal, Brock Boeser and Brent Burns. Marc-Andre Fleury made seven saves on eight shots while Mike Smith (playing the second ten minute half of the game) also made seven saves on eight Central shots.

In the second game, Brian Boyle was put on the ice by Metro coach Barry Trotz to start things out. It was a nice gesture and great for the fans and Boyle. The Atlantic started out with four Tampa Bay Lightning representatives on the ice (the game was played three-on-three plus goalies).

The Metropolitan Division jumped out to an early lead when Alex Ovechkin fed Sidney Crosby to make it 1-0 Metro. The Atlantic tied things up when Auston Matthews scored 4:29 after Crosby’s goal. Claude Giroux and Ovechkin then quickly put the Metro up 3-1 before Nikita Kucherov scored his first of three just before time expired in the first half to make it 3-2, Metro.

In the second half, Kucherov tied things 2:13 in with his second of the game. Kris Letang briefly gave the Metro back the lead until Brayden Point scored at 4:33. From there, Jack Eichel scored to make it 5-4. Then arch-villain Brad Marchand scored to make it 6-4. Finally, Kucherov, of the Tampa Bay Lightning, completed his hat trick in front of his hometown fans at 7:56 to make the final 7-4 Atlantic Division. That would set up a final of the Atlantic versus the Pacific. Carey Price made eight saves on nine shots while Andrei Vasilevskiy (also of the Lightning) made ten saves on thirteen shots faced.

Brian Boyle finished up with two shots on goal and a takeaway. He also won 50-percent of his faceoffs all in 6:46 of ice time.

The Atlantic Division actually had a goal called back in this one. At the 4:32 mark of the second half, Erik Karlsson had seemingly made it 5-4, but Metro coach Trotz alleged that he was offside of the play and so, after the play was reviewed, the call on the ice of goal was waved off and the game remained tied up at four.

In the final, Rickard Rakell and Boeser got the Pacific out to a quick 2-0 lead, with Rakell scoring just 59 seconds into the game. Mike Green cut the lead in half to make it 2-1, but Drew Doughty scored prior to the end of the first half to make it 3-1 Pacific.

In the second half, Johnny Gaudreau scored early (off an assist from eventual MVP Boeser) to make it 4-1. Green scored his second of the game to make it 4-2 but Rakell’s second of the game put it out of reach, 5-2 Pacific Division.

Pacific goalie Mike Smith, who played the second half tried a few times to put one into the empty Atlantic Division net – after they pulled Price – but shot wide on both attempts. Also of note in this game, Gaudreau was actually called for tripping Marchand, taking a penalty in a game where penalties are rarely called.

For the Pacific, Fleury made three saves on four shots while Smith made six saves on seven shots faced.

Boeser, the rookie from the Vancouver Canucks, won the game’s MVP award for his three points on the afternoon and the Pacific Division team split the $1 million prize money.

Boyle Shines at NHL All-Star Skills Competition

Brian Boyle filled in for Taylor Hall as the Devils’ NHL All-Star Weekend representative and he did so as a fan favorite across the league. The Devils’ center, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia prior to training camp, not only received a warm welcome from his old fans in Tampa, but he also impressed in the shooting accuracy event.

Boyle got a nice ovation from the classy Tampa Bay fans the moment he hit the ice for warmups. It continued as he was cheered during the official introductions of the Metropolitan Division All-Stars. He did a few interviews with NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick over the course of the evening where he was as witty and well-spoken as we here in New Jersey have seen throughout this season.

The event was as good as these events get. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but some fans do really enjoy them and that is good. The players always put on a good show and really are out to entertain more than any time during the NHL season.

The first event was the Fastest Skater competition, won by the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid with a time of 13.454 seconds. Basically, this is a race against the clock where the player skates for one full lap around the rink. Brayden Point of the hometown Tampa Bay Lightning came in second with a time of 13.579 seconds.

If the Fastest Skater competition is pretty straightforward, the Passing Challenge was when things started getting a little bit complicated. The eight players competing had to complete three skills: target passing, “where each player must complete four successful passes to targets that light up in a random sequence” according to the NHL’s website; give and go where players passed to three targets that rebounded the puck back to them through the neutral zone; and mini nets, where there was a barricade set up and players had to saucer pass the puck into four mini nets and the game net. Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues won this one in a time of 46.610 seconds. Second place went to Eric Staal of the Minnesota Wild with a time of 54.679 seconds.

