Going into tonight's game, the New Jersey Devils found themselves with no wins in their last three games. It's arguable that they could have won Monday's game in Montreal if it wasn't for the combination of a great goaltender, a great defenseman clearing two pucks off the line, and lack of puck luck. Wednesday's game against Montreal should have been a win but a late deflection equalizer led to overtime where the Devils pushed but couldn't get a goal and so lost in the shootout because that's what happens in shootouts this season. Friday's game was awful and it was the only deserved loss the trio. Tonight's game against the New York Rangers was already important because it was against a hated rival and a divisional opponent. Just needing a result to avoid a slide to four winless games just multiplied the game's value.
I am very pleased to write that the New Jersey Devils did get that result. They went into Rangerstown again and got a win. The winless streak is over and it comes with additional bragging rights as the Devils are now 3-0-0 against Our Hated Rivals. Plus, it was a dramatic and very entertaining game, one befitting of a rivalry. Given what Devils fans all over the world had to endure last night, that's a point worth highlighting. There were highs, lows, and even a little controversy.
It wasn't at all perfect win. The final result was 4-3 in overtime, which means Our Hated Rivals get a point out of all of this and stay ahead of the Devils in the standings. The Rangers did get a last-minute equalizer, which makes it two such goals allowed in the past four games. That was made possible due to an avoidable penalty within the game's final 80 seconds. The Devils started off on the wrong side of the scoreboard, again with a 0-2 deficit. They conceded the first goal on the first shot allowed. They gave up a quick one in the second period. Even though the Devils came to play, the decifit looked like a mountain to climb. A video review from Toronto had to confirm that the Devils' first goal would count and even after that score, the Rangers definitely made an effort to avoid leaning on their own lead. And, again, they did salvage point out of this game.
However, like people, perfection isn't possible; it's about getting the job done. The Devils came out shooting early on and it took them less than half the game to match Friday's shot total of eleven. While the game was a fairly up-and-down affair, thanks to the Rangers' good transition game, the Devils hung with them. They drove to the net instead of settling for blasts from the perimeter. They forced Lundqvist to make some tough stops throughout the game. Contributions came from multiple players. Tim Sestito and Cam Janssen made an important play. Sestito actually had two (he had a good game, believe it or not) as his little touch opened up space for Michael Ryder, who had a great individual move for a score. Travis Zajac scored off a bounce in front, something he badly needed given how many good shots he's had that didn't get in the net over the past week or so. Jaromir Jagr ended his pointless streak by setting up that Zajac goal. Eric Gelinas showed that his shot is the truth and his last one won the game in OT from distance. All of these guys figured on the boxscore and others did so in other ways. Hockey is a team game and the Devils played well enough together. Devils fans all over the world should be smiling about this win. I know I am.
The Opposition Opinion: There should be something up at Blueshirt Banter, so check them out.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a whole bunch of highlights from an exciting rivalry game.
Oh, Yeah, Controversies: I did say there were highs, lows, and controversies. There were a three that come to mind.
First: Janssen's goal. Martin Brodeur beautifully lobbed a puck to Tim Sestito in the neutral zone, who had a lot of space in front of him. Sestito shot for a rebound, which is smart as I doubt he would beat Lundqvist straight-up on a shot. The puck was knocked out to the center and Janssen runs into it. He tried to stop, he didn't, but the puck was propelled into the net. Lundqvist, his teammates, and Al Trautwig all claimed it was a kick. But there was no distinct kicking motion. That would require Janssen to control himself and actually intend to do something. When he gets up to speed, he's like a three-year old running around. His balance isn't always good and he just takes a spill. That's what happened. Good call by the ref and Toronto to uphold the call.
Aside for the first: Yes, Janssen has three goals. He didn't take a call, he didn't do anything dumb, and he got lucky for a score. I have zero complaints with his game.
Second: Marc Staal was knocked out of the game. He took a hit from Reid Boucher along the boards and got sandwiched between Boucher and an official. There appeared to be contact to the head but there was no call. I would agree with the no-call in that it was a very quick hit. There certainly wasn't an intent to hit him high. Boucher's shorter than Staal so I don't think he could have done it even if he wanted to. Staal walked off the ice, threw his helmet down in anger (for a lack of a call? for being ruled out of playing?), and that was that. I doubt Boucher will get a call from the league about it.
Third: The Rangers' late equalizer came on a power play. Travis Zajac, who otherwise had a good night, made a big mistake. He tried to chip the puck off the boards and out but he missed the glass. That's a delay of game. That wasn't the controversial part. The goal itself was. As the Rangers were in control with six skaters, they would cash in late. Chris Kreider jammed at a puck amid three other bodies and maybe more sticks. It got launched up and past Martin Brodeur. That wasn't the controversial part either. That would be Ryan Callahan's role in it. He appeared to fall down right in front of Brodeur and possibly on the goalie's stick. I could understand how some Devils fans wanted to see the goal waved off, if not a penalty given for interference. But given the traffic in front, I don't know how a ref would have clearly seen in that way. It wasn't like there was a big mistake on the equalizer. The Devils were where they needed to be, but it's a 4-on-6 situation so there couldn't have been enough to get the stop they needed. It's moot now since Gelinas won the game in OT.
Why I Call it The Truth: It's not a slight at Paul Pierce or Shaquille O'Neal. Eric Gelinas' shot is the truth because it hurts. It's often heavy, it's usually low, and it's sometimes going fast towards the target. If a defender gets in front of it, I'll bet it usually causes a bruise. If a goalie isn't in a good position to get in front of it with their body or their equipment, then it becomes difficult to handle. Gelinas tied Zajac for the most shots on net tonight with four. His fourth was a slapshot one-timer from distance that went past a screen by Steve Bernier and off Lundqvist's glove. That hurt Lundqvist, the Rangers, and the denizens of Rangerstown. It doesn't always lead to a goal but it definitely is for real. That's why it's the truth.
