Zajac Nets Hat Trick; Devils Fall in OT in Chicago

The Devils did all that they could in Chicago against a tough Blackhawks team but it was not enough, as a Marian Hossa seeing eye shot defeated New Jersey in overtime.

Things kicked off with great roster news for the Devils. Taylor Hall, just about two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus, had worked his way back in the New Jersey lineup. He ended up playing 19:49. This would be a great boon to the Devils as they were playing in Chicago’s United Center. The “Madhouse on Madison” is a difficult place to play as a visiting team (the Hawks were 9-0-2 coming into tonight’s game in their last 11 at home) and the Devils needed the reinforcements.

The Devils got another new body in the form of highly touted rookie John Quenneville. He was making his NHL debut, fittingly, in Chicago against the Joel Quenneville-coached Blackhawks. “Coach Q,” in addition to being an original Devil (he played for the Colorado Rockies and moved with the franchise east, playing for the Devils in 1982-83) is also first cousin to John’s father, Andre. Quenneville was leading the Albany Devils in scoring at the time of his call up and we would get to see how he could translate that to the NHL level. Quenneville would be playing on a line primarily with Pavel Zacha (back at center) and Devante Smith-Pelly.

In order to make room for Quenneville, someone had to be taken off the roster. That ended up being Reid Boucher, who was waived at noon today. Because he was waived before 5 PM, he cannot clear waivers until Saturday, at which point (should he clear) he will be sent down to Albany.

Scratches for the Devils tonight included Jacob Josefson and Jon Merrill, while Sergey Kalinin was out with an illness. Beau Bennett was still out with a right leg laceration.

The Blackhawks were missing Jonathan Toews, their captain, which is a big piece for them. However, it would not deter them. Also sitting for Chicago was Gustav Forsling and former-Devil Jordin Tootoo.

In goal for the Devils was Cory Schneider. He made 29 saves on the night while facing 33 Chicago shots. Corey Crawford started between the pipes for the Hawks, making 30 saves on 33 New Jersey shots. The even number of shots summed up what was a very evenly-matched type of game.

But it did not start off that way. The Devils came out roaring, playing their best period of hockey this season. With the ice tilted heavily towards the Blackhawks’ net (as Ken Daneyko said, it almost seemed like a Devils’ power play), the Devils would strike to gain the early lead. At 3:13, Kyle Palmieri kept the puck in the Chicago zone. He gave it to Zajac who threw it on net. Off of a scramble in front, Zajac finally buried the backhander by Crawford. Damon Severson had the secondary assist (his 11th of the year).

Chicago did not have a shot on goal for the first six minutes of the first period, but had seemingly tied things up a few minutes later. On a drive to the net, the Blackhawks were able to get one by Schneider, however the call on the ice was whistled dead when the net came off its moorings. The play was not reviewable because the play was whistled dead first and therefore, the call on the ice stood: no goal.

It would take until the 1:02 mark of the second period when Marcus Kruger scored from Dennis Rasmussen and Brent Seabrook for Chicago to be able to tie things at one. This came off of a 2-on-1 odd man rush when Kruger was able to wrist one past Cory.

There it stood until Artem Anisimov was called for hooking Taylor Hall at 10:09 of the second. The Devils were on the power play and there, Zajac struck again. At 10:43, Palmieri deflected a clearing attempt by Chicago directly to Zajac, who roofed the puck by Crawford for his second of the game to make it 2-1, Devils. New Jersey would finish the night 1-for-2 with the extra attacker while Chicago went 0-for-4.

With the Blackhawks playing catch up, they would tie things up again a little bit less than two minutes after Zajac’s second when Anisimov scored his tenth from Duncan Keith and Seabrook. The game was now tied at two.

AT 18:25 of the second, Niklas Hjalmarsson would score unassisted to give the Hawks the 3-2 lead going into the third period. This came when there was confusion behind the Devils’ goal cage and they were unable to clear the puck from their zone.

Chicago had seemingly doubled their lead at the 19:33 mark of the third when the goal on the ice was immediately waved off by the officials citing goaltender interference on Cory. Joel Quenneville challenged, saying there was no goalie interference. There was no sufficient evidence to overturn the call and the call on the ice stood. It was no goal.

Zajac would strike again in the third period to complete the hat trick (his second career hat trick and his first since March 2014 against the Florida Panthers) and tie the game up at three. At 8:49, Palmieri applied pressure, keeping the puck deep in the Chicago zone. Michael Cammalleri took the puck and fed it to Zajac at the far faceoff circle. He unleashed the one-timer and put it by Crawford, making it 3-3.

In the third period, these teams played for almost nine minutes with no whistle. It was great back-and-forth, end-to-end action. But the teams were not able to settle things within regulation.

The Chicago Blackhawks and the New Jersey Devils have played the most overtime games in the NHL this season, so it was fitting that both of their games this year would go the distance.

Unfortunately for the Devils, things did not work out for them, extending their winless streak to four games. Marian Hossa scored from Patrick Kane and Keith to give the Hawks the 4-3 victory. Replays showed the puck seemingly tipped in off of Adam Henrique.

Although the Devils have not won a game in four, they did manage to get out of the Windy City with a point and that is an accomplishment. As mentioned, the United Center is one of the most difficult places to play in the league for a visiting team and the Devils played very well there. The Blackhawks are a team that gets wins even when they are not playing at their highest gear with all of their best players. The Devils played good, but were just beaten by a better team in the Hawks.

Next up, the Devils need to regroup as they head to Tennessee to continue their tour of the Central Division to take on the Nashville Predators in a 2 PM matinee on Saturday.

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