On this week’s edition of Devils Game Rewind for the 2017-18 season, we head on back to November, when the Devils were starting to establish themselves as a factor in the Metropolitan Division playoff race. The Devils were in Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, a team everyone still though was going to be a contender in the Western Conference. What followed was one of the wildest games of the year and and a very big night for the Devil wearing #44.
In the first month and a half of the 2017-18 season the Devils had started in an eerily similar fashion to the 2016-17 season and the question lingering on every Devils fan’s mind was whether they could be for real or whether their start was just another mirage. We knew how 2016-17 had gone after a 9-3-3 start, with the Devils imploding and ending the season in the basement of the Eastern Conference, so when the Devils arrived at the very similar 9-4-2 record in mid-November, it was fair to raise an eyebrow of skepticism.
The Devils took a game off a floundering Florida team to get to 10-4-2, but were embarking on a pretty tough four-game road trip that would serve as an early test, with three games against 2016-17 playoff teams (CHI, TOR, and MIN) and another against a Jets team that was starting to establish itself near the top of the standings. The Devils would start the trip at the United Center against Chicago, who hadn’t looked great to start the season, but were still the team that had finished atop their conference standings the season prior. This trip was a moment that the Devils really had to rise to in order to prove that things were going to be different in 2017-18.
Meanwhile, on an individual level, the storylines of the Devils season were still taking shape. Taylor Hall was off to a great start that we now know was only the beginning. Brian Gibbons was still in the midst of his shocking first-half performance. Nico Hischier was starting to establish himself as the real deal and Jesper Bratt was turning in an incredible out-of-nowhere start. And then there was Miles Wood, who had looked better overall versus his uneven rookie campaign, but was still searching for improved production and more significant role. All of the players mentioned above would find their way onto the scoresheet, and Wood in particular would turn in a statement performance in the biggest game of his young career.
This was one of the strangest games of the year for New Jersey, but for the fans, also probably one of the most fun. Chicago looked poised to run the Devils out of the building early on, but just as quickly as the night had started to look like a lost cause, the Devils found themselves out front somehow. In a major case of whiplash, the Devils looked dead in the water about 17 minutes in and were leading the game another 15 minutes after that. And the big comeback victory would be powered by a somewhat unlikely source in Miles Wood, who was an absolute force of nature on this particular November night.
It was certainly an inauspicious start for New Jersey, as less than a minute in, they would be down on the scoreboard as a shot by Jan Rutta tipped by Artem Anisimov would flutter by Keith Kinkaid for the 1-0 deficit. Just a few minutes later though, the Devils would get on the board with Miles Wood’s first tally of the night to make it 1-1, which would be one of four very strong scoring plays for the young winger. Things would quiet down for a bit but then seemingly fall apart for the Devils about 10 minutes later.
It took just 3:20 for the Blackhawks to turn a 1-1 game into a potential blowout late in the opening frame. First, Taylor Hall would be stripped in the neutral zone and the Devils would be caught flat-footed getting back as Nick Schmaltz drew both defenders and found a trailing Alex DeBrincat to put the Hawks up 2-1. A few minutes later on the power play, Chicago would strike again, this time with another long range Jan Rutta shot finding its way through traffic to the back of the net. Then, before they were even done announcing that goal, Tanner Kero would collect a puck that had pinballed around in the high slot and flutter a backhander by Kinkaid for a 4-1 lead.
It was about this point that most fans, myself included, probably seriously considered calling it a night. The Devils, on the back half of a back-to-back that featured a flight in the intervening hours, were down three goals to a team that finished the previous season with 109 points. It would be perfectly reasonable to expect that this game was just about over. The Devils would find another gear though and quickly prove that it very much wasn’t.
