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Devils Pull Off Must-Win 4-3 Overtime Comeback Over Columbus Off Heroic Efforts from Dawson, Luke, and Timo

It was a back-and-forth mess, but the Devils just pulled away with it.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New Jersey Devils
Timo Time.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

First Period

The New Jersey Devils had the first scoring chance of the day when Luke Hughes took the puck down by the corner of the offensive zone. He sent the puck across for a Alex Holtz one-timer, but Holtz fell backwards as he tried to get the shot off. The fourth line, led on the rush by Brendan Smith, had some good zone time with the puck in scoring areas, but never got the puck on goal. The McLeod line followed their effort well, as McLeod picked off an exit pass and sent it down low for Timo Meier. Meier tried to snipe from a sharp angle with two pass options in Mercer and McLeod, but Elvis Merzlikins made the glove save.

Then Vitek Vanecek kicked out the biggest, easiest rebound in NHL history, kicking the puck out on a low shot all the way to the far faceoff dot, where it was put back into the corner by Jake Bean. 1-0, Columbus Blue Jackets. Three shots, one goal.

Ondrej Palat followed that up by taking a high sticking penalty on the forecheck, preventing Nico Hischier from creating a scoring chance. On the penalty kill, Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer momentarily pushed the Jackets back to their own end, and John Marino cleared the puck after a wide shot upon Columbus’ re-entry. Jonas Siegenthaler later dumped back their failed transition through the neutral zone. Then, the Jackets’ second power play unit came strong with three hard shots on Vitek, who read a one-timer and faced two more good shots.

As the penalty expired, Dawson Mercer was racing the puck through the neutral zone. He turned up at the faceoff dots and let Erik Haula take the puck. Haula drove the net and sent it across for Ondrej Palat roofed it on Merzlikins! 1-1.

The Toffoli-Hughes-Bratt line had a good showing of puck movement, as they and the Siegenthaler-Nemec pairing shot from all areas of the perimeter of the zone in a lengthy offensive zone shift, which ended with the most dangerous chance in a sharp-angle shot on a loose puck from Jack Hughes. However, Merzlikins made the glove save. On the other end, Jake Bean rang a shot off the iron a couple minutes later.

Second Period

It looked like Dawson Mercer was going to get the lead for the Devils three minutes into the period, when a play by Meier and McLeod led to the puck being in the blue paint for a trailing Mercer. However, Merzlikins somehow made a fantastic kick save to keep the game tied. Then, Jesper Bratt made a nasty move to beat a defender to set up Jack Hughes in front, but the puck still stayed out. Toffoli followed up with a smack at the open goal, but he shot it off Erik Gudbranson’s skates.

After a lengthy run of offensive time for the Jackets, including the referees turning a blind eye to a couple trips and slashes from Columbus, Justin Danforth tipped a David Jiricek shot after Colin Miller let him cut loose and go across the net. 2-1, Blue Jackets. Kevin Bahl had been out for nearly a couple minutes prior to the goal, and Miller was not ready to cover for him after Bahl was left in the corner. Shortly after the goal, Vitek made a great glove save on Cole Sillinger to keep it a one-goal game.

On a rush following a TV timeout, Ondrej Palat flubbed a shot and tried to get back to the loose puck. Zach Werenski clipped with Palat as he was taking the puck away, and play was blown dead as he needed to be helped off the ice.

The Devils had no shortage of scoring chances in the following minutes, and they finally got a power play when Cole Sillinger was called for interference by the benches with three and a half minutes left in the period. Luke Hughes started the unit off with a point shot that just went wide. The Jackets clapped it around and out of the zone. The Devils looked terrible for the next minute of the power play, and Luke Hughes just barely had enough in him to disrupt Danforth on a shorthanded rush, leaving the puck for Jake Bean — but Vitek made the point-blank stop.

Of course, Michael McLeod would take a high-sticking call for getting his blade in Damon Severson’s face as the final seconds of the period were ticking down. The Devils had 1:57 to kill in the third period after Erik Haula tied up the final draw.

Third Period

Erik Haula won the opening draw of the period, and the Jackets had to take the puck up from their own end to get into the offensive zone. Erik Haula took a high stick from Yegor Chinakov, and the Jackets didn’t touch the puck for awhile after a clearance, giving the Devils 1:04 of 4v4 time before they would get a power play.

Timo Meier got a nice drop pass from Ondrej Palat on the rush at four-on-four, and Merzlikins made a glove save. The Devils had a couple chances on their power play, but Jack Hughes shot the puck wide and a shot from Nico Hischier was blocked.

Then the Blue Jackets got a gift of a power play when Luke Hughes’ stick got caught in Yegor Chinakov’s legs when Chinakov was finishing his check on Hughes. Fortunately, the Devils were able to work the puck down a couple times, and Vitek Vanecek made a huge save on a Chinakov one-timer, and he went down after taking the shot high. Remarkably, and in a terrible showing from the officiating crew, play was not blown dead after the Devils cleared the zone, nearly giving the Jackets a free goal before the whistle was blown for an apparent offsides as the Jackets were taking the offensive zone again.

After a lengthy stoppage, Vitek elected to stay on the ice, sending the trainers back to the bench. The Devils rallied on the penalty kill, running the clock in the corner after Brendan Smith blocked a shot and had to take Erik Haula’s stick. Smith blocked another shot with his knee and cleared the puck one last time to kill the penalty.

