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Luke Hughes Leads Devils into the Playoffs With OT Winner

The Devils come back from 3-0 and 4-1 down to win in overtime via Luke Hughes’ first NHL goal in final regular season game of the season.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals
Hughes (Luke, not Jack) with the winner
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this one there are a couple records on the line for this Devils team: a win would give the franchise record for wins with 52, points with 112 and road wins with 28. More importantly, pending the result in the Carolina-Florida game, the Devils could win the division with a win tonight.

Blackwood in net for the Devils, Schmid on the bench, with Vanacek given some rest. Similarly, no Palat, McLeod, Marino or Graves. Lazar and Haula in, Luke Hughes, Smith and Bahl all in.

First Period

Dawson Mercer is sent in on a breakaway 30 seconds in, he goes to the backhand but can’t lift it over Kuemper’s pad. This is Mercer’s 82nd game of the season, Mercer alongside Bratt, Hamilton, and Tatar being the four Devils to play every game this year.

The puck bounces to Ovechkin in the slot as he took it into the zone, a good block by Lazar denies the chance. Hischier then takes it into the zone, but his shot from afar is gloved by Kuemper. Severson makes a move on his first forward at the blue line but gets caught by the second, giving a 2-on-1. Siegenthaler prevents the chance getting to the streaking forward on the second post. The play goes the other way, Mercer has a great move, the puck is in the slot, but the Devils can’t put it home.

Caps get another 2-on-1 as Hughes turns it over in the offensive zone, and Joe Snively shoots with Brendan Smith taking away the pass. The shot beats Blackwood far side. 1-0 Washington.

Rasmus Sandin then makes it 2-0 shortly thereafter. The Devils lose the puck going the other way, Miles Wood turning it over. Ovechkin takes the puck into the zone, sending it into the far corner for Backstrom who backhands it into the slot for Sandin who is unmarked and can shoot it past Blacwood.

Kuznetsov then takes it around the Devils defenseman, sending it through the crease for Milano to send it back through as the Devils are falling apart.

The Caps give it away under pressure from the Devils fourth line, with Lazar sending it out in front to Wood who is alone in front but can’t get it past Kuemper on the quick shot. Another Capitals 2-1, but this time Blackwood makes the save, before the Devils have an odd-man rush which Kuemper turns away. Extreme end-to-end stuff, this, with the Devils sloppy defensively.

The Devils then turn it over in the defensive zone, Jack Hughes passing it out in front of his own net right to Craig Smith who is alone with Blackwood. Ugly ugly play from Jack. 3-0 Capitals 10:18 in... Will certainlty be a test for the Devils comeback abilities: the Caps are giving up chances, but whether they can crack Kuemper — who has started very well — three times or not, we’ll see. 3 on 5 shots for Washington as you would want a save on at least one of them by Blackwood.

Hamilton trickles one along the ice towards the net and Haula just fails to get a stick on it as Kuemper pokes it away. A couple minutes of back and forth in the neutral zone follows before Kuznetsov gets in behind the defense, taking a shot from the circle that Blackwood turns away. 3.26 to go, and the Devils would really need a goal to make this one interesting, create some doubt. As I write that, Erik Haula blasts one in when alone on the left flank, assisted by Sharangovich and Luke Hughes for his first point, doing a good job in his own zone evading a forechecker and giving it to Sharangovich in the neutral zone. Haula putting it far side top shelf on the slap shot makes it a 2-goal game. Big big goal for Haula.

Boqvist does a great job getting the puck into the zone and evading his defender, before dropping it to Hamilton who puts it into the chest of Kuemper. First period over, 3-1 Caps. I’m thinking, it’ll be interesting to see how Jack Hughes responds to giving the puck away on two of the Caps goals. The Devils did not play as terribly in the first as the scoreline suggested, but some terrible puck management along with poor defensive coverage and a goalie incapable of making timely saves early in games puts the Devils in a hole.

The Carolina Hurricanes are up 1-0 in Florida at the end of the first, but that does not look relevant at this point as the Devils would have to win for that result to matter.

Second Period

A minute in, Tom Wilson is the strongest in front of the net. Jensen puts it on and Wilson has position on Bahl. Wilson jams it a couple times but gets the rebound and puts it home. 4-1 Caps and that is it for Blackwood, Akira Schmid coming in. That’ll be that for Blackwood this year, Schmid for backup in the playoffs, I say.

Not much to note for the next couple minutes. Luke Hughes just fails to keep it inside the zone. He then makes a pair of beautiful stretch passes, getting the Devils into the offensive zone on a single pass twice.

I have no clue how the Devils fail to score there. After great skating and passing by Bratt and Hughes, Bahl gets a look, Kuemper stops it but loses his positioning, Bratt skates around him but Kuemper saves his shot on the empty net with the padel, before Hughes puts the rebound into the chest of Nick Jensen when he too had a golden opportunity to score.