The Save Streak event was next. Here, five goaltenders had to face a division’s worth of shooters and had to make as many consecutive saves as they could before letting in a goal. The longest streak won. Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights won with a streak of 14 straight saves. Second place was the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne with 13 straight saves. Rinne faced the Metro Division and Brian Boyle, who was stopped twice. Fleury faced the Atlantic Division shooters in getting his win, stopping players like Jack Eichel, Aleksander Barkov, Point, Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos and the Bruins’ currently suspended Brad Marchand. Marchand was the recipient of boos all night long, likely stemming from his cheap shot elbow to the head of the Devils’ Marcus Johansson, a move that led to Johansson suffering a concussion and him getting his five game ban. The NHL allowed him to particpate in the All-Star festivities and the fans let him know what they thought of his decision.

The Puck Control Relay was next up. This, too, included three skills: stickhandling – which saw the players control the puck through “a series of eight pucks in a straight line”; cone control – where a player skates the puck around eight cones set up “in a zig-zag formation”; and gates. This was the tricky one for most of the players. Here a player had to approach “a gate and (was) required to shoot or otherwise guide the puck through the lighted rung of a gate.” This gates were set up vertically, so the skill required some juggling of the puck. Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames was the winner with a time of just 24.650 seconds. The next fastest time belonged to the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, as the former lacrosse player had an easier time of picking the puck up with his stick and getting it through the gates.

The Hardest Shot competion is another refreshingly straightforward competion in a series of some kind of convoluted ones. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals won the first round with a shot clocked at 98.8 miles per hour. He also won the second round – and the overall competion – with a shot clocked at 101.3 miles per hour. That shot was the only one to break the 100 mile per hour barrier in the entire competition. Ovechkin became a rare forward to win, as usually it is the defensemen who tend to shine in this one.

The final event of the evening was the Accuracy Shooting. In years past, players would fire pucks at styrofoam targets and hit them in any order they wanted in the four corners of the goal cage. This year, there were five targets (including a five hole one inthe center of the net), which were LED lights behind Plexiglass that randomly lit up. The player had to shoot at the blue target, which would randomly change every three seconds. Once the target was hit, it would turn red and the player would move on to another target. The Vancouver Canucks’ rookie Brock Boeser won hitting all five targets in eight shots in a time of 11.136 seconds. Boyle came in second, hitting the five targets in eight shots as well, but taking a little bit longer at 11.626 seconds. He actually hit the upper left post, costing him a little bit of time. Boeser became the first ever rookie to win this event.

Overall, it was a fun night. Boyle was shown the love and appreciation that you would expect from good hockey fans like they have in Tampa and the players, as well as the fans, seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Tomorrow, the main event, as the NHL All-Star Game will be played (as a series of mini games within a tournament structure) at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. We will see you then.

Devils Fall to Stars; Now Winless in Four

While the East Coast was busy digging out of a massive snow storm, the Devils were in Dallas and could not hold off the Stars, losing 4-3, leaving them winless in the last four.

They have gotten two points out of those four games, but this certainly is not the result they wanted. And while they could certainly blame the officials in the first three games and have quite an argument, tonight the Devils made some mental lapses that hurt them on their own.

As mentioned, the East Coast was hit by a massive winter storm that resulted in the Bruins-Panthers game in Boston being postponed. But the Devils were in action down in Texas.

And Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen, both from Plano, Texas who grew up Stars fans were in the lineup tonight for the Devils. For Noesen, who has visited Dallas before when he was with the Anaheim Ducks, it was different than Coleman. Coleman was making his first trip to Dallas to play as an NHLer and had a luxury suite full of friends and family. He and Noesen were put out to start the game along with Travis Zajac by coach John Hynes as an acknowledgement of them playing in their hometown. One other milestone being celebrated today was that Miles Wood was playing in his 100th NHL contest.

