Stress pucks were given out to those who attended tonight's game between the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild. Little did those who made the promotional schedule know that the fans absolutely needed something like that tonight. The Devils needed to win and they did just that against the Wild. They did it in overtime, thanks to Andy Greene popping in a free puck behind the skaters and to Ilya Bryzgalov's right. Giving Minnesota a point means nothing. Avoiding an extended losing streak to four games means a whole lot. And the Devils managed to do it in one of the most difficult ways possible.
In general, the Devils played a very good first two periods. They out-shot the Wild by a good margin despite a malfunctioning shot count in the first period. They scored once in each period, with goals from unlikely sources. Michael Ryder scored for the first time in seemingly forever with a blazing wrister from the high slot in the first period. In the second period, Adam Henrique took a puck in deep, was forced to go to the boards, and then threw it out wide into space. Mark Fayne was all alone, he took a step or two, and beat Ilya Bryzgalov for a shorthanded goal. The Devils were solid as they tightened up their play in the neutral zone, they didn't make too many messes in their own end, and they were up for the game. An impressive effort since Tim Sestito was knocked out of the game by Nate Prosser's elbow and the team was running with eleven forwards and seven defensemen (OK, six defensemen and Eric Gelinas). I was confident, many of the fans were confident, and the team played like they deserved some.
Then came the third period. A nightmare of a third period. Going back to near the end of the second period, Andy Greene makes an uncharacteristic error by checking Jason Pominville way away from the play. It wasn't a big hit but you can't do that so he sat for two minutes. In the carry over into the third period, the Wild got in the Devils' end, maintained control, and Ryan Suter unloaded a shot. It went off either Bryce Salvador's hip or Zach Parise's stick; whatever you want to believe, the deflection made it 2-1. The Devils hit back with a power play goal; specifically Jaromir Jagr finishing a rebound after a good effort by that unit. 3-1 and everything's fine, right? Wrong. Mark Fayne flung a puck over the glass in his own end, so that's two minutes of no offense. The Devils get a power play after that thanks to Jonas Brodin hauling down Dainius Zubrus; but they did little with that one. Shortly after that ended, Mikael Granlund got the puck by the corner, decided to throw a puck on net, and somehow Cory Schneider let that one squeeze through him to make it 3-2. The response to that was Zubrus holding Matt Moulson. The Devils' killed that call, but shortly after that Travis Zajac took a high-sticking call for striking Justin Fontaine's face. The Devils tecnically killed it but two seconds after that ended, a long shot by Marco Scandella was tipped in by Matt Cooke. Less than five minutes left, it was 3-3 and I'm double-palming my face in anguish at the sight. Avoidable calls were taken, a hideously bad goal was allowed, and two bounces put the Devils back where they were at the start of the game.
The Devils did push hard after that third goal, by which I mean the Zajac line. Zajac, Jaromir Jagr, and Tuomo Ruutu brought the house to Bryzgalov and nearly scored immediately. The rest of the team woke up a bit since they were able to play some 5-on-5 hockey in the third. The Zajac line had a similarly dominating shift before the final minute that saw them get gassed with all of the pressure, but no goal. The Wild nearly had nothing but net late and it would have been a killer if the puck didn't elude someone going against the grain. Overtime was necessary and I was still stunned at seeing 2-0 go to 3-1 and end regulation at 3-3.
Thankfully, Andy Greene - the one who took the penalty that helped kick off the nightmarish third period - made it all right in the end. In an 4-on-4 period where both teams really didn't get set up but traded off possession, the Devils made it count. No one on the Wild picked up Greene in a 3-on-2 rush that became 3-on-3; Patrik Elias got the puck to the middle; Henrique touched it off Bryzgalov; and Greene finished the game. The electric crowd got to see a badly needed win, avoiding what could have been a heartbreaking end. Afterwards, they squeezed the foam trinket hundreds of times. I know I did. Thanks for the stress pucks - and the two points.
The Opposition Opinion: Tony Wiseau has this recap over at Hockey Wilderness.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here's a whole lot of highlights including but not limited to: a Ryder goal, a Fayne shorty, another goal by Jagr, a hideous mistake, and a OT winner from Greene.
Great Crowd: I expected the crowd to bring the noise whenever #11 had the puck and they did not disappoint. Well done. Curiously, I heard booing for the first time when Peter DeBoer's name was announced before the game. I guess the fans are getting restless, though I wonder why DeBoer isn't running away in this poll. Then again, these are also the same fans who got mad that Fayne didn't immediately shoot the puck and then cheered when he did. Anyway, great crowd at the Rock tonight, which made the game far more entertaining.
Possession Owned: The Devils' taking as many calls as they did in the final 22 minutes of regulation was bad enough. It gave more time for the Wild to work with, it prevented the Devils from attacking, and it led to two goals against. The Devils really should have been smarter. Especially because they were killing it in 5-on-5 play. They out-attempted the Wild 43-32 in all situations and a very good 27-17 in 5-on-5 play. It was low-event hockey one could expect from two low-scoring and low-shooting teams. But the Devils just controlled the game in 5-on-5 play for the most part. They re-discovered neutral zone play, they hit their passes, and they fought well for pucks. Only one member of the Wild was not below 50% in 5-on-5 play tonight and it came from all 9:42 at evens played by defenseman Clayton Stoner (3-3). The Devils took care of business here and it's something they have to continue from here on out. Of course, the goals tonight mostly came from somewhere else.
