It wasn't pretty, but when you lose your last 6 games, the how doesn't matter as much as the what. The New Jersey Devils finally won a game, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime, 5-4.
I agree with Gulitti's initial thought: this game was odd. It featured an injury to Kevin Weekes forcing Martin Brodeur to get in, Brodeur getting beat on two goals he had no chance on, the Devils offense actually playing hard, aggressive, and productive, and the Lightning just capitalizing on defensive mistakes. Ultimately, New Jersey won out and due to the performance of the offense the result leads me to believe that perhaps the slump is over. Either way, I'm just happy the Devils won. My more detailed thoughts follow; check out Raw Charge for the other side of this one.
This was an odd one, as Kevin Weekes was the starter in this one. however his big moment was one he'd love to forget. On the very first shot on goal in the game, Evgeny Artyukhin fired it high, sneaks through Weekes' shoulder and it's in. A soft goal to be sure. But Weekes never finshed the game as he suffered a knee injury in the second period. It was quite bizarre. After covering the puck for a stoppage in play, he just falls right down to the ice in considerable pain. He was helped off the ice by teammates, and Brodeur would have his time on the night he was formally honored for his record-breaking 552nd win. While I'm rarely unhappy with Brodeur in net, I'm sure all parties would agree that they wish it didn't have to come to this.
As of now, according to Gulitti, there is no word on the severity of Weekes' injury. Hopefully he'll be all right soon enough, but we'll find out more later. It is likely that Scott Clemmensen will be called up to the Devils once more on an emergency basis.
Then the game took a turn for the worse. Jamie Langenbrunner takes a holding penalty while on offense and the Lightning go to work on the power play. Prior to this, the Lightning got some great chances - most notably one where Johnny Oduya coughed it up (he had a bad night) - that Brodeur thwarted with a dazzling poke check. Jay Pandolfo moves up to force Matt Lashoff to make a play, so Lashoff dishes it to Martin St. Louis. St. Louis finds Stamkos in space; as Pandolfo is still turning from Lashoff. Stamkos sees it, fires a one-timer that was faster than Brodeur sliding his pads across the crease. Just a great play, nothing Brodeur could have done, and you can't fault Pandolfo so much as he did his role. It's 2-0 and the general feeling is dread.
The Devils finally got a break after losing on one. After a video review showed a puck to be inconclusively over the line while under Karri Ramo's glove, the Devils got a penalty shot. See, the play never stopped when Ramo got his glove on it, Ramo went to play it. So the Devils win possession and it being the end of the shift, the Devils (I think Brendan Shanahan) dumps it into the corner. The puck takes a bounce of the boards and catches Ramo out of position behind the net! Ramo dives and throws his stick at the puck. The puck just misses the net and because Ramo threw his stick - that's a penalty shot. Brendan Shanahan had no moves, he just powers it in and the Devils finally get one on the board. It turned out to be the spark the Devils needed.
Jay Pandolfo then got a chance to do this and not only was it an equalizer, but it was something that gave me (and I'm sure other Devils fans) the hope and confidence New Jersey wins this game.
I don't think Jay dreams of scoring like that! Beautiful goal! And to really drive home the point that the Devils' offense has awakened, they score on the power play later that period. Jamie Langenbrunner finds a hole and Ramo is too busy being screened to have a chance at it. 3-2 after 2 and I'm feeling real good.
The feeling was dashed when Johnny Oduya misplayed a pass and got frozen at the point. This poor reaction allowed Ryan Malone to take the puck and just start flying up ice. I think Brodeur reacted too quickly, which gave Malone the net he needed to score. Still, despite his statline, Oduya was very poor on the puck tonight and this giveaway really cost them! Honestly, the defense tonight wasn't bad in some areas. Overall, they held Tampa Bay to only 22 shots on net, they were decent enough at the point, and I felt Oduya was the only one who really stuck out as playing poorly.
Yet, mistakes at defending cost them. Jamie Langenbrunner put home a ZZ-Pops created rebound; a shift that leads me to believe the line is back to their scoring ways; but Tampa Bay responded minutes later. Martin Karsums got his first NHL goal off a Matt Pettinger rebound. Dainius Zubrus, who was doing quite all right outside of this play, was on Karsums but he was a bit behind and couldn't hold him back. The rebound went to Brodeur's flank, Karsums had the whole net, and Brodeur had no chance. Zubrus really should have done something - even take a penalty! - to keep Karsums back. It's 4-4 and concern has set in.
The main reason why the Devils eventually triumphed is that despite Tampa Bay's unwillingness to lose this game, they still played with urgency and confidence on offense. Ramo had to be great and robbed the Devils a few times in the first period; and the Devils came close to scoring many other times later on. The Lightning defense conceded 39 shots and these weren't weak shots on net. The Devils' offense played like they had been for most of the season and they ultimately won the game for the Devils. Rather than describing it, here's the video. Notice how it all starts with Paul Martin catching the Lightning on a line change and it's created by Travis Zajac making a nice pass - which should be big for him as he wasn't all that great tonight.
So Martin Brodeur really had no chance on 2 of the 3 he gave up, the defense and backchecking were burnt on mistakes, but it doesn't matter. The Devils put out a strong performance in attacking the Lightning; they didn't sulk or lose energy after Tampa Bay's equalizers; and they kept pushing until they had their chances - and finished on them. This was a game where the Devils' offense made all the difference, guys like Brendan Shanahan, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Jay Pandolfo had great nights, and they snap the winless streak.
There's no time to celebrate, the Devils have to get up to Buffalo and look to do it again against a team who won in overtime tonight over Washington and are still fighting for their playoff lives. If they have same hustle and urgency in their play tomorrow, then I think it's safe to say this slump will remain over.