Just over 30 seconds after the fourth Chicago goal, Wood would pull the Devils back in the game with a rocket from the left circle on a nice feed from Pavel Zacha. Then about three minutes into the second, Blake Coleman and Stefan Noesen would combine to set Andy Greene up for a slam dunk on the doorstep to bring the Devils back within one at 4-3. With hardly any game time passing, the Devils cut their deficit from three to one and they were far from done. Another four minutes after the goal to make it 4-3 Hischier would tie it up on the doorstep with the first of his three points on the night. It had been 4-1, and in less than 10 minutes of game time, the Devils had equalized.
The Devils would continue the onslaught after that, with Taylor Hall doing, well, Taylor Hall things with a fantastic move to the front of the net and a backhander through Corey Crawford to take the lead. Still not done, the Devils would make it five straight goals with a Brian Gibbons goal set up by a great Miles Wood pass. It was 6-4 Devils, and nobody knew what was going on but we were certainly enjoying it. A slight damper would be put on a crazy second period though, as Patrick Kane would put back a puck off the end boards to bring Chicago back within one.
The Devils would not be denied on this night, however, and they would quickly answer the Hawks fifth goal with an insurance goal of their own. Wood would take a feed from Jesper Bratt down low and make a slick move to get on his forehand right in front and bury it past Crawford for the seventh New Jersey goal and his third (more on the hat trick below). The Devils would salt it away from there to win 7-5 in one of the wildest Devils games in recent memory.
This would prove to be the Devils’ biggest comeback in a year where they came back quite a bit. The Devils not only clawed back from a three-goal deficit, they did it in a seemingly effortless fashion. The game recap is a delight to watch as the Devils just, well, keep on scoring, so enjoy:
Wood Gets a Hatty
The story of this game, besides the big comeback, was definitely Miles Wood. He was everywhere in this game and showed just how much of a difference-maker he is capable of being. Wood still had his ups and downs throughout the season, but he established himself in this game as a player who can truly wreak havoc when he’s focused and playing his best. His performance on this night in the United Center was arguably the best by any Devil all season. In just 13 minutes of ice time, Wood put up three goals and an assist.
It wasn’t just that he put up the points, though, it was how he did. He had seven shots on nine attempts, he handled the puck well and he scored in different ways. We all know Wood is capable of building up a head of steam and blowing by defenders, but on this night he showed off a strong shot, the ability to effectively battle in front of the net, and an absolutely perfect assist to set up the Gibbons goal on the rush. Wood’s problem in his first season was that he had the speed to create space on the rush, but then often didn’t know what to do with it. On this particular night, he showed the kind of well-rounded game to go along with the speed that could make him a big problem for opponents.
Coming off the disaster that was the 2016-17 season, everyone was pretty cautious about buying into the Devils early on. Yes, they had cleared some more of the chaff off the roster over the summer and now had the first overall pick, but it would take some time to buy in. This game felt like one of those nights where you think “Hey, maybe they have something going here.”
As anyone who had watched the previous half-decade or so of Devils hockey can attest, big scoring outbursts were not exactly this team’s forte. The responses to the tidal wave of Devils goals that came in the 30-minute stretch in the middle of the game were something along these lines:
Still trying to process the Devils scoring 7 goals— Mike Stromberg (@ColdSportsTakes) November 13, 2017
Anything that can be deemed an offensive onslaught is a little bit foreign for Devils fans, particularly in more recent history. The Devils would top these seven goals with an eight-goal demolition of the Golden Knights later in the season, but this night against Chicago was just the third time since 2011 that the Devils had scored seven in a game. For reference, teams scored seven or more 193 times from 2011-12 to 2016-17, an average of about 6.5 times per team, and the Devils did it just twice over that stretch. With the wild comeback against a team like Chicago, perhaps these Devils really were a different team — a more fun and more resilient one.
What do you remember about this particular game? Do you think Miles Wood’s performance was the best by a Devil all season? Do you remember this game convincing you at all that the Devils might be real? Sound off with your thoughts below. Also, again let me know if there is a game you want a rewind done on in the next couple weeks. I have a couple in mind already, but I’m still open to suggestions.