First Period: The first couple minutes of the game, the play was mostly moving towards the Devils’ defensive zone. To the Devil’s credit, they mostly managed to keep the Golden Knights from truly dangerous chances. They didn’t let Vegas get to rebounds in front of Kinkaid, and that made the difference in the early minutes.
Damon Severson took the first penalty if the game. He tripped David Perron, and Vegas went on the power play. Brian Gibbons took the puck on the penalty kill and got a controlled zone entry, and chipped it from his backhand to a cutting Blake Coleman, who scored shorthanded with a bit over a minute left in the penalty kill.
After the kill, Nico Hischier sent a pass across the slot to a cutting John Moore. The pass hit Tomas Tatar’s stick, and deflected high past Marc-Andre Fleury to make the score 2-0. The goal was Nico’s 15th of the year, and it was first listed as unassisted, and later changed to show assists for Damon Severson and Sami Vatanen.
After the second goal, the Golden Knights came at the Devils with even more determination. Keith Kinkaid stood strong in net, coming up with some huge stops. The most hectic moment was when a rebound sat in the blue paint, and was settled by Nico Hischier and taken behind the net, and sent around the boards.
With about six minutes left in the period, the Devils were still up 2-0, but it remained ever so clear that a few mistakes could lead to everything crashing down around them. But this late in the season, it could be the entire season falling apart with blown leads.
The last few minutes of the period, the Devils semed to try keeping the puck away from the slot and towards the boards. There were some collisions, and the game slowed down markedly. After the Golden Knights missed on a redirection try, Kyle Palmieri sprung Taylor Hall on a partial breakaway. Hall was a bit tired, and Fleury made a stop before Hall returned to the bench.
In the final minute of the period, neither team could get much going. Michael Grabner got a hard wrist shot high on Fleury, but it wasn’t from the best place to score on the ice. Time expired as Sami Vatanen was trying to make a play during the next shift, but all that mattered was the Devils were up 2-0. The shots on the period were 13 for the Vegas Golden Knights, and seven for the New Jersey Devils. The Golden Knights definitely won the possession battle, but the Devils just did not break.
Second Period: The Devils started off the second controlling the puck a bit better than the beginning period. The first whistle of the period came at a hand pass by Brian Boyle, which I thought killed the team’s flow a bit. Nonetheless, the Devils did not allow the Golden Knights to take prolonged control. Kinkaid made a save on Jon Marchessault, and the puck went the other way - Travis Zajac passed it up to Will Butcher, who got it to Grabner, who centered it back to Zajac, who scored a pretty nice goal to go up 3-0.
Half a minute later, a puck banked off the boards to Stefan Noesen on a line change. Noesen, in alone on Fleury, buried one five hole to make the Devils lead 4-0. Andy Greene got the sole assist on the goal. Maxime Lagace came into the game after that goal.
The Devils did a great job at not allowing the Vegas Golden Knights to pin them back during the second period. They came close to making it 5-0 a few times, with a few pucks going off the iron behind Lagace.
Michael Grabner took a penalty a bit over halfway into the game for tripping William Karlsson. The penalty kill did not fare as well as they did in the first period. On a one-timer by Miller from above the circle, Kinkaid made an initial save. Erik Haula got his stick on the puck and put it in the net to make it 4-1.
After the goal, Drew Stafford was hauled down from behind by Tomas Tatar in the neutral zone. This warranted a holding call to put the Devils on the power play for the first time in the game.
The power play started extremely chaotic. The puck was poked off Taylor Hall’s stick into Kinkaid, who went spinning out of the crease to cover the puck on a rebound chance. It was an interesting sight, but harmless in the end.
After a return to some normalcy, the Devils had some trouble setting up in the offensive zone. Miller rocketed one shorthanded off the post with around 30 seconds left in the power play, and before anything dangerous could be attempted by the Devils, Tatar was out of the box.
The Devils were visibly slipping. After a post, and some hectic moments in the defensive zone, Andy Greene took a tripping call behind the net on David Perron. Seeing the penalty kill without the captain was not something I looked forward to.
Nonetheless, the Devils managed to function. The puck was not being constantly sent at Kinkaid, so that was a positive. The defensemen got a few clears, and before damage could be done Greene was out of the box with just under three minutes to play in the period.
The top line was able to manage some possession of the puck in the aftermath of the penalty kill. A sharp-angle Hall shot, however, went around the boards and the Devils were again pushing the puck from their defensive zone. What the top line seemed to understand, that other lines did not, was that a good way to keep the puck from Kinkaid was to attack themselves.
On the next shift, the Golden Knights made it 4-2. As the Boyle line was defending, Miller took a shot from the back corner of the offensive zone, right in front of the blue-line. It got past a screened Keith Kinkaid, and the Devils just needed to not let up another goal at that point of the period. Perron went barreling over Kinkaid digging for a rebound. Brian Gibbons ended up on top of him, and that was the last notable thing of the period in the short time following Miller’s goal. Going into the second intermission, the Devils were trailing in the shot column 31-18. For what it was worth, not much more could be asked of Kinkaid or the Devils’ sticks (and Tatar) up to that point of the game. And, it is hard to complain when your team has a lead - but that did not mean the fear of a blown lead was not in my mind, and I’m sure many other people watching.
Third Period: The start to the period was slow. But it did not take long for the Devils to strike. Jon Merrill blocked a shot by Blake Coleman, and the puck came right back to Coleman, who ripped the puck past Maxime Lagace to make the score 5-2. It was Coleman’s ninth goal of the season, and it was unassisted. This was also Blake Coleman’s first two-goal game in the NHL.
