Compared to the last two games between the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins, this was a welcomed result. Compared to many other games this season, this was a welcomed result. Compared to the previous game, this was a welcomed result. Yes, I'm talking about a loss in overtime. It was the result of the Devils actually making up a two-goal deficit and making it interesting up until the bitter end. That's something I'll take without grousing too much about it. Especially since the Devils got rolled for the first half of regulation.
The first period resembled any of the previous three periods between these two teams. Boston did whatever they wanted except score at-will. Cory Schneider made sure of the latter as he was the only Devils ready to play a good team. The run of play was consistent of what Corsi For% would suggest: the good possession team (Boston) picked on the bad possession team (New Jersey). Every chip out of the zone, poor clearance, fumble in the defensive end, bad pass on offense, and so forth would result in Boston retrieving the puck and hitting back. Their lone goal of the period came at the end of one of the few bursts of offense by the Devils. Adam Larsson tried to get the puck in deep from the point. Matt Bartkowski picked it off and fired a great long pass to Daniel Paille to clear the zone. Paille dumped it in, Larsson coughed it up from his corner to Loui Eriksson. Eriksson fired it to a lone Paille in front for an easy score. That error was costly and it could've been worse except for some fortune and #35.
This domination continued well into the second period. The line of Eriksson, Paille, and Carl Soderberg looked like an all-star unit. Torey Krug looked like what some fans wished Eric Gelinas was. Zdeno Chara resembled, well, himself. David Pastrnak was featured early and often. It looked like another Bruins goal was another case of "when" and not "if." But a funny thing happened. Unlike the previous Devils-Bruins games and so many other games where one team was just pinning back the Devils over and over, the Devils mounted a comeback.
It really began with a tripping penalty by Dougie Hamilton. The Devils power play was able to get set-up and get some shots on net. A whopping four, which is big for a unit that struggles to get set up at all on some nights. The Devils started to attack more and force Niklas Svedberg to play some hockey this evening. Boston would counter with some offense but it became more of an even game since the power play as opposed to Boston doing whatever they wanted. It was looking good until Mark Fraser got called for tripping Patrice Bergeron with a minute less in the third. The Devils would kill off the penalty, but seconds after, Pastrnak made his presence felt on the scoresheet when he put in his own rebound. Chris Kelly would get his stick in Cory Schneider's grill, perhaps enough to warrant an interference call. It wouldn't have mattered had Martin Havlat stuck with Pastrnak or if Jon Merrill just left Kelly with Zidlicky and turned around to see the rebound come out.
Here would be the point where one could expect Boston to have survived a surge of sorts from the Devils and return to controlling the game. That did not happen. The Devils would have a response. Chris Kelly was judged to have hooked Tuomo Ruutu. Marek Zidlicky nearly scored on the delayed call. The Devils would score on that power play: Travis Zajac slammed in a lost puck at the crease by Adam Henrique to get them on board. A few minutes later, Mike Cammalleri drew a hooking call but maintained control of the puck. Svedberg overplayed Cammalleri expecting a shot; the Bruins' top pairing (Chara-Hamilton) wasn't paying attention to the slot; and so when Cammalleri passed it to Jordin Tootoo in the slot, there was the equalizer. What followed were twelve minutes or so of up-tempo hockey, where both teams were close to finding the ending in regulation.
I'd like you to read the preceding two paragraphs and compare that to the two before them. This game was not at all the same as previous Devils-Bruins games or many other games this season were getting out-shot 4-12 in the first period was only a fore-bearer of worse to come. No, the Devils came back to score a couple of goals, they nearly matched the Bruins in shots (31-34), and only out-attempted 46-55, impressive considering the first ended 8-20. And, almost as importantly, the game was simply exciting in the third period. Forget the standings, forget the trade deadline, this turned out to be a competitive and entertaining game when it looked like a squash match for nearly half of regulation. I can appreciate how this game within the context of how this season has gone.
Alas, the game did not have a happy ending. A botched attack by Patrik Elias and Martin Havlat yielded a 2-on-4 rush against the Devils. In a 4-on-4 situation, that's bad news. Two forwards who held back did the damage. Pastrnak deferred to Ryan Spooner, who hammered a shot past a sliding Schneider and a spraying Milan Lucic to win it. It's a momentous time for a first ever NHL goal. It's an important goal for Boston, who has legitimate playoff aspirations. It is a bit of a heartbreaker. But in a season littered with second-rate performances, I find it hard to begrudge the way this loss came about. Take that however you wish.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Devils Time on Ice | The Natural Stat Trick Corsi Charts | The War on Ice Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: You can rank the Bruins' performances here at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
The Game Highlights: Here are the highlights from NHL.com:
What I Learned: Tonight's game taught me plenty, some that I was fairly confident in knowing and some that I needed a reminder.
First, I got reminded that Mark Fraser doesn't belong at this level. He ended up taking a penalty that wasn't necessary. While he wasn't constantly pinned back, when he was, it often ended up being a nightmare. His physical play didn't lead to any positive plays. And I'm not sure if there's a legitimately decent pairing that could be had with him that wouldn't bring down his partner. I wouldn't sandbag Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, and Adam Larsson with him. Jon Merrill can't help him much. Certainly not with his regular tonight, Eric Gelinas. Simply, he showed me no reason why Peter Harrold should sit for him - and, yes, I know all about Peter Harrold.
