On Friday night, the New Jersey Devils left it all out there on the ice against the Washington Capitals. They lost a forward in each period. They included Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique, two important players on the team. The remaining fifteen Devils skaters and Cory Schneider put out a mighty effort against the Caps to go up 2-1 late and hold on. With most of the skaters gassed by the end, it was a real question of what kind of Devils team would we see tonight. They had to replace three forwards with somebody. They were facing a Carolina Hurricanes team that went five games without a regulation loss and recently two straight 4-1 wins over good teams. A team that had it's most talented players spread out, which bode ill for a team missing two forwards who played defense well and lined up at center. A team that was bringing back Alexander Semin, who was out sick recently. And the home team was entirely rested for a night as the Devils had to pull out a gutsy win the night before. What kind of a team would we see?
By about 9:30 PM EST, it was clear the Devils had more than plenty of gas left in the proverbial tank. They put up another fighting effort tonight against Carolina. A lot of stick checks. A lot of hustling. A lot of forechecking as they forced Carolina to cough up pucks. A lot of scrambling as they tried to recover loose pucks in their own end. By night's end, the Devils ended up victorious 3-1. In a game that was 2-1 for over half of regulation, the Devils ended up out-shooting the Canes 22-20 at evens and out-attempting the Canes 51-42 at evens. There were lulls and stretches where the Canes tilted the ice, but the Devils hit back just a bit more often. They put in another great effort. And again, they got the possession and breaks to get a massive result. Five main points come to mind a little bit after 9:30 PM EST:
First and foremost, Cory Schneider was amazing tonight. It can be a risk to play a goalie two nights in a row. But Schneider absolutely rewarded Peter DeBoer's decision. He made a lot of heads-up stops. Some with fortune and others with just fantastic timing and reaction. When the Devils struggled to get a clean zone exit or even have someone get a piece of the puck in their own end, Schneider was able to come up with the stop. He robbed Riley Nash near the end of the second. He robbed Alexander Semin on a rebound during a third period power play. He moved so well and covered the net well. Like nearly all Devils fans, I was hoping he wouldn't be beaten by a late deflection or getting victimized by some other breakdown. Unlike those games in January and February, he thankfully wasn't.
Second, shout out to the CBGB line. They swarmed. They looked like they did in the 2012 playoffs at times. They came close to scoring multiple times. Steve Bernier crashed the net to cause problems. Ryan Carter went from strength to strength and I honestly thought he was going to score on a turnaround shot. Stephen Gionta played to the best he could; skating hard, skating at the puck, and pressing on defense. It came out well. The line didn't generate a lot of shots, but their attempt differential was positive as evidence of their effectivness.
Third, another strong night by the Zajac line. Travis Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Tuomo Ruutu was expected to be leaned on heavily. They were. They crushed Ron Hainsey. They gave both Staals trouble in spots. They just poured on the pressure over and over. Ruutu was a mainstay around the net. Zajac was so strong out there. Jagr just kept doing Jagr things. Among their many attacks, they did generate a goal. A three-on-two, nearly broken up because Ruutu attempted a pass to Jagr that got blocked away by Eric Staal. Marek Zidlicky picked up the loose puck and fired a wobbling puck. Zajac got a piece of it, the puck went past Anton Khudobin, and the puck had enough spin to get past him and dropped into the net.
Fourth, I have to recognize Dainius Zubrus, Michael Ryder, and Damien Brunner and it was a real back-and-forth night. They looked like the Zajac line at times. Other times, they were forced to stay in their end or a turnover forced them to go and defense and it was ugly. Brunner had five shots on net going forward, but not much in the back end. Ryder made a great pass to spring Zubrus for a one-and-one with Khudobin and the first goal of the game. Zubrus got two goals: a backhander past Khudobin and a crucial ENG from the red line to seal the game. Both also took bad penalties that put the Devils in a spot. They made the difference tonight; and they have to thank Schneider a lot for being so good.
