The New Jersey Devils struck quickly in the first period. After a few stoppages, Jesper Bratt found Tomas Tatar all alone in front off a faceoff, and Tatar went to the backhand to put the Devils up 1-0. The Columbus defense looked rather foolish early, leaving Tatar alone on the faceoff.
Mackenzie Blackwood would do Mackenzie Blackwood things, though. Off a point shot, Blackwood let a rebound up for Max Domi to bury. 1-1 less than five minutes in.
After Jack Hughes displayed some offensive zone wizardry, he dumped the puck back to Christian Jaros. Jaros had his shot blocked, and he promptly took a holding penalty to prevent a rush the other way. Up to this point, play was pretty boring on both ends, with neither goalie making very strenuous saves.
Ruff sent out McLeod, Vesey, Siegenthaler, and Severson for the kill. They lost the draw, but a shot from Oliver Bjorkstrand rang around the boards. Hischier and Kuokkanen came on, and Kuokkanen got a clear at the end of their shift.
Jimmy Vesey had a nice takeaway on the forecheck, settling the puck with options in Bastian and Hischier. He played it across to Hischier for the quick shot, but Korpisalo flashed the glove.
P.K. Subban took a blatant interference minor at the Devils’ offensive blue line as play was about to go the other way. McLeod lost this draw as well, but the Devils quickly moved play to the other end. Janne Kuokkanen took a puck to the face in the corner, and left the game after a stoppage with 42 seconds left in the period. McLeod won the next draw, and Hischier dumped it down ice.
At the end of the period, the Devils were caught sleeping and Mackenzie Blackwood had to make three saves in quick succession. The last of these saves was a diving save that denied Bjorkstrand a goal.
Still on the penalty kill, McLeod won the draw and the Devils cleared the puck away a couple times before the penalty expired as the Blue Jackets entered the offensive zone. The Devils iced the puck 1:02 into the period.
The Devils had a few opportunities to score. Nathan Bastian had a couple shots on net, but failed to get much on them. Dawson Mercer had a golden opportunity, but his shot rang off the post. In the first half of this period, the Devils controlled play.
With 10:08 to play, the Devils went to the power play as Nico Hischier drew a tripping call. Lindy Ruff sent out Bastian, Hughes, Hischier, Bratt, and Severson. Bastian had the goal line play to Hughes across the crease, but Hughes was not low enough to receive the pass. The Devils only had a shot from Hischier on the first wave, off a one-timer.
After the power play, Damon Severson prevented a far-side passing play from being completed (and thus saved a goal) with a well-timed tie-up. The Devils just missed a chance for a breakaway with five and a half minutes left in the period, as Jack Hughes waved at a pass in his direction that would have led him to be all alone.
Nico Hischier set Nathan Bastian up in front of the net on a rush play with three and a half minutes to play. Bastian’s backhand was right into Korpisalo’s padding.
After an icing with 30 seconds to play, the Devils worked the puck down the ice and were denied a proper set-up, bringing the game to the second intermission tied at one apiece.
Jack Hughes left a glorious rebound for Tomas Tatar in the early third, but Tatar shot the puck over the net once and then wide a second time. After an icing, Gavrikov went to the box for holding.
Back on the power play, Hischier lost the draw and the Devils recollected in their own end. Hughes and Bratt played it back and forth on the rush, and Hughes dumped in lightly and Bastian hit it back. Hughes slid it across, and Jesper Bratt buried the one-timer! 2-1, Devils.
The Devils controlled much of play after the goal. The Hughes line continued to try to create rush plays, but the Blue Jackets plugged up the middle of the ice to prevent them from completing dangerous passes. The Devils took a tripping penalty with a bit over eleven minutes to play as the Blue Jackets were entering their offensive zone, and the Devils took possession with 10:34 to play. Severson went to the box.
The penalty kill screwed up early, with three Devils cheating for a zone clear. Patrik Laine was all alone for a shot, and Blackwood came up big. Jimmy Vesey went down a minute into the kill after he was high sticked. Boone Jenner went to the box.
Mercer, Kuokkanen, Graves, and Subban took the ice. Graves’ shot went wide. The Blue Jackets took it the other way, and after a tanned shot by Sillinger, Gustav Nyquist took a shot that went off Blackwood and the crossbar.
On the power play, the Devils set up with 40 seconds on it and played back and forth between Severson and Bratt for most of that time. The puck got over to Hischier for a shot, and the Devils scrambled for it before play was stopped as the ref lost sight in the scramble.
Dawson Mercer got a breakaway with seven minutes to play, but his move to the backhand went wide of the net. Right after the play, the Devils were called for too many men on the ice.
