This is it. The end of what became, for Devils fans, a miserable season. But, as most Devils fans can see, it is also the nearing the end of an era. We are in a good position to be better next year as the young core matures a little more and General Manager Tom Fitzgerald adds pieces as we get into the summer and nearer the Draft.
But for now, it was still a loss. The Devils dropped the 2020-21 season finale 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was a season that saw 24 Devils go on the COVID protocol list: a league high according to Bryce Salvador. Injuries played their part too, but not as much as losing that manpower to the COIVD virus.
Even tonight, the Devils were without Ty Smith, Mackenzie Blackwood (who took a few bumps in the Saturday game at the Islanders) and PK Subban (who was one of those 24 players on the COVID list and ended up missing the final month of the season due to it).
It was generally the same lineup as the game over the weekend against the Isles. The only difference was Scott Wedgewood getting the start between the pipes. It was announced earlier this week that Wedgewood was the Devils’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy. He came in as a late signing hoping to act as a mentor to some of the young goalies in the organization and instead – due to the retirement of Cory Crawford – was thrust into a position as almost the de facto backup to Blackwood.
Tonight, he stopped 27-of-31 shots for an .871 save percentage. He turned aside all three Flyers shorthanded chances and four of their five power play shots. Philly went 1-for-4 on the man advantage. He stopped 20-of-23 at even strength.
Facing him was Brian Elliott who just played in his 500th NHL game. This was game 501 and, in getting the win, stopped 23-of-25 Devils’ shots for a .920 save percentage. He got the Devils’ only power play shot as New Jersey was 0-for-2 on the power play. He stopped 22-of-24 at even strength.
Pavel Zacha got the scoring kicked off, ending the year with 17 for the Devils as, at 3:29 into the game, he took a backhanded pass from Nico Hischier as a loose puck had bounced onto Hischier’s stick. Zacha was cutting backdoor and tipped the pass from Nico into the net to make it 1-0 Devils. Jesper Bratt had the secondary assist. That goal tied Zacha for the team lead in goals with Miles Wood.
The Devils doubled their lead at 5:21 of the first period when a Will Butcher shot was blocked by Nicolas Aube-Kubel. It came right to the stick of Janne Kuokkanen who shoveled it past Elliott to make it 2-0 Devils. Yegor Sharangovich had the secondary assist on the goal.
However, before the frame was out, the Flyers would get one to cut the lead in half that would be a portent of things to come.
At 13:44 Kevin Hayes sneaked the puck past the Devils’ defense on the rush. Joel Farabee had gotten behind and took the pass, going backhand/forehand to beat Wedgewood and make it 2-1 Devils. Wade Allison had the secondary assist.
From there, it was all Philly as the Flyers scored four unanswered to win the game.
In the second period, Sean Couturier scored 10:06 in when Travis Konecny passed to Claude Giroux, who made a really nifty redirection with his right skate to Couturier at the side of the net. Couturier laid it in. It was a really good soccer-style play with great awareness from Giroux.
In the third, the Flyers got a power play goal from James van Riemsdyk at 12:25. Giroux passed through the box to Couturier at the far half wall. He shot on net and van Riemsdyk tipped the shot by Wedgewood to make it 4-3 Flyers.
Farabee got their first and he got their last of the night when Hayes made a pass across to Allison. He shot and Wedgewood made a nice blocker save. Unfortunately, the rebound came to Farabee and he deposited it to get himself to 20 goals on the year and give the Flyers a 4-2 lead.
The Devils would pull Wedgwood, but that would be our final, 4-2.
Team stats saw the Flyers outshoot the Devils, 31-25. The Devils won 48-percent of the game’s faceoffs with Michael McLeod leading the centers with a 64-percent personal winning percentage. The Flyers outhit the Devils, 19-9. The Devils had more blocks at 20-14 and less turnovers at seven to the Flyers’ 13.
Individually, shots were led by Damon Severson with three, hits by Nate Bastian with four, blocks by Ryan Murray and Severson with four each and takeaways by Andreas Johnsson, Sharangovich, Zacha, Kuokkanen and Bratt with one each.
And that puts a cap on the 2020-21 New Jersey Devils season. We will have coverage all summer of things like the Expansion Draft (the Seattle Kraken officially entered the NHL about two weeks ago – making their final expansion fee payment) and the Draft as well as free agency.
Stay safe this summer!