Vitek Vanacek in net for the Devils, Jake Oettinger in net for the Stars. Nikita Okhotiuk out of the lineup, Kevin Bahl back in. No other lineup changes after yesterday’s game against the Predators. The lines remain intact, with Yegor Sharangovich and Fabian Zetterlund with Jack Hughes, and Tomas Tatar, Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer on the third line.
No shots in the first minute, back and forth in the neutral zone. Joe Pavelski just can’t reach the puck as he had a rush chance down the flank. The Stars turn it over to Hischier a couple minutes in but Jesper Bratt fans on the shot. Zetterlund passes one to Sharangovich out in front, but he can’t handle it under pressure. The first shot comes five minutes in, Oettinger blockering away a floater from the blueline. Heiskanen puts one on from the left circle, easily saved by Vanacek, before Jani Hakinpaa forces a good glove save. Nothing significant to report before the first TV timeout. Faceoffs 7-1 Dallas so far, ominously.
Kevin Bahl does a good job slowing down Denis Gurianov as he came in on a quick rush. Bahl forced him towards the boards with good stick work and took the chance away. After last night’s error-prone effort, the Devils have been a lot better with their puck management so far, clearly trying to play a more direct style. After a scramble in front, the puck goes around the net and Zetterlund somehow forces it up into the air, it bounces on the top of Dallas net and out in front, before Hughes just couldn’t get it in, wacking at it as it was bouncing. Going the other way, Ty Dellandrea put a puck out in front, Erik Haula was in the blue paint and it bounced off him as he slipped into Vanacek and the puck goes into the net, as the Stars get a lucky break. 1-0 Dallas.
After Dallas has some pressure, putting some pucks on net from the blueline, Hischier plays a nifty sideways pass to Ondrej Palat who has a partial break. Under pressure from the defenseman he stickhandles and backhands one which Oettinger fights off. Hakinpaa gets a bouncing puck to him in the high slot, he spins and fires one which Vanacek blockers away. The first penalty of the game comes on Miles Wood who trips Jamie Benn. Pretty obvious one there. First look for the strong Dallas powerplay. Haula wins the draw and the Devils get the clear, but the Stars get it back in quickly. Mercer has a good block on Hesikanen. Good penalty kill from the Devils as the Stars first unit can’t get anything going. Just one shot on the powerplay as Wood comes out of the box. However, Erik Haula gets called for hooking just 20 seconds after the first penalty ends. Devils back to the kill.
Fantastic save from Vanacek on Robertson, as he dives forward denying Robertson an empty net (replays show that he hit the post, but a great effort from Vitek to put him off). Ryan Graves then trips Joe Pavelski, and the Stars get 90 seconds at the 5-on-3. The Stars take their timeout, wanting to keep their first unit fresh. Roope Hintz puts one in on the one-timer as the Stars win the draw. 2-0, and the stars still have 1:50 on the Graves penalty. Not sure what has hit us here, really. The Devils have played well defensively, but an unlucky bounce, a couple consecutive penalties and the Devils are suddenly in a massive hole.
The refs feel sorry for the Devils, sending Marchment to the box on a very soft call. Reprive for the Devils. 4-on-4. Hamilton gives it away but Severson makes a great play knocking the puck down in mid-air to deny the Stars rush. A chance goes each way with Hughes denied by Oettinger. Roope Hintz comes down the left side with ten seconds to go, and Vanacek makes a relatively simple glove save. First period winds down. Despite the scoreline, I consider that a solid effort from the Devils. 13-5 shots for Dallas, but that comes mainly from the powerplays.
Almost a perfect start to the second for the Devils, as Hamilton gets a good look in the slot, just forced away by Oettinger. Jack Hughes gets a partial breakaway off a great pass from Hamilton, and Jack inevitably puts it in, five-hole on Oettinger. Great start for New Jersey. 2-1.
Jack Hughes: certified hockey superSTAR. pic.twitter.com/ZdgfC7EMlA— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 28, 2023
Vanacek makes a good save on Robertson. The Stars ice the puck. Gurianov comes in tight on Vanacek, fed by Kiviranta, and Vanacek comes out to make the save. Vitek keeping the Devils within one, preventing the Stars from bouncing back after conceding. Wood looks for Bastian in front but Heiskanen turns it away. But then Miles Wood scores as the Devils come in on a 3-on-2, getting the puck from Bastian and sending Oettinger the wrong way. Suddenly it’s all tied up. 2-2.
Hughes turns one over, but the Devils get it out. Hughes grimaces on the bench, bent over, I didn’t see what happened but he looks in pain. Hopefully he’s ok. Heiskanen fans on a one-timer. Hughes is still on the bench, but looks determined to continue. The puck just trickles past Vanacek’s post, as Hamilton takes a great penalty hooking Seguin, who was there to poke it home. Big kill this for the Devils. McLeod with a great stick poking it away from Hesikanen. Vanacek then with a save on Robertson from the right circle (Vanacek’s left). He then gloves one from the point. Quick start to this penalty for Dallas. Smith draws a trip from Pavelski. Smith stayed down for a second, as if anticipating the call. As nothing happened he got up, but the call did come. 4-on-4 now. Graves skates around the Dallas net, gets it to Hughes who lofts it across the ice to Hischier who is denied by Oettinger on a great look. The Stars get a breakaway, as Pavelski comes out of the box with the puck on his stick. He waits and waits, Vanacek stays with him and makes the paddle save. Remember that one. Oettinger then denies the BMW line. High paced, end-to-end stuff. Shots are heavily in favour of Dallas, but I honestly feel that this game is evenly matched right now. More a consequence of Dallas being a great offensive team than, like against Nashville, negligent defense from the Devils.
