With the announcement of the 2021 schedule for our New Jersey Devils coming out yesterday, I started to get excited for the return of Devils’ Hockey, as I'm sure many of you did. In said excitement, I began to wonder when it last was, that I felt a rush from watching my favorite team celebrate a win on the ice. It’s been nine long months since the NHL was forced to halt play; it took me a moment to think back,
Then I remembered that our final game prior to the season stoppage (on March 10th, which I had to look up) was a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So I had to dig back just a few more days to find the team’s last win of 2020; the last great Devils moment of the 2019-20 season. And boy, was it a fun game to look back on.
The Throwback: New Jersey Devils @ Our Hated Rivals
March 7, 2020; a Saturday evening game played in New York city with two teams moving in arguably opposite directions. The Rangers were on the outside looking in, but still within striking range of the postseason if they won games and got a little help along the way. The Devils, meanwhile, were falling further in the Eastern Conference standings, thanks in part to a defense group practically being held together by scotch tape at this point. On paper, the only thing worth looking forward to was a duel between the two young goalies: MacKenzie Blackwood and Igor Shesterkin.
An Inauspicious Start
The Devils did not look good at the start of this game, but thankfully they would only pay the price of poor play twice in the opening period. OHR would strike first thanks to a turnover off a broken Fredrik Claesson stick; play would go the other way, the defense would break down, and the puck wound up behind Blackwood courtesy of Filip Chytil. Kyle Palmieri would tie the game a minute later from a VERY sharp angle, thanks to some good puck movement by Damon Severson and Dakota Mermis. However, they would fall behind a goal again within roughly another minute, as Mika Zibanejad cashed in thanks to a turnover at the blue line that left P.K. Subban and Connor Carrick in an odd man situation. While the shots and run of play were somewhat even, the Devils left the first period trailing due to mistakes they had made.
The Best Period of the Night...And Maybe the Season
And then the wheels just COMPLETELY fell of the Rangers’ bus in the second period. Everything began to go right for the Devils in the middle frame; don’t remember? Don’t believe me? Trust me, as when you see who two of the goal scorers were, you’ll find out just how well the stars aligned for Jersey’s Team that night.
Palmieri would strike again, needing only 44 seconds to do so. A point shot from Mermis, would see Miles Wood club a rebound on net, followed up by a second rebound attempt by Palms going behind Shesterkin. The Devils would grab their first lead of the night 52 seconds later, as Freddy freaking Claesson, who had played some bad games in red and black to this point, would be the beneficiary of a nifty Nikita Gusev pass on an odd man rush. To his credit, Claesson put a laser over the glove of Shesterkin, it was at this point that the Devils wouldn’t look back against their biggest rivals.
The Rangers, now playing from behind, began to put more shots up than the Devils, but their efforts were fruitless. Adam Fox would take the Rangers only penalty of the night over 14 minutes into the period, and Travis Zajac, in game 990, would make them pay. Nico Hischier would hit Zajac in the middle of the ice, and Travis’ deflection would find its way into the net for a 4-2 lead.
Now for insult to injury:
On the next shift, the Devils would get the puck in deep. John Hayden, known more for his toughness than his finesse, would check the Rangers player who went in to retrieve the puck. Damon Severson would collect the biscuit in the offensive zone, and put it on net just to keep it in. Hayden, crossing in front would see the puck go off his body, and through a combination of luck, hard work and probably a miracle, he would collect his third of the season as the Devils went up 5-2. That’s it, game over.
Well, More or Less...
Okay, so there were three more goals in this game. The first would be Greg McKegg scoring on a deflection thanks to some poor defending; alas Severson/Mermis giveth and Severson/Mermis taketh away. The game truly appeared over after a Travis Zajac empty netter for a 6-3 lead; unfortunately, the next play saw Tony DeAngelo get a tally off of yet another deflection in this game. The 6-4 final would stand, as would the .875 save percentage for Blackwood, on a night where he deserved much better, at least statistically. I will say that he and his teammates were probably happier with a W in a rivalry game.
In terms of historical impact, this game itself will probably have very little; the 2019-20 season will probably be talked about for years, due to the way that it was paused and eventually ended, but this game? No more than footnote in the Devils/Rangers rivalry.
So why did I bother remembering/reliving it?
For starters, it was the last feel good moment for this team for 2020; a win is a win, and this is the final one that the Devils have had, and will have until 2021 gets underway. Secondly, and maybe more importantly in terms of the rivalry, any game where we pummel OHR is a great one, but one where we actively hurt their playoff chances (until the NHL came up with their “restart tournament” idea) is an even better feeling. For now, we can remember and savor this sweet victory until the new campaign begins.
What are your thoughts on the Devils’ final win of 2020; is this a game you remember well? Do you believe it will have any lasting memory, for either team and/or the rivalry? Will you personally look back on it fondly? Anything you remember from this game that I happened to leave out? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!