Nico Hischier drew a tripping call with 6:48 left to play in the period, after a stretch of several minutes of bad Devils hockey. Nico Hischier won the draw, but Jesper Bratt missed the puck, leading the Deivls to try and failed to enter the zone. Vitek Vanecek came out of his crease to avert a breakaway, passing to Luke Hughes, who sent it up ahead to Jack. Jack was impeded from behind, and was stuffed by the bad. The Devils cycled far too much on the power play, only getting three shots in out of a truckload of slow seam passes.

Then, Dawson Mercer struck! With a clean one-timer coming from a beautiful pass from the wall, off the stick of Simon Nemec, he beat Merzlikins in the corner! 2-2 game with just over four minutes to play. Ondrej Palat came up big with physicality leading to a turnover on the play.

After the goal, Vitek Vanecek made another huge save on a shot from in tight. Nico Hischier went to the bench holding his face, having possibly taken a high stick. After a TV timeout, the Blue Jackets won a draw against the McLeod line, and their cycle did not lead to a shot. The Devils forced Merzlikins to freeze for a draw when a dump in came oddly towards him.

Jonas Siegenthaler got beat on the rush by Danforth, with two other Devils back with him. The puck came out to no-man’s land in the high slot, and Jake Bean shot it off the pad. Then Siegenthaler failed to make a stop again when he got the puck in the neutral zone and fanned a pass. Chinakov took it away, and tucked it in on Vanecek. 3-2.

Jack Hughes came on for the six-on-five situation in the final 100 seconds of the game. He took it back behind the Devils’ net and sprung his brother by dropping the puck for him in the defensive zone as Luke came ripping around the net at full speed. Luke split all five Blue Jackets and sniped past Merzlikins on a Niedermayer-esque goal! Tie game!

Kevin Bahl won a race to secure an icing with 43 seconds left, giving the Devils an offensive zone draw — but McLeod could not win it. The Blue Jackets threw a few wide shots on goal, and the gmae went to OT after Columbus wasted the final 15 seconds in their own end.

Overtime

Play was slow early on, and Jack Hughes had a defensive zone takeaway leading to a shot for him on the other end, which was frozen. Both teams had trouble getting things going in overtime, but the Devils would get the big break. Off a fanned shot, Timo Meier took the puck away in the defensive zone slot and went off to the races. He dusted every other skater on the ice, checking his shoulder and then making a slick move out and back to the slot for a low shot...which beat Merzlikins through the five hole! And with that, the Devils took the win, 4-3.

The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats

Notes on Vitek and Jonas

I’m not going to blame Vitek Vanecek at all for the third period goal that nearly gave the Devils another home loss. Vitek stopped 26 of 29 shots tonight on 3.06 expected goals against. Vitek stopped all 20 medium and low-danger shots. Had Colin Miller not lost his man, and had Jonas Siegenthaler not given the puck right to Chinakov in the late third period, Vanecek only would have had the issue of his big rebound goal. I think Vitek was trying to be ahead of the play a bit — especially on passes across — and he came up huge when he averted a breakaway by coming far out of his crease to play the puck. Ultimately, this was not the motionless and ineffective Vitek Vanecek of the early season. This was a much more athletic performance from him, and he made enough big stops to get the Devils the win.

Regarding Siegenthaler’s turnover, this falls into the category of “cannot ever happen.” Taking a penalty would have been tough late in the third, but it beats letting Chinakov have a clear path to the net to create a icestorm in Vanecek’s face as he went for a five-hole goal. But the turnover never should have happened in the first place. It was the late third period against a bad team, and Jonas Siegenthaler has been the first-pairing defenseman for quite awhile now. The Devils need to be able to trust their shutdown top pairing defenseman.

Cardiac Check

If you are a Devils fan and you have been watching each and every game that you can, you might want to take up running as a hobby if you haven’t already. Maybe biking would be a good choice — anything to work the heart so it’s not jumping out of your chest with the Devils down a goal or tied in a back-and-forth fest. But really, you have to give Dawson, Luke, and Timo the tip of the hat (or helmet) tonight. In a game where it looked like the Devils were allergic to taking a clean shot off a pass, Dawson Mercer just ripped a perfect one-timer up high. Right on the heels of Jonas Siegenthaler’s near-fatal turnover, Luke Hughes gives what I assume will end up being the best defenseman goal of the Devils’ season. And with both team collapsing down in overtime, as the Jackets looked like they had a chance to win it, it was Timo Meier that came away with the puck and skated faster than I have seen him skate with the puck all year. He took it just as far as Luke Hughes did — maybe even a bit further — for his end-to-end breakaway overtime game-winner.

That’s what we have all these goal scorers and playmakers for. You can think to yourself that this isn’t the Devils’ night, that they’re just going to lose a one-goal game, and that they don’t have it. But the New Jersey Devils simply have too much scoring talent to be kept quiet when they get the majority of scoring chances. Even when it’s not one of our top centers doing the saving, they have so many guys that can change the game in with a flick of the wrist. Yes, they need to score first in the new year with more consistency. But sometimes, it feels like it’s never too late for a comeback.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? How did you feel about Vitek? What did you think of the line mixing? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.