Second, Eric Gelinas without shooting isn't really helpful. The guy needs to be carried in his own end of the rink. Some of the decisions he made in his own end were bizarre. For example, early in the game, he's carrying the puck by the boards. With pressure coming, he should be able to chip it out for an exit. Instead, he chips it towards the pressure, has to hustle back, and then get on the wrong side of Lucic after he takes a shot in the middle of the zone on Schneider. I know, I know. He's young. And he'll (somehow) get better. I'd like to think that after 103 games in the NHL, there would be more to him than just The Truth.
Third, speaking of younger defensemen, this was a rough night to start for Adam Larsson. He wasn't quick enough to help get stops against a roaming Bruins' attack for the first half. He and Andy Greene were pinned back quite a bit. It wasn't just their common matchup against the Patrice Bergeron line; they got wrecked by Soderberg's crew. It was a minor miracle they didn't get scored on a particularly ugly near-two minute shift in the second period. I'll say that was his low point and the pairing got better as time went on. But I'll also say that that while he's been playing better as of late, this game was an example that it's not all glitter and gold for him. Unlike Gelinas, I do have some confidence he'll do better the next night out. P.S. That secondary assist he got on the equalizer was a gift.
Fourth, I don't have much confidence in Martin Havlat, although there were some nice things from him. He displayed some speed, which is valuable for a Devils team lacking in it. When Zidlicky played him forward and he split the defense in the second period, I was hoping he'd finish the play. Havlat also displayed some aggression such as calling for the puck and attempting to make potentially dangerous passes. Alas, he was usually covered when he called for the puck and his cross-ice passes usually got denied by the Bruins. I was reminded that Havlat and defense don't go so well together. Boston loved playing against him at evens and when the Devils got pinned back, Havlat, Scott Gomez, and Dainius Zubrus were often there too, not providing much help. That all said, for a guy who hasn't played in a while, he wasn't invisible. There's that.
Fifth, I'll be positive and praise Mike Cammalleri. He was the Devils' best forward from what I saw. He was on the ice for nine Devils shots, only five Bruins shots, and Cammalleri had five of those nine Devils shots. I liked how he continued the play after the foul that resulted in Tootoo's equalizer. I liked his speed going forward and was generally positive on the attack. He's been one of the few bright spots in a dull season, so I appreciate that he's making things happen and generally being positive.
Two Sides to Tootoo: Jordin Tootoo scored to make the game two to two, which is something I'm sure most announcers was hoping would happen this season. His performance had two sides to it. Defensively, he was a body. He was away from the play, seemingly waiting for someone else to get it to lead a breakout. Not that I want Tootoo to lead a breakout, but floating helps no one. One of the few times he had the puck in his own end, he cleared it over the glass for a penalty. In Today's NHL(tm), offense and defense are often related. A good stop on defense can lead to a counter-attack; a good exit makes good entries more possible; and forwards in general are expected to help on defense. Tootoo does not and therefore it is somewhat of a folly that he's in a top-six role.
The other side is the offensive side. Tootoo only had two shots, but he did score an equalizer that got the crowd (and the game) extra excited, and put a hard one off Svedberg's right arm. Tootoo can provide the simplicity that even I want to see from the offense: just take what's there and get in close. One such battles not only led to a massive hit but a great pass to Cammalleri in the second period that was close to an equalizer at the time. Tootoo is riding a now-five game point streak and it's not just total luck in that regard. He's taking hard shots, he's not turning the puck over on offense, and he's meshed well with Cammalleri and Travis Zajac. It's clear that he can be the fourth liner that can chip in something and not just be a pair of fists. It's also clear that a non-reb...er...transitioning team, he wouldn't be this high up in the lineup.
WWE was at MSG Tonight: Yet, there were two notable instances of hockey players selling like they took a dropkick to the legs at The Rock. The first was Stephen Gionta, getting tripped by Hamilton. Hamilton definitely impeded him, but Gionta's fall was a bit much. Fortunately, the refs did not think it was too much to warrant an embellishment call. Brad Marchand topped that in overtime, when he took a overly dramatic tumble after skating into Eric Gelinas' stick. Fortunately, that resulted in no call whatsoever.
Promotion or Demotion?: Late in the game, I got to witness Henrique joining Jacob Josefson and Gionta. They had a great shift where Henrique and Gionta each came close to making it 3-2. Later, I got to witness Patrik Elias with Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier. The less said about that, the better. I know Ruutu left the bench for a little bit after he got hooked by Kelly, but he would return for a handful of shifts. So this was a tactical decision, in part. Which was the promotion, and which was the demotion? I will let you decide.
But...Playoffs?: I know there are some - Steve Cangelosi, Ken Daneyko, John MacLean, and Deb Kaufman come to mind - who are still holding out hope in a playoff run. I'm afraid I've got some bad news. Even if the Devils won tonight, all it would have done would be closing the gap between the Devils and the Bruins in terms of points. The Devils would remain behind three other teams in addition to Boston. Further, three of those teams - Boston included - have games in hand on the Devils. The Devils' odds would remain incredibly small. Small enough to be OK with trading the team's third leading scorer, a forward who plays a position the team is thin at (right wing), to one of those three teams in between the Devils and the Bruins.
Basically, that train has sailed. I wouldn't lament tonight's result from that standpoint. And please let those four broadca...er...fans know so they can recognize.
Lastly: Cory Schneider remains good. But you already knew that.
Your Take: The Devils didn't get rolled all game and managed to take a point from it. I was entertained. I appreciate the results with all that in mind. What do you take from this? Who did you think did well for the Devils? Who did you think did poorly? What can the Devils take from tonight's game into their game in Columbus tomorrow? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this overtime loss in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Extra special thanks to Mike for taking care of the Calgary recap while I was ill. Thank you for reading.