Nico Hischier was flying around the offensive zone a few minutes later like a madman, creating chances for the Devils. He made a feed to Michael Grabner, who buried his first goal as a member of the New Jersey Devils. Just like that, the fears of a late collapse were mostly out of the minds of the Devils faithful. The goal was Grabner’s 26th goal, Hischier’s 30th assist, and Brian Gibbons got his second assist of the game for his 25th point of the year.
A few minutes later, Jon Merrill did something Devils fans are very used to seeing - he took a stick infraction penalty. The Devils went to the power play for the second time if the game after Grabner was tripped, and it took seconds for Kyle Palmieri to net the seventh goal of the game for the Devils. Taylor Hall sent it down low to Patrick Maroon on the goal line, who slipped it immediately through the crease to Kyle Palmieri, who was waiting on the other side, and the Devils were in absolute control. This was Palmieri’s 19th goal and 35th point on the year, and Taylor Hall’s 45th assist and 75th point of the season.
Will Butcher got his stick high on Tomas Hyka close to the net, and Butcher was fortunate to not draw any blood. The Devils thus went back to the penalty kill. The Golden Knights were still hungry for a goal, but only two shots actually got on Kinkaid.
Taylor Hall scored his 31st goal of the season shortly after the penalty kill to go up 8-2. On a broken play, the puck came back to Hall, and he slipped it past Lagace. Brian Boyle got the lone assist.
After the Hall goal, the Golden Knights finally looked deflated. There just wasn’t the same compete level the last few minutes of the game, and I can’t exactly blame them.
After a few players fell in front of the net, John Moore was sent off for hooking Tomas Tatar with two minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the game. Kinkaid made a few stops, but the Golden Knights still scored their third of the game on a redirection off Damon Severson’s stick that was intended for Tatar. That evened up the own-goals for the night, but nonetheless the Devils had an 8-3 victory seconds later - the largest margin of defeat for the Vegas Golden Knights at home in their short history.
The Opposition Opinion: It looks like Knights on Ice already has a recap up. It looks pretty despondent about what happened, and I don’t blame them.
Divisional Matters: The Rangers tied the Pittsburgh Penguins late in the game, and won in overtime. While the Devils aren’t immediately behind the Penguins, this win keeps them just five points behind Pittsburgh with a game at hand. The Devils go to Pittsburgh on March 23, and the Penguins come to the Prudential Center on March 29.
This win had the Devils leapfrog the Columbus Blue Jackets in the standings, and they now sit one point behind the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils are tied with the Blue Jackets in regulation plus overtime wins at 31, and the Flyers have 33. All three teams have played 70 games - and the Flyers and Blue Jackets play each other tomorrow night in Philadelphia. I don’t know who I prefer to win that game - but I at least hope only one team pick up points.
Who Got Left Out?: Almost everyone registered a point for the New Jersey Devils tonight. Only Drew Stafford, Miles Wood, Ben Lovejoy, and John Moore did not get onto the scoresheet.
What Needs Improvement?: Moore wasn’t wholly terrible - he blocked five shots, which contributed to the Devils’ strong collective effort in getting their bodies in front of the puck. However, he was not great at getting the puck out of the defensive zone. This was reflected in his 32.50 CF% at five-on-five.
Lovejoy was less noticeable, which means he played fine. And sure enough, he didn’t get run over in possession, with a 58.33 CF%.
Wood likely had the worst game. He was the only player on the Devils that was not on the ice during a goal for, and was on the ice for a goal against. The Devils registered zero scoring chances, and yielded nine against while he was on the ice. His CF% was second worst on the team at 30.43, though he got no offensive zone starts and five in the defensive zone. Perhaps John Hynes should know better than to throw a mismatch line of Brian Boyle, Drew Stafford, and Miles Wood in the defensive zone that much against a strong offensive team.
Who Played the Best?: The top line was absolutely unstoppable. After the Devils would be hemmed-in for shift after shift, the top forwards would come out and completely kill the momentum of the Golden Knights. Nico Hischier was especially flying around the ice when the puck was on his stick. It was wonderful to watch, and if John Hynes wasn’t committed to spreading the ice time the more the Devils got up tonight, I think Hischier and Hall could have had another point or two in the scoresheet.
Blake Coleman: Blake Coleman has been, I think, snakebitten all year. His shot has looked infinitely better from last year, but it’s been a struggle for him to actually get goals out of his scoring chances. Tonight, he got a goal shorthanded and was able to get a second-chance goal that made Maxime Lagace look less-than-great. For all of the pucks I thought he scored that were stopped by goalies this year, I’m glad to see him finally get his due on his statline.
Give the Goalie Some Credit: Keith Kinkaid faced 42 shots. He stopped 39. One of the goals was an own-goal off the stick of Damon Severson. Another was a near-unstoppable power play goal. And he was screened on the other. There was not much more the Devils could have asked for from Keith Kinkaid, as he’s rewarded the team with another win. In his last 10 starts, Kinkaid is 8-2-0 with a .928 save percentage. For the Devils to secure a playoff spot, this is what we need.
Your Thoughts: What things did you think were key to the victory? What did the Devils do well? What did they not do well? Were there any players you think should get more credit for their contributions tonight? Leave your thoughts below.
Thanks to everyone who stayed up for this (glorious) game, whether you commented in the Gamethread or you were following on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. This is Chris - thank you for reading, and goodnight.