Dawson Mercer had a chance at the end of the top line’s first shift of the game to get his 28th goal of the season — to put the New Jersey Devils up one over the Washington Capitals — but he just barely got stopped by Darcy Keumper. Nico Hischier took a loose puck away from Alex Ovechkin and sprung Mercer ahead, who had a clean breakaway. Mercer went for a high backhand, but was denied.
After Damon Severson made a fool of himself handling the puck on the blueline, Jonas Siegenthaler made a great play on the rush the other way to avert a shot from even being taken. Severson then joined the counterattack and threaded a perfect pass through the slot to Hischier, who tried to pass it back to Mercer for an open net goal — but him and Tatar could not get shots through traffic. Shortly after, the Devils went down as Brendan Smith went diving for a block on the rush, but did not stop the shot from Joe Snively beating Blackwood on the far-side. 1-0.
And then, just a couple minutes later, Rasmus Sandin expanded their lead as he cut down the high slot to pick up a pass from the boards — and he beat Blackwood too. 2-0, Capitals, just six minutes into the game.
After Jack Hughes had an excellent shift in the offensive end, he made a very boneheaded pass across the defensive zone when going back to help the breakout. He passed it right to Craig Smith, who beat Blackwood high with ease. 3-0.
After a period of many chances for each side, as defense became optional, Erik Haula absolutely blasted a slap shot above the shoulder of Darcy Keumper, pulling the Devils to within two goals. On the play, Luke Hughes got his first NHL assist for passing the puck ahead to Yegor Sharangovich in the neutral zone. 3-1.
Haula pic.twitter.com/GlkM3WtqFq— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 13, 2023
Mackenzie Blackwood quickly gave up his fourth of the night, as the Devils defense let Tom Wilson get a couple whacks at the puck around the crease after a shot by Nick Jensen. Wilson scored, and Akira Schmid came into the game thereafter. 4-1.
I don't know how the Devils didn't score a couple minutes later. Kevin Bahl had Keumper coming out of position as he cut across, down low — but he shot too early and banked it off the pad. Bratt had an empty net, couldn't get it to go — and then Jack Hughes was blocked by the Capitals clogging the crease area.
Hughes was later on robbed by Darcy Keumper's glove hand when Bratt drew a defender to him low and created space for Hughes to stickhandle with space — but his backhand was stopped. Hughes looked pretty frustrated at this point, having a rough defensive night and getting very close on offense without scoring.
Tomas Tatar took the first penalty of the game when he was called for tripping as he was going for a takeaway a standstill by the boards in the defensive zone. He did not like the call, but the Devils went to the penalty kill. The Smith-Siegenthaler PK pairing fared rather well, seeing the puck cleared down twice. Bahl and Severson followed them up, and Severson blocked a layer shot down before Lazar shattered his stick blocking one last point shot away. The Capitals kept them hemmed in with play back at five-on-five. At one point, Rasmus Sandin lost his stick, and Curtis Lazar picked it up — and Sandin pulled Lazar backwards onto the ice, leading to a penalty call and a fight between Lazar and Sandin.
At even strength, still, after the penalties were sorted out, the Devils had another rush chance, but Keumper made another save with the pad on a Sharangovich shot and rebound. Later, Dougie Hamilton, who was skating backwards into a backhand shot wide of goal, took a big hit that had him hurting on the ice. Hamilton took awhile to get up, but stayed on the bench.
With Nico Hischier getting a takeaway along the boards, the Capitals started to feel the pressure of the forecheck and shot it over the glass when they got it back. The Devils went to the power play, and Hamilton got their first shot on a one-timer at the end of the first minute. With the second unit on, the Devils moved it around well up high. Severson went to Mercer on the wall, who got it through Wilson's lane to Tomas Tatar. Tatar's one-timer was tipped past Keumper by Miles Wood! 4-2, with over a minute to play in the period.
Miles gets the boys within 2! pic.twitter.com/AgNF26b5ll— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
After a couple minutes of offensive zone shifts, Erik Haula was being hooked from behind by John Carlson on a breakaway. This ultimately led to Keumper playing himself out of the shot's path, as it slid into the net as Haula couldn't keep the puck through the hook. 4-3, Devils!
Haulalujah! We’re down by just one. pic.twitter.com/2BfQyoRisU— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
Some time later, Jesper Boqvist was clearly going to be first to a puck behind the Washington net on a long pass — but the play was blown dead for icing. Lindy Ruff was in disbelief, and the Devils got a neutral zone faceoff out of it. Still, I would have rather seen the Devils get the puck in open space behind the net. Timo Meier later uncorked a shot on the rush, but it was blocked high.