On the penalty kill, Damon Severson was found on the rush as the trailer, but his shot went wide of the net. The Devils defended their own end well, and Nico Hischier got a chance that also went wide before he got off the ice. This was a great kill for the Devils.
P.K. Subban had a golden opportunity to extend the lead with under four to play. The puck came out to him with Korpisalo down, but Jake Bean blocked the shot.
The Devils were hemmed in their own zone with under two to play. Blackwood scrambled in his net for a save, and the Devils failed to clear the zone. The Jackets pulled Korpisalo, and Hughes put a lot of pressure up high on Laine. He could not take the puck away, and the Jackets continued to pressure. Jack Hughes got a pass from Ryan Graves and flipped it high, and it went into the empty net! 3-1, Devils. And that would be the final score, as Nico tried to get McLeod a goal - whose final shot would be blocked.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Jackets Cannon for their recap.
Big Game For Mackenzie Blackwood
I have to admit - when I was getting ready to go to The Rock for this game, I was afraid of Mackenzie Blackwood having another stinker of a game on home ice. After the loss to Boston, however, Blackwood was able to limit himself to one flub tonight on the goal by Max Domi. He had a huge diving save at the end of the first in a flurry of chances for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In all, Blackwood made 31 saves on 3.52 expected goals against. He made plenty of high-danger saves, and he was the goalie the Devils needed to get the win tonight. Now, you could easily say that this performance is not coming consistently enough. That is true. However, it would have been all too easy for Blackwood to have another game and have people attribute it to being overworked. For once, I do not feel like Akira Schmid could have played as well. If any other goaltender was in net tonight, the Devils may have very well lost the game. Blackwood might be getting rode into the dirt right now, but wins like tonight are keeping the hopes of a playoff chance alive. Whether that’s an illusion or not, this win was on Blackwood’s shoulders and not the skaters.
Big Game Jack (Again)
Some skaters did come up really big tonight. One of those such players was Jack Hughes, who had his fourth multi-point game in five appearances since the Christmas break. He has four goals and eight assists in his last five games. That brings him to 20 points in 18 games. Jack was the first star tonight. While I think it should have been Blackwood, Hughes was absolutely indispensable to the Devils. He factored into all three goals, after all.
Somehow, I do not think he was really the best forward. That would be Jesper Bratt tonight. He made the perfect feed to Tomas Tatar to set up the first goal of the game, and he had the finish on the power play to give the Devils the lead in the third period. With now 32 points in 34 appearances, Jesper Bratt is having a true breakout year for the Devils. He was cutting through the Columbus defense like a knife tonight, and his slickness brought the Devils the game-winning goal.
Nico Hischier did very well on a makeshift line tonight. In 10:24 with Vesey and Bastian, the Devils outshot the Jackets five to two, and out-attempted them 14-4. The Devils did not really take advantage of them for matchups, with only about four and a half minutes against the Voracek-Roslovic-Bjorkstrand line. This line had a lot going for them on the forecheck. Vesey had a couple takeaways that led to chances for the Devils, and Bastian was also a handful for the Columbus defense.
The lines that suffered at times tonight were the Mercer and McLeod lines. Without Johnsson, Mercer had a tough time with Nolan Foote before Jesper Boqvist took over for him on the wing. Mercer created nothing offensively with Foote and nearly scored when Boqvist was added to the line. Boqvist was, conversely, terrible on the McLeod line. In under two minutes together, they allowed seven shots against and allowed the goal against. I do not really fault them for that - that was on Blackwood.
I think the Devils are going to have a tough time juggling the lineup next game. The McLeod line was absolutely cratered without Nathan Bastian, and that does not bode well for their usage of McLeod as a top-line shutdown guy. Maybe they get Zacha and Sharangovich back from protocol, though - and then Bastian can slot back down with Vesey. But that depends on how the protocol goes.
Special Teams Coming Up Big
Tonight was a night where special teams was the difference. The Devils had a decent first power play and then struck with lightning efficiency on their second chance. The penalty kill, in addition, absolutely shut the door in the late third on a tacky, bogus too many men call. Blackwood was very strong on the first penalty kill, coming up with a few saves - but the Devils allowed absolutely nothing later on in the game. Without that clutch situational play, the game could have gone to overtime or been lost in regulation. It feels good to be able to say that special teams delivered a win instead of writing that missed chances and poor defense cost us the game. Not tonight - tonight the Devils were good in all situations.
What did you think of tonight’s game? Do you think the Devils will make it two in a row on Saturday? How did you feel about Mackenzie Blackwood? Do you think he will go again in Columbus? How do you think the result would have went with Schmid in net? What did you make of the skater performance tonight? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
And whether you followed along in the gamethread, or on Twitter @AATJerseyBlog, thanks for reading. This is Chris - goodnight.