The New Jersey Devils came into Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena a desperate hockey club. They had dropped their last three and six of their last seven. They were quickly fading from the playoff race and were facing the dire specter of three games that would pit them against the Predators, Stars and Penguins, three of the top teams in the NHL.
With the Pens beating the Rangers earlier in the night in Pittsburgh, New Jersey needed to do something if they were going to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It was a daunting task, though. Nashville was 7-0-3 in their last ten games and had earned at least a point in their last ten home games.
But the Devils had some reinforcements coming. New pickups David Warsofsky and Devante Smith-Pelly made their Devils debuts tonight. Warsofsky wore number 47 and was paired with Jon Merrill on the blueline while Smith-Pelly wore number 25 and skated on a line early on with Reid Boucher and Adam Henrique. He would go on to have a big impact in the later stages of the game for New Jersey. The healthy scratches for the Devils were Bobby Farnham and Damon Severson.
The Devils would also have to contend with the NHL’s third star of the month for February: Filip Forsberg. He did nothing short of scoring three natural hat tricks in a span of four games.
Getting the start in net for the Devils was Keith Kinkaid, as Cory Schneider was given the night off on the first half of a back-to-back. He made 30 stops on 34 Nashville shots. Facing him across the rink was the Predators’ veteran Pekka Rinne. He stopped 28 of 33 Devils shots on the evening.
The start of the game had a nice touch, as coach John Hynes elected to throw out the line of Jordin Tootoo, Tuomo Ruutu and Stephen Gionta to begin the game. Tootoo was a longtime member of the Preds and is beloved among the Nashville fans. It was a nice gesture giving the fan favorite a little bit of recognition in his former city.
The power play would play a huge part in this game. It began when John Moore of the Devils went off for roughing at 8:05 of the first period. Nashville would immediately make the Devils pay. Craig Smith scored at 8:48 off assists from Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg. It was 1-0 Predators, and the Devils were behind the eight ball early.
Midway through the first, though, the Devils caught a break when the Preds’ Roman Josi went off for high-sticking setting the Devils on the man advantage. At 16:00, Jacob Josefson skated the puck along the far faceoff circle after taking a pass from David Schlemko at the point. Josefson found Kyle Palmieri open at the side of the net and he slammed the pass home, tying things up at one.
Then, just 46 seconds after that goal, Adam Larsson got nabbed for holding and gave the Predators the extra man. Mike Ribeiro would connect at 17:13 on a tip in from a shot by Josi. Forsberg had the secondary assist. Nashville had the lead back, 2-1. The first three goals of the game had been scored on the power play.
The second period would see more scoring, though none on the power play. Just 2:39 in, Paul Gaustad scored on a backhand shot with assists to Austin Watson and Miikka Salomaki. Nashville now had a 3-1 lead and looked to be in control.
But the trade for Devante Smith-Pelly would pay immediate dividends for the Devils tonight. At 7:23, John Merrill took a shot from the point. The rebound came out to Sergey Kalinin who tried to stuff it in, it bounced over to Smith-Pelly, who knocked it home to cut the Predators’ lead to 3-2. In his first game as a Devil, Smith-Pelly had scored an important goal for New Jersey, and he was not done. The goal would be reviewed (a coach’s challenge by Nashville’s Peter Laviolette) for possible goaltender interference, but the call on the ice stood and the Predators lost their timeout. Smith-Pelly had actually scored in his final game as a Montreal Canadien, so this was his second straight game with a goal.
The Devils would get their chances. Andy Greene was denied by Rinne on a wraparound attempt in the middle of the second. Ruutu would be robbed. Boucher was stopped on a breakaway late in the period.
The third period was a wild one for the Devils. When Mattias Ekholm went off for cross-checking Joseph Blandisi at 8:46, the Devils would again be on the man advantage. Travis Zajac would tie the game up when he snapped a pass from Schlemko past Rinne at 9:13. Palmieri had the secondary assist. The Devils had clawed their way back into the game. But things would not remain that way.
After Kinkaid stopped Viktor Arvidsson on a breakaway, the Predators would jump back into the lead when Forsberg scored at 17:56 from Smith and Ribeiro. It was 4-3 Nashville and the bad luck that had plagued the Devils of late had seemed to follow the team to the Music City.
But New Jersey was not done yet. With Kinkaid pulled and the extra attacker on, Palmieri fired a shot from an odd angle, with the rebound coming out to Smith-Pelly. His shot was stopped, but the rebound came out to Adam Henrique, who fired it home to tie the game at four with 40 seconds remaining in the game.
Once the Devils weathered a late Nashville press in those 40 seconds, they were headed to overtime. New Jersey had gained a point for the first time since defeating the Rangers a little over a week ago.
Things would look good in most cases for the Devils, who were 7-1 in overtime going into this game, while Nashville was a horrible 1-10 in the extra session. But at 1:42 into the OT, Pekka Rinne came way out of his crease to try to cut the Devils attacker off. He covered the puck with his glove and because he did not play the puck right away and elected to cover up, was called for delay of game. The rule is meant to keep goalies from coming way out of the crease to impede scoring chances and the Devils would be going to the power play.
It did not take them long. Just 12 seconds into the power play, John Moore took a shot on goal. The rebound was guided by Zajac to Henrique at the side of the net and he hammered it, giving the Devils the victory. Credit to Zajac for winning the draw cleanly deep in the offensive zone after the penalty was called.
So on the night, David Schlemko, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri and the debuting Devante Smith-Pelly each had a multi-point game.
But the Devils hardly have time to rest on these laurels, as it is off to Dallas to play the Stars tomorrow night. The Stars have been struggling of late, but are still a dangerous team and a juggernaut in the Western Conference. The Devils will try to keep the positivity going as they look to climb back into the playoff hunt the way they climbed back into the game tonight.