After three lame losses amid a season where it has become more and more clear that this is not a playoff worthy squad, the New Jersey Devils and their fans got what they needed. They didn't just get a win. They got a win over the New York Rangers. They didn't just beat their rivals. They made a comeback to ultimately drop five goals on them in a performance where the Devils were clearly the better team for large stretches at a time. They didn't win a decisive game. No, this game was far closer than the 5-2 final score implies and it could have easily been 3-3 during the game, which would have led to something totally different. It wasn't until Sergey Kalinin posterized Henrik Lunqvist on a third period breakaway to make it 4-2 was their any relief over the Devils' fate tonight. They didn't just end a losing streak. They took the season series against their hated rivals and now every Devils fan can respond to the Rangers' inevitable playoff exit with the phrase, "Well, of course they got beat. They couldn't beat the Devils in the season series." No matter whether you're on the playoff hype train, the Get-as-high-of-a-pick-as you can bandwagon, or the just-give-me-something-competitive boat, every Devils fan can, should, and probably does enjoy tonight's win.
On a personal note, I'm getting back to normalcy after having the flu for over the first half of this month. I have not been to a live New Jersey Devils game until tonight. I picked one heck of a game to attend. There were lows and some serious areas for improvement. There were highs and moments where I just felt the greatness that occurred on the ice. Needless to say, I'm very glad I went. The result helped, of course. If I were to show someone why I care so much about hockey, then this would be a good game to show them. It demonstrated plenty of good, some bad, and some ugly spots - all of it is part of the game. The only mark against is that the good was atypical of how the Devils have played this season.
Don't get me wrong. That's a compliment. First, some background. The Devils got the game's first goal when Tyler Kennedy re-directed a shot by the returning Damon Severson. However, the Rangers hit back with two quick goals. Kevin Hayes put home a rebound off an odd man rush shortly after Joseph Blandisi lost him in coverage. Less than a minute later, the Devils couldn't get a zone exit and Keith Yandle was able to fire a shot from distance. It hit off Dominic Moore's skate and past Cory Schneider on his left. It was 1-2 and the many Rangers faithful at the Rock magically cured their muteness and found their voice. The Devils would play better to end the period and actually out-shot the Rangers, 11-8. However, the Rangers were giving them fits on the counter-attack and with cross-ice passes when they do get set-up. It wasn't necessarily a pretty period. What happened in the following period was astounding.
The Devils just out-played the Rangers in the second. They made sure there was back support to cut down on the odd man rushes and counter-attacks against New Jersey. The defensemen did a nice job bodying up Rangers wanting to take them on one-on-one, especially Adam Larsson. Forwards did a better job backchecking and they started looking for spaces to go forward - and they hit them. The Devils were able to get choice scoring chances on Lundqvist from the beginning of the period and throughout the second. It eventually paid off. During a power play, Blandisi made a brilliant pass that found Kyle Palmieri wide open in front of the net for a killer one-timer. That tied the game up. The Devils kept attacking and it paid off again. Blandisi had a lane across the slot to an open Lee Stempniak. The two Rangers nearby weren't so close to him. Pass, shot, and it's 3-2. The Rangers fans suddenly lost their voices and the right people were pleased at the Rock. Cory Schneider was forced to make an astounding post-to-post save with his stick to deny a quick equalizer - and he did. It should've been 3-3 but it was not to be. As it turned out, the Devils out-shot the Rangers 17 to 5 and out-attempted them 25 to 9 in the period. As good as some of those five shots were, that's what we call dominance. The Devils just kept coming at the Rangers in waves and they had little answer to stop it - even when they attacked, the Devils got out of it and started going forward again.
It got even better. At the very end of the period, J.T. Miller decided to fight Sergey Kalinin. I guess if you're one of the team's hotter scorers in the month and you're in a one-goal game, you just got to do something that takes you out of the game for five minutes. However, it was worse than that for Miller. Miller apparently taped his hand up before the game. As Kalinin suffered a small cut on his nose from the melee, this meant by rule that Miller had to be given a match penalty for five minutes. As Tom Gulitti pointed out on Twitter, this is per Rule 41.16 in the NHL Rulebook. Intending to injure or cutting someone with a taped fist requires a match penalty. So not only was Miller not smart for fighting at all, he was extra not smart because he wrapped up his hand prior. After twenty minutes of mostly Devils hockey, the Devils would start the third period with a major penalty lasting 4:59. Yeah, they'll take that.
Except they didn't. The Devils pretty much squandered the five minutes in the same way they've squandered power plays in the past. They got one shot on goal, one dangerous one-timer by Jordin Tootoo after it ended, and that was it amid failed zone entries, dumped-in pucks, and poor passes within their 1-3-1. Derick Brassard decided to trip Stephen Gionta in New Jersey's end of the rink a little after that, so the Devils got two more minutes at 5-on-4. That power play was a little better and it featured a crossbar being hit. Alas, no goal. So the Devils got seven minutes with an extra man nearly in a row to start the third that could have put the game to bed and they did not do so. Needless to say, I and several other fans were getting more and more tense. The Rangers already got one favorable bounce off a skate. Who's to say they wouldn't get another one or catch the Devils in a breakdown for an unstoppable shot?
