The Devils ended their five-game road trip with bookend wins in Dallas and Vegas throwing a monkey wrench into the Western Conference playoff outlook in the process.
They defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 tonight at T-Mobile Arena, thereby possibly ending the Knights’ playoff hopes. Vegas had not missed the postseason in their previous four seasons.
The Devils again sat AJ Greer and Mason Geertsen while Ryan Graves also continued to be held out with the chin laceration that gave him 19 stitches. Graves has been wearing a full cage at practice.
Nico Daws also sat, getting some much-needed rest, while Jon Gillies backed up starter Andrew Hammond.
Hammond had a great night in gaining his first win as a Devil. He made 42 saves on 44 total Golden Knights shots for a .955 save percentage. He stopped Vegas’ only shorthanded shot and all three of their power play shots – the Knights were 0-for-1 on the power play – Hammond was also equal to 38 of the Knights’ 40 shots at five-versus-five.
For Vegas, Robin Lehner was given the net and made 25 saves on 28 total Devils shots for an .893 nightly save percentage. He got the Devils’ lone power play shot as the Devils went 0-for-1 on the man advantage. The Devils have now gone ten games without a power play goal – their longest drought (games-wise) since 2002 according to Steve Cangialosi. At even strength, he stopped 24 of 27 New Jersey shots.
There were a few scenarios confronting the Golden Knights as this game got underway. First, they would need to catch the Los Angeles Kings for the third playoff spot in the Pacific Division as they went in three points behind the Kings. They could get in as the second Western Conference Wild Card by catching either the Dallas Stars or the Nashville Predators, although their only head-to-head game remaining against either of those teams is at Dallas.
Basically, they would have been somewhat guaranteed to make the playoffs should they have run the board for the rest of the season. That will not be possible with the Devils win tonight now.
But that is something for Vegas and their fans to figure out. Let’s get to the action from tonight’s Devils win.
This was the Devils first visit to Vegas since March of 2020, just prior to the NHL season shutting down due to COVID. Overall, this was the Devils’ fourth trip to Sin City.
New Jersey took a 1-0 lead 6:54 into the game when Nathan Bastian found the back of the net.
The Devils forechecked strong creating a turnover to Damon Severson at the Vegas blue line. Severson then fed Michael McLeod in the high slot for a one-timer.
He pulled the trigger and Lehner made the save but could not control and Bastian was cutting through the crease and able to gather the rebound and put it in around Lehner’s outstretched glove hand as the netminder was down on the ice.
The second period took that score with it and was Hammond’s chance to fully shine, including early in the frame when he stopped William Karlsson on a shorthanded partial breakaway that included help from a back checking Pavel Zacha to break things up.
However, as good as Hammond was this night, especially in tight, the Knights eventually tied things with 17:37 gone by in the second when Keegan Kolesar scored.
Vegas had been putting pressure on the Devils in the New Jersey zone throughout the majority of the period. Nicolas Roy fed Kolesar up the right-side boards. Kolesar rushed up into the Devils zone and threw the puck towards center. The shot redirected in off of PK Subban’s skate and in by Hammond. Shea Theodore had the secondary assist on the goal.
It was a true bad break for Hammond as he had played strong before the goal and would continue to do so afterwards as well while getting some help along the way.
Immediately following the Kolesar goal late in the second, Chandler Stephenson hit the post avoiding (however narrowly) giving Vegas the lead late in the frame.
But, with the game tied at one going into the third period, we were setting up for a crucial part of the game.
The Devils actually grabbed the lead just 3:14 into third stanza.
Kevin Bahl got the puck towards Lehner and the Golden Knights goaltender knocked it down with his catching glove, but could not smother it. Bastian, McLeod and Andreas Johnsson began to collapse down towards the goal mouth with Bastian using one hand to guide the puck towards Johnsson. Johnsson took it and put it behind the prone Lehner to make it 2-1 Devils.
The Devils then racked up an insurance goal 7:57 into the third when Jesper Boqvist scored unassisted.
This one was a real highlight reel goal too as Boqvist stole the puck in the neutral zone, skated it up the left-wing boards into the Golden Knights zone before completely undressing Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with an inside out toe drag move and then shot five-hole on Lehner with Lehner barely moving.
It was a great individual effort by Boqvist and put the Devils up by two at 3-1.
By the end of the frame, the Knights began to get desperate and, eventually pulled Lehner with 2:41 left in regulation.
With the extra attacker on, they were able to get within one at the 18:46 mark of the third.
This one came off of a goal mouth scramble, the kind that Hammond had been strong on all night. Here, though, the puck pinballed around and Hammond just came a bit too far out of his crease when committing to Jonathan Marchessault getting a pass from Max Pacioretty.
Hammond challenged Marchessault, who passed to Stephenson at the other side of the net. He scored to make it 3-2.
Vegas had gotten within one and would pull Lehner again, but the Devils shut the door and came away with the win and the two points – possibly dashing the Golden Knights 2022 playoff hopes in the process.
Vegas did dominate in shots with 44 to the Devils 28, showing how strong Hammond played in the game. New Jersey won 49-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Nico Hischier leading the Devils by winning 12-of-23 of his draws for a 52-percent winning percentage.
Each team only registered a minor penalty and two penalty minutes total. The Devils led in hits 41 to 26 and in blocked shots at 24 to 16. Team turnovers saw the Devils finish with nine while the Knights had six.
Severson far and away led Devils skaters in ice time with 25:14 of total time (including 36 seconds on the power play and 1:33 on the penalty kill). While that PK time was tops for the Devils d-men, Dougie Hamilton led in power play time with 1:23 out of his 19:17 of total TOI being on the PP.
Hischier led the forwards in total time on ice with 19:08 (which included 1:24 on the PP and 50 seconds on the PK) – all times leaders for those categories up front.
Bastian led in shots on goal with four as well as points with two (he had a goal and an assist and was the only Devil to register multiple points on the game). Bastian and Severson combined to lead in hits with six each. Blocks were co-led by Janne Kuokkanen and PK Subban with four each. Boqvist led in personal turnovers with three while personal takeaways were spread out amongst Johnsson, Hischier, McLeod, Zacha Fabian Zetterlund, Kuokkanen, Jesper Bratt and Tomas Tatar who each had one.
Next up, the Devils return eastward to come home to face the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. Puck drop for that game is 7 PM as we are now done with the late nights and wind into the homestretch of the 2021-22 season.
Once the game is over on MSG+, we will have coverage for you right here on the blog.
Until then, enjoy the week everyone!