The lineup was largely the same as the other night in St. Louis with one exception: the Devils were back to Cory Schneider in goal. And Cory played well tonight, stopping 29 of 33 shots faced. Unfortunately for the Devils, Ben Bishop went for Dallas and stopped 39 of the Devils’ 42 shots and he was magnificent at times.

Dallas were getting Marc Methot and Martin Hanzal back from injuries tonight. The Devils are largely healthy and only had Jimmy Hayes, Damon Severson and Drew Stafford as healthy scratches.

Most of the first period was back-and-forth with the goalies making nice stops. The Devils finally broke through with 14 seconds remaining in the first period. Brian Boyle scored on a power play set up when Stephen Johns was called for closing his hand on the puck. The goal occurred when Taylor Hall grabbed the puck and headed up ice with it. He had a three-on-two along with Brian Boyle and Kyle Palmieri. He found a Boyle cutting towards the net and Boyle received the pass, tipping it by Bishop to make it 1-0 Devils. Zajac had the secondary assist.

The Devils had played a very good first period, but the wheels fell off in the second when the Stars scored three unanswered to take the lead. The first one came when Alexander Radulov intercepted an Andy Greene clearing attempt. Greene tried to find a Devil through the middle of the ice in his own zone and Radulov was there to steal it and put it behind Cory to tie the game at one. That goal was unassisted at 6:18.

That was the first mental lapse. The next one came when Sami Vatanen was sent off for cross checking. He served that penalty and the Devils killed it off. But, as he was coming out of the penalty box, he played the puck near him with his feet still in the box. He was immediately called for interference and sent off again at 10:21. Dallas’ Brett Ritchie would score on that power play off assists from John Klingberg and Radulov at 11:07 of the second.

On the night, the Stars power play was 1-for-4 with six shots and the Devils were 2-for-5 with 10 shots. The real kicker was that the Stars also had six shots shorthanded, including one that would find the back of the net later.

The Stars had a 2-1 lead when Tyler Seguin would score his first career shorthanded goal, banking it in off of Miles Wood’s skate at 18:11. Jamie Benn had the lone assist. The Stars were killing off a Greg Pateryn hooking infraction. It was now 3-1 Stars all within the second period. The Devils had made some bad mistakes that came back to hurt them and it showed on the big board.

New Jersey would get one back on the way out of the second period when Hall scored his team leading 14th of the season at 19:32. It came when Nico Hischier, on his 19th birthday, broke the puck free in the neutral zone and got it to Hall. Hall skated it up the wing and shot, the rebound bounced in off of Pateryn’s skate to cut the Dallas lead to 3-2. Andy Greene was credited with the secondary assist. The Devils had gotten two goals late in the first two periods and were only trailing by one moving into the third.

But Dallas would double up the Devils at 9:43 of the third period when Mattias Janmark scored a nice goal from Hanzal and Radulov to make it 4-2. The Devils were behind the eight ball again and it seemed that everytime they moved a little bit forward, they would take a step back.

A scary moment late in the third as Travis Zajac was hit in the face with a Kyle Palmieri wrist shot. It seemed to get him under his visor but Deb Placey on the MSG postgame show did say that he was walking around the locker room with only a shiner on his forehead. She said that it seemed to have missed his eye or nose and that he seemed to be relatively fine.

New Jersey got their second power play goal of the game and made things a bit more interesting at 15:59 of the third. Klingberg was serving a hooking penalty and Jesper Bratt threw the puck into the zone and Hall got it deep. Kyle Palmieri won a battle for it along the near half wall and threw it on net. It got by Bishop to make it 4-3 and it was time to hold on to your hats.

Schneider was pulled with about two minutes remaining in the game and the Devils tried desperately to score. Hall had a nice chance as time was expiring, falling and still getting a shot off. But Bishop made the save on that one, closing the door on a Devils comeback.

Hall led all skaters in ice time with 22:13 while Vatanen led the defensemen with 21:48. Hall also led in shots with a whopping ten. Hits were led by Steven Santini with three and he also led in blocked shots with seven.

Next up, the Devils head to Brooklyn for their first meeting of the season with the Islanders on Sunday. The Isles have also lost four straight and are slipping in the Metropolitan Division, so something there has to give. The Devils remain in second in the Metro with 51 points to the Capitals’ 53.