Special Teams: The Devils got 10:41 worth of power play time over four opportunities, including a five-minute major to Spurgeon that carried over from the end of the first into the second period. I have to say I liked the five-minute power play despite the horrible start that conceded a 2-on-Cory Schneider led by Parise and Mikko Koivu. While they didn't score, they were able to get set up often, they created good shots, and ultimately put seven on Bryzgalov. Their third period power play that Jagr converted was very well done as Jagr, Zajac, and Ryane Clowe really bossed around the Wild down low. Zajac nearly had a tap-in in the crease, but since Jagr ultimately scored a bit later, it's all good. Three shots in that one. The other power plays, well, at least they didn't shoot themselves in the foot on it.
As for the Devils' PK, well, they weren't as strong. Fayne did score a sweet shorty and the two goals - Cooke's was just after the last PK ended - were deflections instead of breakdowns in coverage. Still, they allowed nine shots over five situations. It really didn't help that the penalty parade in the third period featured Greene, Fayne, Zubrus, and Zajac. All four play significantly on the Devils' penalty kill; having them unavailable surely had an effect. The deflections won't always be there or bounce the way they did, so I'm not terribly concerned about the penalty kill in the long run. Provided they don't take a whole bunch of easily avoidable penalties and they'll be fine.
Undefendable: The goal Schneider conceded to Granlund actually may rival that horrible second goal against in the Bronx by Martin Brodeur. I want Schneider to keep playing. He really wasn't that bad tonight given that two of the three goals against were re-directions right in front. But I can't defend that second goal against. I can't. I just hope it's not enough for the coaches to think the inferior goalie is the one to go with on Saturday night.
BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO: So Zach Parise got a lovely welcome from the Rock. His night was weird. I didn't think he did all that much. His big shorthanded breakaway moment could have been poetic had he not fire a wrister right into Schneider's chest. It was hard not to notice him since anytime he touched the puck throughout the game, he was heavily booed. I'm not even sure he actually got a stick on Suter's shot; I thought the shot went off of Salvador. The scorer must have seen something else. Anyway, I come home and find out he had six shots on net. Really. At evens, Parise was one of the better Wild players by being only just under break-even. I guess since most of the Wild players were being beaten that's considered good? Let's just say he made his mark on the game even though it wasn't seemingly a large one.
Ryder of the First Period: Michael Ryder scored on a very good wrist shot for his first goal since January 11, which was the end of a four-game goal streak. That alone means it was a good night for him since he finally snapped his arctic cold streak. He took two more shots in the first period and that was essentially it for his contributions to the boxscore. I will say, like most Devils tonight, things went well when Ryder was on the ice. Unless I missed it, he didn't have any horrible lack of coverage. Perhaps that alone means it was a good night given his total lack of scoring. But he resolved that, so there.
I still don't think Elias, Henrique, and Ryder is all that great of a unit. Ryder and Henrique had a good possession game, Elias somehow didn't. It's true that Elias and Henrique definitely contributed with three assists. I'm not saying they had bad games. But remember that their only points at evens were for Ryder's goal. Their other two assists came from Fayne's shorthanded goal and Greene's OT winner in different situations from 5-on-5. We'll see.
The Return of the D?: No defensive breakdowns led to a goal unless you count Greene hitting Pominville way away from the puck a breakdown. I have to say, I liked most of the defensemen tonight. Greene-Fayne had a very good game. Penalties aside, they each scored and did a very good job against Minnesota's top line of Granlund, Parise, and Pominville. Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov were sheltered in usage but were positive yet again. I felt bad for Volchenkov when he clearly got hurt from blocking a shot on the Devils' fourth PK and had to keep playing. He returned for further shifts, so a shot must have stung him. Still, 24-28 were good. I liked Jon Merrill's performance, he was solid for the most part. Marek Zidlicky wasn't an idiot. Eric Gelinas was only used in special situations - the power play and overtime - but he did well. He had three power play shots, he played deep in OT and made it work, and he didn't . I was surprised to see him in the lineup given how bad he was against Boston. But the Devils limited him appropriately and he didn't hurt them. That's a step forward. Overall, I have no complaints about a blueline that held a team to 23 shots in spite of five power plays against. Let's this be a sign of things to come from them.
More Points than Parise: Jaromir Jagr imposed his will at times and did it for six shots and a goal. He also had the best shot-attempt differential in 5-on-5 with 13-5. Scandella and Brodin saw a lot of #68 and #19 and they - especially Scandella - didn't handle it well at all. It's OK, most can't handle Jagr. Especially when he's playing with a purpose like he did tonight. You do you, Jagr.
And Now A Summary of The Young Swedish Forward Who Could Make Everything Better If He Plays More and Stuff: Eh. Jacob Josefson was OK, I guess. I liked his work on the PK, though he didn't do anything Stephen Gionta or Tim Sestito couldn't do.
Very Little Help: Columbus won, Detroit won in OT, and as of this writing Washington is losing but that's meaningless. All the Devils can do is take care of business and hope for the best. That means a win on Saturday.
Your Take: The Devils nearly blew it but they managed to win beyond regulation. What are your thoughts? Pleased that they won? Unhappy that the process included a blown two-goal lead? Surprised Ryder scored a goal? Disgusted at the calls they kept taking? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. I know I was sparse in my own already sparse tweets and comments, but thanks to those who followed along in the Gamethread anyway. Thank you for reading.