Speaking of, Penalties by Guys Who Had Good Games were Costly: Ryan Callahan and Zajac both had good games for their respective teams. Zajac scored from in close, got four shots on net out of six attempts, and played well with tough minutes. He took a delay of game call late in the game that ended up erasing another late lead. I understood what he wanted to do, but his error was costly. A 3-2 lead was turned into 3-3, the Rangers got a point, and the possibility of going winless in four games returned.
Fortunately, Callahan did him one better. Callahan picked up two assists. His only shot on net led to Brodeur kicking it out wide that Mats Zuccarello immediately picked up and threw right back into the net. He created the chaos that led to Kreider's equalizer in the dying minute of the game. Like Zajac, he came out ahead in possession. But he took an even worse penalty. He high-sticked Andy Greene in overtime. Greene was just carrying the puck in deep into the Rangers zone and he just snapped his stick up into his grill. I don't understand why he did it. It wasn't along the boards or in the midst of a battle, it was in open-ice. Even if Callahan didn't get his face, it wouldn't have stopped Greene from moving on. Worse, he drew blood so it was a double minor. Callahan not only took an obvious call, but he doomed his team to 3-on-4 hockey for the rest of overtime. The Devils didn't take long to take advantage as Gelinas' shot was the truth and beat Lundqvist. Sometimes even guys who do well will make an error that ends up being a big deal.
Message: To John Moore: I still have your jockstrap. Sincerely, Michael Ryder.
Guys Who Didn't Have Good Games: While the Devils did put together a good team effort overall, there were a few players I didn't really like tonight.
First, I thought Peter Harrold struggled mightily at times. He was a surprise inclusion as Marek Zidlicky was ruled out due to the dreaded "upper body injury." In a way, it seems harsh to fault him since he's been sitting for quite a while and suddenly had to be an offensive-minded defender alongside Anton Volchenkov. He decided wrong on a pinch that led to a two-on-one for the Rangers that yielded a goal as Brad Richards kept it and beat Brodeur cleanly. It would be one of two-on-ones he conceded. On a power play, Greene put a pass behind him which put Harrold in a tough spot. He had to not only get the puck out of the zone but he also lost it and so the Rangers were off to the races. Fortunately, Brodeur got a stop. In between, it took some time for him to settle down and he had take some big hits. If he keeps getting games by necessity, then I think he'll get better. But it was tough to watch him at times tonight.
Second, Damien Brunner continues to shoot himself in the foot. He made a nice move to beat a man one-on-one (I think it was Anton Stralman) and force a close shot on Lundqvist. He followed that good play by hooking Marc Staal in the Rangers' end of the rink. Later, he made a nice move to win possession along the boards. But as he tried to turn towards the center looking for help, he lost the puck. Brunner then decided to snag Derek Stepan's arm from behind. That's two offensive zone penalties. His last notable moment could have led to some redemption. Adam Henrique saw him behind the D in the neutral zone so he lobbed a pass into the Rangers' end. It was perfectly placed and Brunner managed to stay onside. However, the breakaway was whistled dead because Brunner swung at it high with his stick instead of letting it drop. In summary: Sigh.
Third, I thought Henrique and Bernier had quiet games. Ryder was on his way before he decided to posterize Moore on an individual effort. They didn't get a lot of tough competition unless you consider Zuccarello and Derick Brassard tough. But they just didn't get much going. At least Henrique was a bit better in his own end and Bernier did set one nice screen at the end.
Difference of Special Teams: The Devils finished ahead in attempts (46-44) and shots (23-17) in 5-on-5 play. But when you add special teams, the Devils were way behind in attempts at 61-48 and shots held even at 24-24. The Rangers did get more power play time but they tried to make the most of it. There were stretches where they had nothing but control and all the Devils could do was hope they make a mistake, get a block out, or Brodeur make a save where the Devils can clear it. The PK did weather quite a bit and almost came out of it perfectly until the 4-on-6 situation at the end. I'm not mad about that. But it's worth noting as it shows how much Brunner's two calls plus a stick-hold against Gelinas hurt aside from Zajac's late penalty.
A Champion & A King: To be fair, 21 saves on 24 shots doesn't suggest a great performance for a goalie. I thought both Brodeur and Lundqvist had to make some tough stops. I'd say both goalies wish they had one of those three goals back. For Brodeur, it would have to be Zuccarello's goal. I know he didn't intend to kick it out that far but in retrospect, he would have tried to angle his pad differently. For Lundqvist, it would be Ryder's goal. He didn't just make Moore look silly but the shot just snuck through the five-hole. The shot was not screened and unlike Richards' goal, it was taken from quite a distance away. Therefore, I'd say the goalies were even tonight.
The I Got Scored on by Cam Janssen Club Now Has Three Members: Though, this is a rivalry so I will be snarky and welcome Lundqvist to a club that features well-known goalies Carter Hutton and Ray Emery. I think Lundqvist should pick up the next check when they have their monthly dinner meeting. He's certainly good for it now.
Three Games, Eleven Goals Scored, Three Allowed, Three Wins: It's always good to beat the Rangers.
Your Take: What's your take on tonight's win? Are you pleased with the performance as well as the result? What did you like and dislike from what you saw? Who do you think did well and did not do well? Are you glad the Devils have taken Rangerstown again? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed along @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.