One other item of note is that former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne passed away earlier at 93 years old. He was very instrumental in the Devils’ move to the Garden State and was also the man who the Devils’ first home here was named after. Although the Brendan Byrne Arena has gone through many name changes and has since been shuttered, it will still hold a place in Devils fans hearts and Mr. Byrne will also hold a place in the history of the New Jersey Devils. Rest in peace and our thoughts go out to his family in this difficult time.

Devils Win Fourth Straight, Drop Blackhawks at Home

The Devils have reached the mandatory Christmas break in their National Hockey League season and the question now has been “are they for real?” Well, after a pretty convincing 4-1 win over a Chicago Blackhawk team that is still one of the best in the league, the answer to that question is inching closer and closer to “yes.”

With 30 of 31 teams in action across the NHL tonight, the Devils could also, with a loss by Washington (who were playing Vegas tonight), be in first place in the Metropolitan Division by the end of play this evening. More on that later.

The Devils got some good news from a roster perspective tonight. Jesper Bratt was back in the lineup after missing just one game. Unfortunately, by the end of the night, the Devils would be without both Brian Boyle and Kyle Palmieri. The two, who both scored goals tonight, left the game with injuries. Palmieri began the night playing primarily on the top line with Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall. New Jersey would be down to ten forwards for the game by the end of the night. The healthy scratches were Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy, Dalton Prout and Drew Stafford.

Goaltending tonight saw Cory Schneider make another start for the Devils. He made 39 saves on 40 Chicago shots and was named the game’s first star. On the other side of the coin was the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford got the start for Hawks, making four saves on seven shots faced. He was chased for only the second time this season (the other time was November 12 against the Devils when New Jersey had that big comeback at United Center) in the first period and gave way to Anton Forsberg. Forsberg made 21 saves on 22 shots faced.

Devils coach John Hynes was hoping that the team settled down following their emotional win over the Rangers on Thursday. That was a big win and the team did not want to get too far ahead of themselves before the holiday break.

Their answer? Come out strong in the first period and bombard the Blackhawks. It started just 2:48 into the game when Boyle notched his tenth of the year unassisted. That came when Boyle intercepted a Hawks clearing attempt at the blue line and fired on net. Blake Coleman was acting as a screen in front and the shot found the back of the net to make it 1-0 Devils just like that.

The next goal was a bit of an odd one and turned out to be the game winner. It also came on the power play being set up when Hawks captain Jonathan Toews was called for slashing at 9:13 of the first. On the man advantage, Travis Zajac won the first faceoff in the Hawks’ zone back to pointman Will Butcher. He went to the other point (Taylor Hall), who passed down low to Kyle Palmieri. Palmieri looked like he was going to fake a shot and slap pass to Boyle, who was open on the other side of the net. However, Palmieri’s pass banked in off of the Chicago defenseman’s skate and in, giving the Devils a 2-0 lead at the 9:20 mark. It was Palmieri’s first goal since November 11 – but he has been injured a lot this season.

On the power play for the evening, the Devils were perfect, 1-for-1 with one shot. Their power play shooting percentage was a perfect 100-percent. Chicago was 0-for-2 with three shots. But that is little surprise as they are also 1-for-31 as a team in their last handful of games.

So Palmieri was able to get a goal, ending a long drought for him, but there was a longer drought on the team that needed to end. Pavel Zacha put that to rest when he scored at the 13:22 mark of the first to make it 3-0. It came when Butcher passed out of the Devils’ zone to Zacha. Zacha skated the puck through the neutral zone and dropped for Miles Wood at the far end of the blue line. Wood passed across to Butcher at the near point. He hit Stefan Noesen coming down through the slot. Noesen went wide, drawing Crawford out, as he had to respect Noesen’s shot. Noesen then passed back into the slot to Zacha, who ripped a shot stick side by Crawford to make triple the Devils lead.

The period ended with a scrap between John Hayden, who was trying to spark something for the Hawks and Steven Santini, who was more than happy to oblige. It was won by Hayden and was the first of two fights on the night. The other was between Ryan Hartman and Damon Severson that ended in a draw.

