Tonight was the resumption of NHL play after the 5 day all-star break that took our own Cory Schneider to Nashville. Despite not practicing yesterday after taking an early flight back to Newark, Schneider still got the start against those hated rivals from Manhattan. And despite not practicing yesterday, Schneider put up a brilliant start for our New Jersey Devils. Despite the final score showing 3-2, do not let those 2 goals against fool you. The Devils' all-star was brilliant tonight, and a win never would have been possible without him. This game started out at breakneck speed, something the Devils do not necessarily excel at. It instantly felt like a playoff game, with the crowd going berserk and the players really giving it their all from the first puck drop.
The only issue for New Jersey, however, is that they are not nearly as quick as New York. The Devils prefer to slow things down to accommodate for their general lack of speed, but it was just not happening at first. By the end of the first period both teams had 10 shots on net, but it was apparent that the Rangers had much better chances. There were several open looks for New York players where there was no defender around to help out Cory. Thankfully, however, Schneider was excellent, stopping almost all of the clean chances. He only let in one shot he had basically no chance on a 2 on 1 breakaway goal by J.T. Miller. So despite a very fast first period where the play was just end to end and the Rangers were getting the better scoring opportunities, it was only 0-1. This is not to mention that Derek Stepan took a hooking call right at the end of the first period, so the Devils would start the second with a nearly full 2 minutes of 5 on 4 action.
This power play would really help set the trend of the night, the one area where the Devils really dominated this game and won because of it: special teams. The Devils were able to kill off an Adam Larsson hooking call in the first, but other than that special teams was not really highlighted there. The first power play of the second really began the domination. The Devils would take 4 shots on that power play, and Lee Stempniak would be in a perfect position to hit home a rebound to tie the game. The Rangers would respond, but the game slowed down considerably after the first. Both teams were more methodical in their actions. What did not change, however, was the playoff feel about the game. The pace did not matter. Both teams were delivering big hits, and both were playing with very high intensity.
For the Devils, sadly, that intensity would lead to some penalty kill situations. After a high hit to the head by Seth Helgeson, the Devils would be forced to kill off a second penalty of the game. Shortly after successfully killing that one, Kyle Palmieri would take a roughing call in front of the net. Again, a play based on intensity, too much intensity perhaps. But again, the Devils would find a way to kill it off. In the first three kills of the game for NJ, they looked quite good. New York got set up a couple times, but never really got too much traction, and in fact there were a few times where the Devils scared with a shorthanded opportunity. The period would end 22-20 with the Rangers getting the power plays and the better overall opportunities, but the Devils were certainly holding their own, and had the 1-1 tie.
The third period would start out much more like the 1st period than the 2nd, which was again bad for New Jersey. Despite some really good opportunities early, the Devils would get pinned back in their own zone thanks to the speed of New York, and the Rangers would capitalize, going up 2-1 on Miller's second goal of the night. But despite the Devils' general inability to come from behind, they would manage to do so again, and do it rather quickly. Joseph Blandisi was all over the ice tonight and was using his speed to great effect, and he showed it. Thanks to an excellent pass off the boards from Andy Greene, Blandisi was able to make Dan Girardi look like a traffic cone as he skated right by him and snapped one past Hank to quickly tie the game at 2-2.
From there, the game would go back and forth again, more like the 2nd period where it was slower play. This was until Oscar Lindberg would take his team's second penalty of the night. The next two minutes would essentially decide the game, and David Schlemko was almost on the wrong end of it before becoming the hero. On the ensuing power play, Schlemko would make a no-look pass behind him across the blue line, which Ryan McDonagh would steal to give himself a breakaway chance. Thankfully for Schlemko and the Devils, he would not score. Then, once the Devils finally set up again towards the end of the man advantage, Schlemko would get a feed from Stempniak that was partially deflected. David, however, would still manage to get it and wrist one top shelf to give his team the 3-2 lead. He went from near-goat to hero.
The rest of the game is how you would expect a Devils game to go when they are leading by 1 goal with under 10 minutes left. It was essentially a big penalty kill. The Devils did have to actually kill a penalty off in which the Rangers had some real nice chances, but Schneider managed to keep the puck out of the net. The rest of the action was more the Devils just playing very conservatively and defensively, but it worked, as the Rangers could not score. It was nerve wracking, but it ended up being a regulation win against a team that the Devils absolutely needed to beat, regardless of any rivalry. The rivalry just made it that much sweeter. A huge win against a rival, a huge win for the Devils' position in the Metro. Gotta love it.
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has a recap here over at Blueshirt Banter.
The Game Highlights: The NHL has changed their website some recently, and I am not quite sure how to embed the highlight video into here at this point. For now, here is the link to the highlights on their website.
Power Play Saved the Day: I really cannot stress enough how the special teams really won this game for the Devils. Between the four kills, the Rangers went 8 minutes on the power play without scoring a goal, and they only had one real good power play, which was their last one. The other three were defended exceptionally well by New Jersey.
Then, you also add in the fact that the Devils scored 2 of their three goals on the power play, and both were pretty good plays after the team set up in the offensive zone, and it's clear that the major x factor in this win was special teams. Without it, there's no way the Devils win in regulation, and perhaps do not win at all.
How About Blandisi: Blandisi really played one heck of a game. His goal in the game was a sight to see, as it really made Girardi look like he was standing still, and the snapper froze Lundqvist nicely. But it was not the only play he made. He was all over the ice. In the first he also skated right around the defense, and threw a nice pass across to Stempniak who just could not get the puck on net. It was another play generated completely by his hustle and speed. Not only was Joe not invisible, but he was very productive for this team. I was shocked he was not one of the three stars of the game tonight, although the other three were also very deserving.
Coming From Behind: I wrote an article not too long ago about how the Devils play exceptionally well when leading a game and have real trouble coming from behind. Well tonight they managed to buck that trend. They not only came from behind once against the Rangers, but twice. It was a real show of will and character. Here's to hoping that this starts a trend of the Devils being better able to come from behind. It would lead to much more success.
What a Huge Win: This win was extremely important for New Jersey. By losing to Pittsburgh before the break, it created a situation where despite playing well, the team was sitting outside of a playoff position and looking like they could be one of the top teams to not make the dance. The wild cards became much harder to obtain. By winning this four point game against New York, however, it puts the team in a legitimate race to take one of the 2 division seeds held on by both New York teams. No one is catching Washington, so it is the other two spots that are for grabs. And with the win tonight, the Devils made a nice push to claim one of those positions.
Your Thoughts: A win against the Rangers is always hugely satisfying, regardless of the playoff implications. It just so happens that this game had huge implications, just as the rest of the games against them this month will. What was your take on the win tonight? Where did the Devils play well, and where do they need to improve before playing the Rangers again on Monday? Please leave your thoughts below, and thanks for reading.