After Luke Hughes took Tom Wilson down on an inside rush to the net, Hughes got off for Smith in transition — and Smith let up a horrendous giveaway leading to a shot from Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the slot, but it thankfully hit the post. The Devils kept pressing, and Damon Severson set up a one-timer for Dougie Hamilton with a soft pass from the boards. Dougie rifled it! 4-4, tie game!
I scored! pic.twitter.com/3awz20KYYm— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
The Devils played fast and open in the minutes following. Brendan Smith had a chance for the sharpest of sharp-angle goals into an open net, but passed through the slot to Jack Hughes, who also missed the net. Luke Hughes continued to play with fancy edges high in the offensive zone, and showed his speed going back for pucks in the defensive zone.
Akira Schmid made a gutsy pass with his glove with traffic around, creating a rush chance for Timo Meier the other way. After Dougie got the puck and threaded it through, Sharangovich was robbed on the rebound as he just got his stick tied up as he tried to shoot it. The Hughes line took a bit too long moving the puck as time wound down in their last shift, but they secured the point with some easy offensive zone time.
Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton started overtime for the Devils. Nico lost the draw, and Jack Hughes pressured John Carlson on the breakout. Hamilton sealed him off with a hit, and Jack Hughes was robbed on a between the legs shot on the counterattack!
Dawson Mercer, Luke Hughes, and Jesper Bratt took the ice next. Luke Hughes took a bad pass off Ovechkin’s stick. Hughes later had a pass picked by Ovechkin, but Hughes forced him to the boards. The Capitals came hard after a line change, but Schmid made multiple big saves. Kuznetsov had a backhand robbed by Schmid. Carlson shot high on the rush, and the puck was frozen on top of the net.
The top three-on-three line came back to the ice. Hughes circled and hit the post. Nico Hischier baited Rasmus Sandin into chasing him through the zones and taking a hooking call — and the Devils went to a power play for the final 1:15. Lindy Ruff called timeout.
Hischier, Jack Hughes, Bratt, and Hamilton took the ice. Dougie Hamilton was called for “tripping” Nick Jensen off the draw, as Jensen went skipping by after clearing the puck. It looked like a dive to me. Play went to three-on-three. Luke Hughes joined Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes on the ice. Luke Hughes took the puck into the zone with a smooth deke and cut down the middle into a wrist shot, pulling Keumper out of position on the hard, low shot. He got his own rebound, and scored on a wraparound! 5-4 Devils win!
First NHL goal ✅— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
Overtime winner ✅
Secures the franchise record for wins/points ✅
THAT'S OUR BOY. THAT'S OUR STAR. pic.twitter.com/Zd9uJSVUCO
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
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Japers’ Rink. Their new site looks pretty clean.
Luke Hughes Should Be in the Game 1 Lineup
There were a couple big reasons I never felt like the Devils were going to mail in tonight’s game. Sure, they got off to a bad start and it would have been easy to punt it in the final game of the regular season. However, if there’s something for sure, it’s that the Hughes brothers hate losing. They absolutely revile it. The impact of just one of them has been apparent during the waning moments of games that the Devils find themselves back. But two Hughes brothers? They will play all out until it’s actually impossible to score enough goals to win the game.
.@BryceSalvador on what he is seeing out of defenseman Luke Hughes. Great stuff from Sal. pic.twitter.com/Verfvmq7aD— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) April 14, 2023
Sure, Jack Hughes found himself a bit snakebitten. But he was trying to score each moment he had the puck in the offensive zone, and the Devils were able to get past his defensive mistake. On the other hand, I did not notice Luke Hughes make any defensive mistakes tonight. Aside from a bad pass to Ovechkin in overtime, I did not have a problem with him. People said he couldn’t be in the playoff lineup because he’s not ready to play NHL defense. It’s a speed adjustment — but the problem with this is Luke Hughes is faster than just about everyone else on the ice. He played 21:13 tonight: second behind only Dougie Hamilton. When you can play that much, and do this, you should be in the playoff lineup:
What is it the people say these days?— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
Screaming. Crying. Throwing up. pic.twitter.com/6wYczwYw2X
The comparable cases people have pointed to have been Cale Makar and Charlie McAvoy, who made impacts for their teams stepping right into playoff action. Why not Luke? If he can help this team make plays and score goals without being out of place defensively, then he should be in the lineup.