The Devils said no. Schneider was quite good as he stopped all six Rangers shots. He didn't have to make any stupefying saves like that one late in the second period. That was nice. The Devils' skaters just clamped down on the Rangers. They increasingly made the game more about the neutral zone than the Devils trying to chip the puck out of their end. They never completely got away from their forecheck. And when they got a chance to hit back on the break, they took it. The Devils were holding on to the one goal lead for over nine minutes. Then they got relief from the man who got cut by Miller: Kalinin.
The play was a glorious play. Here's a link to the video from NHL.com, since embedding video seems to be not an option as far as I can tell. Andy Greene poked the puck out of the zone along the wall and into a place where no Ranger was. Kalinin skated as hard as he could to get to it and he did for a breakaway. He came in from the right side instead of his usual left. As he got to the crease, he lifted the puck and roofed it over the False King of New York. Lundqvist on his back, the puck in the net, the ref pointing at the net, and Kalinin standing tall sent the right people at the Rock into ecstasy as the wrong people at the Rock just felt the agony. Or started to leave. (Except for one dude still bragging about how the Rangers won the President's Trophy last season. Big whoop.) It was a fantastic goal. It meant the Devils fans can breathe and the team didn't need to be absolutely perfect for another two minutes or so.
The game was truly iced within the final minute. Lundqvist was pulled and the Rangers decided to generate not a whole lot with the extra man. They just had three attempts blocked and two pucks go into the netting. After taking the puck away from the Rangers' knock-off version of Travis Zajac, Derek Stepan, Adam Larsson decided to go for the empty net. It wasn't the smartest decision as a miss would mean an icing call and a chance for six Rangers skaters to refresh and regroup. It turned out to be the right decision as the puck just swished into the net. As far as empty net goals, it was aesthetically pleasing. One for the thumb, one to put the final nail in the coffin, and one to ensure the Devils won the season series over Our Hated Rivals.
That's quite a lot to happen in one game. Combined with the shrill noises of Rangers fans cheering their team (as is their right) and the lovelier voices of Devils fans cheering their team on, the atmosphere just added to a game that nearly had it all. It had sweet goals. It had tense moments. It had struggles like going down 1-2, that squandered major, counter attacks in the first period, cross-ice passes to try for back door plays in the game was something the Rangers kept trying and succeeding at. It had excellence, such as most of that second period and shutting the Rangers down in the third. It had some controversy. It had an educational moments out of that controversy. Such as: don't tape your hands if you're thinking about throwing down. Also, if you have Tanner Glass wasting a roster spot, don't fight at all if your hands are better suited for making plays and taking shots. It even had a facepalm moment as Blandisi got tagged for embellishment again, which could mean a hefty fine for the player still on an ELC deal. He knows he needs to be better about it, and I think he will. It had the unexpected, like the Devils taking well over thirty shots (36!!!!) while holding the opposition to less than twenty (19) and the Devils legitimately out-possessing the Rangers. All the same, the game had quite a bit of everything that hockey fan would want in a game. Even better, it turned out fantastic for the Devils and miserable for Out Hated Rivals.
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 Natural Stat Trick Advanced Stats | The HockeyStats.ca Advanced Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Bryan Winters has this recap at Blueshirt Banter. If you're going to go visit, then don't be a jerk of a sore winner. Play nice, please. You wouldn't want it here, so don't bring it there.
Praise for...A Lot of Devils: Schneider was quite good, the two goals against certainly weren't his fault. The defense in general played a much better game than they played last Saturday. I liked Damon Severson's performance, he had a good return. Jon Merrill wasn't an issue. Larsson and Greene made plenty of tough plays. Up front, the Jacob Josefson unit had some misfires, but overall they had a very strong game. Blandisi had some issues with the puck early on, lost his man, and took another diving call. But he made two very good passes and he showed his flair positively with the puck late. He's a rookie and this is what you get some nights. Overall, I'd say he's positive, though. Kalinin had quite a good game in addition to scoring an important and very pretty goal. Adam Henrique and Lee Stempniak each had more active games. Reid Boucher looked a bit faster and more involved; I wish he didn't hit that post in the second period as he had Lundqvist beaten straight-up. But not the frame, unfortunately. He'll get there. The only line that wasn't so positive in possession was the Travis Zajac line, but they definitely contributed plenty of good things tonight. They certainly weren't bad. I'd go as far as to say I don't think any Devil had a really bad game. I'm very pleased to write that.
A Potential Turn of Events: Incidentally, if Kalinin cut Miller in that fight, then he would've got a similar penalty that Miller got. Wouldn't that have been a shocking turn of events if the Rangers got five minutes with an extra man while only down a goal to start the third. Thanks to Scouting the Refs for pointing it out on Twitter. Fortunately, it didn't go down like that. Still dumb that Miller fought at all.
As an aside, the Rangers got no power play time tonight. Bummer.
One Last Thought: 3-1-0 against the Rangers this season. I'll take that even if the season falls apart afterwards. The Rangers may finish ahead of the Devils and go to the playoffs and whatever. They'll always inherently suck and we've got this record to hold over them in case it's needed. Oh, how I love the bragging rights that come with rivalry games when they go the right way.
Your Take: The Devils beat Out Hated Rivals 5-2 to take the season series. What did you make of the game? Was that second period the best period the Devils have played all season? How do you think they can repeat their performance beyond the first period? Who do you think was the best Devil tonight? Was anyone really the worst? How did you react when Kalinin scored? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter with the site account, @AATJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.