Fifth, like the Caps game, it remains to be seen whether this is a big win for faint playoff hopes or a big win for team pride. All the same, I was very happy they pulled out of this back-to-back set with two close wins amid two good performances.
The Opposition Opinion: Please visit Canes Country for a Carolina take on tonight's game.
The Game Highlights: A whole lot of plays and saves in this video at NHL.com:
A Tale of Seven Defensemen: Both the Devils and Canes went to seven defensemen tonight. For Carolina, things went very well when Justin Faulk was out there. They weren't too bad when John-Michael Liles and Mike Komisarek were out there too; though Komisarek played less than six minutes. But the remaining four shared a lot of pain and desperation in their own end of the rink. Jay Harrison can at least feel good about three shots on net and a shot that Andy Greene blocked that went out to Jeff Skinner. Skinner finished that with a blast to the back crossbar.
As for the Devils, they were really six defensemen and Eric Gelinas playing a handful of shifts at wing on a fourth line. Andy Greene had a much better night with about 25 minutes of ice time. I feel bad that it was his block that led to the one goal allowed because it wasn't intentional. Overall, #6 played more like one expect from him. Mark Fayne had another good night. Jon Merrill returned to the lineup in place of Adam Larsson and did, well, about as well as one could expect. Nothing crazy like 10-0 at evens like Larsson against the Caps, but the most positive at 22-15. Anton Volchenkov also had a stand-up night too. Peter Harrold was OK and Marek Zidlicky had an odd night where attempts were positive but shots were against 9-12. Nothing too bad at evens, really. The PK was a different sort.
Between the bunch, I felt the Devils were better overall, though they had some rough shifts spread out among the crew. With assistance from some forwards also unable. At least no one got run through like, say, Hainsey.
4-for-4 at Success, 3-for-4 at Being Good At It: The Devils took four penalties tonight. The PK was quite good on three of them. Skinner's goal came after the second one and it was at the end of that one where Carolina was actually in a spot to threaten. Over the first three situations, the Canes were held to only two shots. On the fourth one, the Canes really figured out what wasn't working. They maintained great possession. They won loose pucks and rebounds. They put four shots on net and more attempts. The Devils maybe only got one or two clearances; it was then Schneider truly shined. The skaters chased throughout most of those two minutes; the goalie was the best PKer on that situation. Overall, though, they got the desired result. Let's do hope they don't take as many penalties like a slow change for a too many men call or two offensive zone penalties.
The Makeshift Fourths: Gelinas, Mike Sislo, and Tim Sestito only got a few shifts together. They served the role CBGB usually has. Perhaps overmatched in attempts but very few shots against - and for. They forechecked with aggression and they skated quickly with their few shifts together. They were perfectly fine. Sestito did end up doing quite a bit, though. He got three shots on net, a few more shifts due to his good play, and not only was put out there with Gionta in a 5-on-6 situation but helped make it work. It's not something you'd like to see regularly but it worked and that's what counts.
Opposition Praise: Anton Khudobin played a very good game. While the Devils only got 23 shots, he did make plenty of tough ones as the Devils swarmed the Canes now and again. Alexander Semin had a very good game. Six shots on net, eleven attempts on net, and some of the best chances the Canes had all game. Faulk was excellent on defense and the Canes could use a couple more defenders like him. Eric Staal got worked over early but managed to get his performance sorted in the third. He also accidentally helped create the game deciding goal in this one. Andrei Loktionov thankfully played nearly 22 minutes, got beat more often than he helped go forward, and lost the puck that led to Ryder feeding Zubrus up ice for a breakaway as the Canes were changing.
One More Take: From Corey Sznajder of Shutdown Line:
The Devils battled - and this time they won. Let's hope it continues.
Your Take: The Devils played a tough game, they worked hard, and they had energy right from the start to the end. Now I want your take. How great was Schneider - because he was great? Who do you think was the best Devils skater tonight? Who do you think struggled the most? What about the Canes? Who among them worried you the most? How do you think they played? Can the Devils keep it up without Elias and Henrique (as if they have a choice right now)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.