New Jersey had played a picture perfect first period, but were in for a bit of a shock in the second period. Chicago would come roaring out of the gate. In the end, they unloaded a single-period season high 22 shots on Cory and were able to cut the lead to 3-1 Devils when Patrick Kane scored at 17:18 of the second from Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling. It was Kane’s 300th NHL goal, a great milestone for him and seemed to be setting up a Blackhawks comeback, as the shoe was on the other foot from their meeting last month in Chicago.

But it was not to be for the Hawks. The Devils had weathered the storm of the second period and were ready for the third. Just 2:02 in, Hall was sprung by Wood on a breakaway and used an inside out move to beat Forsberg to make it 4-1. The Wood pass was set up by a great poke check by Butcher just inside the Devils blue line.

Jesper Bratt had the chance to give the Devils a 5-1 lead when he was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a partial break by Jordan Oesterle at the 12:38 mark of the third. He was stopped, however.

With a minute left in the game, Sami Vatanen was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass, giving Chicago a power play to end the game, but it would not matter. The Devils came away with the two points and would wind up in first place by the end of the night in the Metro Division, as the Captials lost to the Golden Knights in Vegas. The Rangers also lost to the Maple Leafs, giving the Devils some breathing room there, however the Islanders did beat the Jets, so there are always teams keeping pace.

Cory Schneider was the game’s first star, as mentioned. Butcher was the second star and Hall the third. Andy Greene led the team in ice time with 22:02 while Noesen led the team in shots with five. Santini led in hits with four and Greene also led in blocked shots with five. The Devils, who played a good first period, a lousy second and a good third, won 51-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

So the Devils, who are on a five game home winning streak will continue their homestand on Wednesday, December 27 against the Detroit Red Wings. In the meantime is the Christmas holiday break as the Devils get three days to rest and recoup. Hopefully they will be able to keep their good play intact coming out of the break.

Happy holidays and a very merry Christmas to everyone!

Devils Scratch and Claw to Victory Over Rangers

There was a playoff-like atmosphere at Prudential Center tonight. Sure the building is always amped up when the Devils and Rangers get it on, but it has been a long time since this much has been at stake in the Hudson River Rivalry.

With only two points separating the two teams in the Metropolitan Division standings, a lot was on the line and the fans – and players – knew it. In addition to the tight Metro Division standings, this was the first time in more than four years that both teams have been in a playoff position this late in the season and that just added to the tension in the building. But in the end, the Devils prevailed 4-3 in a shootout to defeat New York and come away with the full two points in a real hard fought victory.

In roster news, the Devils traded off one Swede for another in terms of injuries. They got Marcus Johansson back from injured reserve, and he would play tonight. However, Jesper Bratt would not. He was injured blocking a shot against the Ducks and will be day-to-day. Kyle Palmieri, who returned a few nights ago, would play on the top line with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Jimmy Hayes, Ben Lovejoy and Dalton Prout were the Devils’ healthy scratches for the night.

In one other note, Brian Gibbons was playing in his 100th NHL game tonight.

The goaltending matchup was a marquee one and it did not disappoint. Henrik Lundqvist went for New York and made 45 saves on a whopping 48 Devils shots. He also made two saves in the shootout. He really kept the Rangers in a game that they had no business being in at times. Not to be outdone, but on a smaller scale, Cory Schneider went for the Devils. He stopped 25 of 28 shots and stopped three shots in the shootout. This was a real goalie duel and a game that both goalies can be proud of. As mentioned, Lundqvist stood out for the Rangers, standing on his head for them and keeping the Devils at bay.

The Devils seemed to be behind the eight ball all night long, but actually notched the first goal of the contest. John Moore, who was playing in his 400th NHL game tonight against a former team of his, took a pass from Nico Hischier, who had gathered the puck from Hall taking a hit along the half wall. Moore skated into the slot and shot high over Lundqvist’s glove hand to give the Devils the 1-0 lead at just the 7:22 mark of the first period. Kyle Palmieri had the secondary assist on the goal.

But the Rangers would respond quickly. Jimmy Vesey scored from Paul Carey and David Desharnais at 9:55 off a mad scramble in front of Cory to tie things up at one. New York would grab the lead before the period was out, with Nick Holden scoring at 11:59 from Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich. His goal came on a rebound and gave the Rangers the 2-1 lead going into the second period.