Vanacek with another marvellous save on captain Jamie Benn, who spins through the crease and tries to slide it in on the far post, but Vanacek has his pad there. And then I have no clue how the Stars don’t score, as it is lying on the goal line behind Vanacek. A nice break for the Devils as Dellandrea skates through the crease and clips Vanacek, getting called for goaltender interference. The first full powerplay opportunity for the Devils. Hischier is denied by Oettinger. Dallas get a couple clears. 50 seconds left, or so, second unit out there, Hughes and Hischier double shifted. Mercer stopped on two great looks. Decent powerplay from the Devils, going a long way to even out the chance disparity. A good play from Mercer controls the puck in the neutral zone, taking it into the offensive zone and finding Haula for a good backhand look. Hughes dances around, spins one on, saved well. Faksa almost scores with ten seconds to go, but it wouldn’t happen for him.
Zetterlund just keeps the puck in the zone, but his shot is blocked over. Four minutes in, not much happening. Large contrast to the hectic second. Sharangovich tips one just high off a Smith shot. Hughes dangles around in the slot, couldn’t make it go. McLeod then tips one wide as the Devils had a couple men in front. Siegenthaler has a great defenseive sequence on Gurianov who was coming in with speed. A rare turnover from the Devils, Severson losing it behind the net, but Vanacek bails him out. Zetterlund almost skates through the Dallas defense, but has it poked away at the very last opportunity. Almost no whistles so far, already eight minutes in. Gurianov has another great look, and the man Vitek Vanacek stones him again. The net comes off for the first whistle in almost six minutes. Hintz has a look in tight, Vanacek parries. TV timeout, eleven to go.
Bahl has a shot saved. He has looked solid back in tonight, not making any noticable mistakes. Dallas do seem the more likely to score right now, as they have more of the pressure. No massive chances though. Sharangovich is tied up in front as Oettinger sprawls. Good sequence for Severson, poking the puck and lofting it in for a streaking Wood. As Hamilton loses it under pressure, Robertson backhands it out front, it bounces off Pavelski’s skate and trickles just wide. Tatar blasts one, denied by Oettinger high. 6:12 to go.
Marchment backhands it wide as he steals it from Hughes. The puck goes through the slot and Severson just can’t get his stick on it. Bratt sends it into Oettinger’s chest. 4:31 left. The Stars cycle it around, a shot is blocked and Bratt is in on the flank, but a defenseman gets back, and Bratt can only send it on from a poor angle. They show a graphic of 5 career game-winning goals for Palat. Hoping for 6 tonight. Or a GWG from any Devil, frankly. Hamilton spins and puts one on from the right circle, saved by Oettinger. Heiskanen loses it behind his net, but the Devils can’t capitalise as Zetterlund sends it out in front to nobody. Regulation ends, this one going to overtime.
The Devils are 6-3 in overtime, the Stars 2-7. The Devils start with Hamilton, Haula, Hughes, the Stars go with Heiskanen, Seguin, Benn. Haula beats Seguin on the draw and heads to the bench. Hamilton sends it long for Bratt, who passes it over to Hughes who puts it home, with a slight deflection off Seguin’s stick. Devils win! The grin on Jack’s face says it all. The Devils go into the break on a massive high. Vanacek has won 9 in a row.
Deep in the Hart of Texas... Jack calls game. pic.twitter.com/5XSXcmNO9r— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 28, 2023
Honestly? My favourite win of the season.
After last night’s shambles, to come out against the best team in the West — a legitimate Stanley Cup contender with one of the best goalies in the leauge, a Hart-tropy candidate, great depth, and fantastic defensemen on each pairing — who had lost their previous game and were desperate to not lose back-to-back before their break, to come out and get two unlucky bounces to go down by two, only to come back and win in overtime, showing character, determination and mentality... for my money, no other win comes close. Not only because it is such a stark contrast to the horror-show in Nashville, but because it is such a stark contrast to the Devils teams we have suffered through for the last decade. There is no way we win this one in any of those previous seasons. Instead, we fold and lose by five plus. Vitek Vanacek was unbelievable, and what a difference legitimate goaltending makes for a team. Jack Hughes is a top-five player in the world. I honestly can’t find a poor performance from anyone on the team, they showed such deliberate effort to avoid sloppy puck-play.
Dallas are a great team. They out-shot the Devils, they out-chanced the Devils, and Vanacek stood on his head. What makes me so proud of this Devils performance is that the Stars created the offense themselves: it wasn’t given to them. And the Devils beat them on the scoreboard anyway. To come back despite finding themselves in a massive hole — not of their own doing — to tie it up, to take it to overtime and to win it there: what a feeling!
This being the final game of the first half of the season for the Devils, I think it is appropriate to just reflect upon how far this team has come. They are going to make the playoffs, and they will be dangerous when they get there. Last year we were talking about Shane Wright and Juraj Slafkovsky, wondering where we would be drafting. Now, we are only looking upwards. Let’s go Devils!
I imagine you are probably not quite as ecstatic as I am with this win, but surely you are proud of the boys? What did you think of the overall effort? Who stood out to you? What are your thoughts on this, the first half of a dream-scenario Devils season? Let me know in the comments, and as always, thank you for reading.