Akira Schmid Should Be the Playoff Backup
Speaking of those who should be seeing the ice in the playoffs, tonight was a perfect summation to the Devils’ goaltending situation. Mackenzie Blackwood got the start, and I saw a lot of fans online complaining about playing the backup with the potential division steal on the line. Blackwood played himself to the bench, regardless, with four goals on 11 shots. Were some tough to stop? Yes, but he should have stopped more than seven shots.
Akira Schmid, called up to be Blackwood’s backup tonight — as the team did not want Vanecek to play — stopped 20 of 20 shots. Schmid shut the door against 1.93 expected goals against. Blackwood couldn’t make a tough stop on just 1.14 expected goals against. So really, Schmid did not get the favor of that much greater defensive play by the Devils, yet he kept them in it even when it seemed like Washington was getting the better run of play. Blackwood is simply not suitable for playoff games right now. If he had a stronger season, I wouldn’t care if he was backing up or not. But it’s not like he’s been able to bail the Devils out like Schmid has at times.
Vitek Vanecek is the starting goalie. The other guy you go into the postseason with needs to be able to come off the bench and get things under control.— CJ Turtoro (@CJTDevil) April 14, 2023
Akira Schmid has stopped 51/53 shots in 4 relief appearances this season.
Blackwood has stopped 10/13.
Who you want? pic.twitter.com/TOur80h07t
The Greatest Turnaround in NHL History
The previous record for the largest team point swing in NHL history was +47 points, but the Devils broke clear of that record with tonight’s win, which brought them to a +49 swing compared to last season. At 52-22-8 — 112 points — the team also set franchise records for wins and points. It was really fitting to see this end with a comeback win, as the comeback was the team’s bread and butter throughout the season. This was the first time in a long time that an opposition opening goal didn’t feel like a death sentence. Tonight, the Devils came from three back to take down the aged former contending Caps: a team that gave the Devils fits over the last 10 years. It’s a new day, and the Devils have the edge a million times over now.
LUKEY BOY! pic.twitter.com/qvtbcx64ve— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
With the game-winning goal, Nico Hischier got his 80th point of the season in his 81st game played. He was buzzing all throughout the third period. Jesper Bratt got an assist on Haula’s second goal to match his last-season’s total of 73 points. Damon Severson’s 33rd point of the year came on Dougie Hamilton’s 22nd goal and 74th point. Considering Severson’s start to the season, I was worried he wouldn’t even get to 30. Erik Haula, who was so snakebitten for the first 50 or so games, scored two goals to get to 41 points on the year. Dawson Mercer got his 56th point with his assist in his second full 82-game season: a 14-point increase in his second year. Seeing the growth from this team, both fixing the problems of last year and working through issues during the middle of the season, was incredibly joyful to watch.
“Your first goal, you never forget it. With Jacky’s assist, it was pretty cool.”— x - New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 14, 2023
L Hughes⤵️#Sponsored | @Genucel pic.twitter.com/dK528KFth1
The Playoffs and Your Thoughts
We now move on to the New York Rangers. We are through 82 games, and the team is stronger than it was Game 1. Compared to previous years, this has been a season of smooth sailing — I haven’t worried about a playoff spot since halfway through the big win streak. But now it’s a real battle with the Rangers. For those in the room who have been through the playoffs, they know it is time to get serious.
Personally, I’m not sure how stressed to be about the playoffs. It’s been a long time since the Devils were actually expected to take a series — this is not an underdog situation like 2017-18 where I was just happy to see them there. This is a team that can win 16 playoff games if things go right. There are things the team needs to clean up in Round One — I don’t want to see any passes to the wrong team or blown tires on the blueline. I want to see the perfect structure we saw during the team’s best stretches of the year. I want to see shutdown defense from our shutdown defensemen. I want to see highlight reel plays from the playmakers. But this can all end in a flash.
Who would have thought Lindy Ruff would lead the Devils to this? It was beyond difficult to find a Ruff supporter early this year. And here we are — a playoff team with expectations — a franchise-record, NHL-record setting team with fresh offensive talent fans haven’t seen in a generation. I don’t know what else I could ask for.
And what do you all think of that? What did you think of tonight’s game? How pumped were you at Luke Hughes’ winning goal? How did you think he did tonight? What should the playoff lineup be? What’s going through your mind right now as we head to the playoffs? 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 — I’ll see you in the postseason coverage.