But a funny thing all night was that the Devils would just not go away. After Will Butcher broke up a 2-on-1 early in the second and Cory made a nice stop midway through the period on a New Jersey giveaway in front of his net, a pivotal moment in the game occurred. Nico Hischier had seemingly had scored to tie things up. The goal was immediately waved off on the ice due to Palmieri being called for cross-checking Holden in front of the Devils’ net. The Devils seemed to be in a hole for the first time all night, but Blake Coleman would see that things would move in their direction.

He intercepted a soft pass by Kevin Shattenkirk and skated up ice, shooting from the far faceoff dot. He beat Lundqvist gloveside to tie things up at two. It was Coleman’s first career shorthanded goal and the team’s sixth shorty of the season so far. That goal came at 16:24 of the second period and Steven Santini had the lone assist on it.

There was drama before the period ended too. First, Michael Grabner took a slashing call on Palmieri that can only be described as a good penalty. Palmieri was wide open in front of an empty net and would have scored to give New Jersey the lead had Grabner not taken the infraction. That came at 17:38 of the second and the Devils seemed to be in business. However, at the 18:33 mark, Hall took a holding penalty against Mika Zibanejad to not only event things up, but to give the Rangers a short power play going into the third period. They would not score on the fresh ice and in fact, went 0-for-3 on the night with the man advantage with no shots on goal. The Devils ended the night 1-for-4 with six shots on goal. The power play was merely a microcosm of the night for these two teams.

Despite the shot disparity, however, the Rangers would again take the lead early in the third period when Kevin Hayes, Jimmy’s brother, scored at 1:48 from Brendan Smith and Mats Zuccarello to make it 3-2. The Devils’ collective backs were to the wall again.

This time, the hero was Brian Boyle. On the power play after Kreider had gone off for elbowing, Boyle stationed himself in the slot and took a pass from Hall out of the far corner. Boyle spun around and fired a backhander that beat Lundqvist just over the glove, tying things up at three. The goal came at 11:54 of the third and Palmieri had the secondary assist, giving him two points on the night.

And that was it for the scoring. Once regulation ended and the game was headed for overtime, the fans of both teams were on pins and needles. The OT saw lots of back-and-forth action until the 3:52 mark when Brady Skjei broke in on Schneider and Hall was called for a hooking penalty that, again, he almost had to take or give up a clear scoring chance. The remainder of OT would be played 4-on-3 and all seemed lost for the Devils faithful.

But New Jersey killed it off and we were now headed to a shootout. Hall shot first for the Devils and Lundqvist made the save. Schneider stopped Zuccarello and then Palmieri scored for the Devils. A stop would win it for the Devils, but Zibanejad found the back of the net behind Cory to even things up. The next round saw Drew Stafford stopped by Lundqvist and Vesey stopped by Cory. Boyle was up and connected on what would be the game winner. The game was on Shattenkirk’s stick and Cory stopped him with a right pad save to end it. The Devils had pulled out the two points against all odds.

In the end, Palmieri was named the game’s third star while Coleman was the second and Boyle, the former Ranger-turned-Devil the game’s number one star. Stats-wise, Sami Vatanen led all Devils’ skaters with 24:11 total ice time. He also tied in the shots on goal lead with six along with Palmieri. Hall, Stafford, Stefan Noesen, and Santini all had two hits apiece to tie for the lead in that category. As for blocks, Andy Greene and Santini each had four to lead the Devils. The Devils won 43-percent of the game’s faceoffs.

The story of the game, however, was New Jersey outshooting the Blueshirts by twenty shots. A really amazing statistic and showed that the Devils earned the victory as they were relentless on the puck all night, clogging up passing lanes and gobbling up the puck.

The Devils now take the lead in the season series with the Rangers, having split the two at Madison Square Garden earlier this season. They have one more meeting later on in the year at the Prudential Center that will hopefully be even more important.

Next up for the Devils, Saturday night, they faceoff with the Chicago Blackhawks at The Rock. It may not be the same intense rivalry atmosphere as tonight, but it will be an important game against a Western Conference foe who has been playing better of late and has the chance to be a statement game for the Devils, as they can sweep the season series from Chicago.