Coming off of the blowout loss the Devils suffered in Anaheim, it would be easy for a club to get down on itself. But this 2015-16 Devils club has been nothing short of resilient all season long. So it should really come as no surprise that they would follow up getting annihilated by the Ducks with a slew of goals of their own in their next game.
The Minnesota Wild came to town fighting for their own playoff spot in the Western Conference. Like the Devils, they play in a tough division (the Central) and have a very similar record to New Jersey with 75 points. By contrast, the Devils came into the night with 73 points.
The game being played on St. Patrick’s Day, of course, the Devils would suit up in their red-and-green retro uniforms. The Wild also wearing red-and-green made for a very unique uniform matchup color-wise. This was the second time this season that the Devils have pulled out the old retro jerseys, losing to the Flyers the first time back in February.
The Devils would try to pick up points number 74 and 75 with a victory tonight. Missing that opportunity would be Seth Helgeson, Jacob Josefson, Cory Schneider, Jordin Tootoo and David Warsofsky, all scratches for the Devils. A scratch of note for the Wild was former-Devil Ryan Carter.
Keith Kinkaid was back in net for New Jersey, getting back into it after being chased in Anaheim. He would make 28 saves on the night, facing 32 shots. The Wild would counter with Devan Dubnyk, who made just five saves on his eight shots faced before being pulled in favor of Darcy Kuemper who went 13 for 17.
After the debacle against the Ducks, the Devils wasted no time getting on the board. Just 43 seconds into the game, Travis Zajac skated the puck through the neutral zone and dished off to Tyler Kennedy after crossing the Wild blueline. Kennedy tried to stuff the puck in backhand and it trickled out to Devante Smith-Pelly who took a few whacks at it, finally burying it to give the Devils a quick 1-0 lead. It was Smith-Pelly’s fifth goal in six games as a Devil and sixth goal in his last seven and he would not be done.
The Devils doubled their lead less than a minute later when Mike Sislo chipped the puck into the Minnesota zone, was able to create a turnover, fired from the slot and put his own rebound home. It was his first NHL goal at 1:34 into the first period and he would not be done either.
The Devils took the first penalty of the game when Jon Merrill went off for tripping, leading to the Wild getting on the board when Nino Niederreiter scored his 17th of the season from Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon. It was now 2-1 Devils.
But before the period was out, Reid Boucher would readjust the Devils lead to two goals when Merrill fired a shot from the far point, Dubnyk would have trouble with a Kyle Palmieri shot and Boucher would slam the rebound home to move the Devils ahead 3-1. This was where Minnesota coach John Torchetti decided to pull Dubnyk in favor of Kuemper.
The second period was more of a scoring bonanza. Smith-Pelly put the Devils up 4-1 at 2:57 of the second when he took a pass from Kennedy, who was behind the Minnesota net, drew Kuemper out of position and fired it into an empty net. This was Smith-Pelly’s second goal of the night, as he has just been on fire since becoming a New Jersey Devil.
The power play would again come back to bite the Devils when Merrill again went off, this time for interference against Niederreiter at 9:32, putting the Wild a man up. Minnesota would convert on this one too, wasting no time by scoring at 9:42, when Spurgeon scored from Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter. The Devils lead was now cut to two again, 4-2.
But the Devils would respond. First, at 12:06, the Devils’ forecheck, powered by Smith-Pelly created a turnover that Joseph Blandisi pounced on, finding Adam Henrique in the slot. It was an easy layup from there and it was 5-2 New Jersey.
Less than a minute later, at the 12:44 mark, the Devils would make it 6-2 when Blandisi took an outlet pass from Damon Severson. Blandisi gave to a trailing Sislo just inside the Minnesota blueline and Sislo sniped one just under the crossbar to put the Devils up 6-2.
The Devils would be sitting pretty when Minnesota’s Jason Zucker took a goalie interference call with just under 30 seconds left in the second period. The Devils would have the bulk of their man advantage with fresh ice to start off the third. Nothing would come of it, as New Jersey would go 0-for-1 on the power play on the night. Minnesota went 2-for-3, a weak showing for the Devils penalty killing unit.
That opportunity passing the Devils by seemed to have come back to haunt them when, at 4:41, Justin Fontaine scored for the Wild from David Jones and Erik Haula. It was 6-3, Devils, but you can never keep a team like Minnesota out of a game with their skills and scoring ability.
The Devils, however, had a tonic for that: score another goal. At 7:52 of the third, Kennedy took an outlet pass and dropped it for Smith-Pelly (who would go on to be named the night’s number one star) just inside the Wild blueline. He slapped a pass to Henrique right in front of the Kuemper’s net. Henrique put it home to give the Devils a 7-3 lead.
But the teams were not done yet. At 15:55, Koivu scored from Charlie Coyle and Zach Parise (who heard his share of boo’s from the Prudential Center crowd over the course of the night) to make it 7-4, New Jersey.
Although the Wild would pull Kuemper with about three minutes left in the game, they were not able to come back. The Devils had one of their finest offensive nights of the season in the form of a 7-4 win over the Minnesota Wild.
In the final tally, Devante Smith-Pelly had two goals and an assist, Mike Sislo had two goals (he was named second star), including his first NHL goal, Tyler Kennedy had three assists (he was named third star) and Adam Henrique had two goals. Even the Wild got in on the act, as Mikko Koivu had a goal and an assist in a losing effort.
The Devils looked good tonight, but they face another test in a home-and-home, back-to-back against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets have given the Devils fits this season and when they meet in Columbus on Saturday, they will look to continue their winning ways. They follow that game up with a 5 PM matinee start on Sunday at Prudential Center following the game on Saturday. The schedule is not kind to the Devils this month, but they need to take it a game at a time, which is a cliché, but a cliché for a reason. These next two games will be crucial for the Devils going forward.