Tonight, the Devils traveled up to Boston’s TD Garden hoping to snap a five game losing streak. Instead, they came away with a sixth straight loss. They are playing a streak of games against teams that are in position to make the playoffs, yes. They are a very young team (the ninth youngest in the NHL according to MSG analyst John MacLean), yes. But it is also becoming very apparent that they are a frustrated team. They are playing well enough to only lose in OT or by one goal in regulation, however they are still losing and that frustrates the players and the fans.
The Devils practiced yesterday at Boston University, the alma mater of coach John Hynes. Hynes is one of many Devils with Boston connections (either being from New England or going to a college in the Boston area that also includes Steven Santini, Ben Lovejoy, Kevin Rooney, Cory Schneider and a few others).
It was during that practice that team captain Andy Greene had to leave for a personal reason and could not play tonight. In his place, forward Nick Lappin was called up from Albany. Lappin had the game winning goal for the A-Devils yesterday in Providence against the Bruins’ AHL club. Dalton Prout would slot in on defense for Greene as the Devils dressed six defensemen and twelve forwards. Prout was playing in his first game since February, as he had fallen out of favor in Columbus recently and did not play much.
Other scratches for New Jersey were Michael Cammalleri, who is out with what the team is calling an upper body injury – his shoulder injury from the Washington game – he is day-to-day, and Jacob Josefson. Boston was without Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, John-Michael Liles and Joe Morrow.
The Devils knew that this game would come down to special teams, as the Devils have the best penalty killing unit on the road in the NHL and the Bruins have the best overall penalty killing unit in the NHL. The game would be decided in that realm, as the Devils were 0-for-1 with the extra skater while the Bruins were 1-for-5, the margin of victory coming on a power play goal. One of the keys to the game was that the Devils just spent too much time killing penalties. With their team marching a steady beat to the penalty box, there is no way they can get a sustained attack going.
In goal, Boston threw out Anton Khudobin. He made 15 saves on just 17 Devils shots for a .882 save percentage. Hometown guy Cory Schneider started for the Devils; he made 37 saves on 40 Bruins shots for a .925 save percentage.
The lone power play goal of the game that decided things came at the 7:06 mark of the second period after a scoreless first frame. This was set up by Taylor Hall taking a penalty for tripping Kevan Miller. Torey Krug scored for Boston during that stint with the extra man, as the Devils simply could not clear their zone on the penalty kill before Krug put the puck just under the crossbar. The assists on that goal went to David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. It was 1-0 Bruins.
Hall took another tripping penalty a little over three minutes later at 9:44. Boston would seemingly score on this one too when Drew Stafford (playing in his first game for the Bruins after a deadline deal from Winnipeg) seemingly jammed the puck home on a goal mouth scramble. But the Devils immediately challenged, citing goaltender interference. They said that Stafford had pushed Cory’s pad out of the way with his stick prior to putting the puck in the net. After a review, the referees had seen enough to overturn the call on the ice – a goal – and wave it off. The Devils had dodged a bullet.
And it would pay off immediately. Right as that Boston power play expired; Devante Smith-Pelly (who had blocked a Zdeno Chara shot earlier in his shift) grabbed a puck bobbled by the Bruins’ point man at the Devils’ blue line and was off to the races. He beat Khudobin with a nice move on the ensuing breakaway to tie things up in what would appear to be a momentum shift in favor of New Jersey. Santini had the primary assist while Kyle Palmieri had the secondary assist on Smith-Pelly’s goal. Things were now tied up at one at the 11:48 mark. Although it was set up by the penalty kill, the goal was scored an even strength goal because the Hall penalty was just expiring as the marker was tallied.
But the Devils would not get out of the second period with the lead. Brandon Carlo would score from Bergeron and David Backes to give Boston back the one goal lead, 2-1 at 18:25 of the second period.
The third period began with a buzzer malfunction, as the siren kept going off inadvertently. Once that was cleared up, the Devils would get down to the business of tying things up again. It came at the 5:51 mark of the third period when Palmieri notched his 20th of the season. He got it when Hall blocked a Boston shot at the Devils blue line, grabbed it and skated up ice with Palmieri on a 2-on-1. Hall would make a nice pass to Palmieri as they closed in on the Bruins’ net. Palmieri shot and lit the lamp, tying things up for New Jersey at two apiece.
But the Bruins were not done either. Just under three minutes later, at the 8:18 mark of the third, Ryan Spooner found the back of the Devils’ net to give Boston back a one-goal lead, 3-2. The assists went to Stafford and Frank Vatrano.
New Jersey was able to use their timeout with 1:27 left due to winning the coach’s challenge and pulled Schneider then. There was a frantic charge as the Devils tried to tie it up again. Finally the time on the big clock expired just as an icing call was being made against the Bruins.
Time had seemingly run out on the Devils, but the officials decided that the clock had kept running after the whistle and 0.9 seconds were put back up. The faceoff would come in the Boston zone and the Devils had to get a shot off right as the puck dropped on the faceoff in order to tie the game and stay alive. They could not and the Bruins came away with the 3-2 win.
And so the Devils return to Newark at five o’clock tomorrow afternoon in a very quick turnaround to take on the very difficult Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets are coming in from Ottawa (where they lost tonight) and will also be flying into Newark around the same time the Devils do. Hopefully the Devils can catch a tired Columbus team and get off of this slide because this is actually the beginning of the home-and-home with the Blue Jackets and getting swept here would all but put the final nail in the Devils 2016-17 season.