Luke Hughes is having a wonderful game. He’s had perfect positioning defensively and has made some great plays going forward, now he smoothly skates the puck into the zone and almost goes right through two defensemen with the puck.

On the other hand, it doesn’t feel like his brother Jack’s night, loosing the handle as they skate up the ice on an odd-man rush. Then, him and Bratt are in 2-on-1, he gets the puck, makes a move, but Kuemper stones him. Goaltending really the difference so far in this one, with the Devils having, to my eye, just as many if not more high-danger chances. Half-way through the game now, the Devils will certainly have enough chances to score three, but whether they can stop pucks the other way is the real question. Schmid hasn’t faced anything tough so far, but has handeled everything fine and given his teammates some confidence.

First penalty of the game as Tatar is called for tripping. Mercer blocks a shot. Haula passes it over to Brendan Smith on a break but he can’t handle it. Schmid leaves a rebound but it just evades Wilson as it trickles past him in the slot. Then we have a curious situaiton, where Lazar loses his stick blocking a shot as the powerplay ends, Schmid stops a puck, Sandin gets the puck past Lazar in the corner but loses his stick doing so. Lazar picks up Sandin’s stick and goes to continue the play but Sandin takes exception, dragging him to the ice, they drop the gloves and throw some punches. My thought was that Sandin would get an instigator and the Devils the powerplay, but it ends with both teams at five guys on the ice, Lazar with two minutes for illegal equipment (whatever the rules are for that, I’ve never heard of it), Sandin two for roughing, both five for fighting.

Off the face off the Devils get a 2-on-1, Haula playing it across to Sharangovich who is stoned by Kuemper on the one-timer and his own rebound. Hamilton is hit in the offensive zone and is shaken up, goes slowly to the bench but seems ok once there. Kuemper stops Mercer after Meier drove to the net. Mercer then has a one-time opportunity from the slot from Hischier but it goes off the heel of his stick and trickles wide.

Carlson flips the puck into the penalty boxes, and he goes to join it, called for delay of game. Powerplay for the Devils. Bratt is stopped when the puck is played across to him from Hischier. Hamilton has a one-timer after the Devils get it back into the zone, padded away by Kuemper. Second unit out. And they get it done! Wow, wasn’t expecting that, Miles Wood tipping a one-timer from Tatar. Big goal, making it 4-2 with two minutes to go.

Schmid makes a set of saves, he’s looked completely solid since coming in. With him in net, as the second ends, I feel confident the Devils can avoid conceding any more (unless they give up silly chances) making the target of getting two in the third doable.

2-0 Carolina as the second ends. With the Devils in with a chance now, we need Florida to help us out.

Third Period

The Devils leave Nick Backstrom alone in front as Ovi finds him completely unmarked, but the Swede puts it wide. The Devils go the other way with Luke Hughes driving the puck, dropping it off for Mercer who puts it into the chest of Kuemper on a decent look. Siegenthaler makes a great play sending it diagonally into the slot but Haula just can’t tip it in. Hughes sends it out for Sharangovich in the crease but he is too close and has no space to get it in. Bratt sends Erik Haula in for a partial breakaway. He is hooked by Carlson and loses the puck drawing the call, but Kuemper thought Haula was bringing the puck to his backhand and follows them, meaning the puck can simply trickle in at the far post for a one-goal game. Lindy changes up the lines putting Haula up with Bratt and Hughes and it pays off immediately. Jack has the secondary on it, so that’s 98 on the season. At the same time, Bill and Dano announce, Florida make it a one-goal game in Florida, so the is division very much up for grabs still.

Kuzentsov, as Backstrom before him, has a great chance from the slot all alone but puts it wide. Luke Hughes is out with Hamilton, playing on the top pair, and looks very confident, not out of place at all. With 13:30 to go, in the Devils game, Florida, apparently, have tied it up against Carolina. If the Devils can get one more it’s a clean slate. Great drama!

Befuddling icing call as Boqvist is first to the faceoff dots, and would certainly get to the puck first. Thankfully, the refs realise their mistake and send the faceoff into the neutral zone, rather than in the Devils’ zone as would typically happen after an icing. The puck drops out of the sky in the slot for Meier who times his swing perfectly but the shot is blocked.

Ah... two goals in twenty seconds for Carolina. The division is not going to happen for the Devils, it would seem.

Bratt skates into the zone fending off his defender, he puts it through the crease where Jack is waiting for it but Kuemper gets across with the pad. Great defensive play from Luke Hughes as he has two guys coming at him, Wilson sort of gets around him but Luke is strong and takes Wilson down. Fans in Washington wnat a penalty but it was just a good defensive play from Hughes. Aube-Kubel shortly thereafter, again, is wide open in the slot, this time after a toe-drag move, and puts it off the post. In fairness, Schmid has stopped everything put on him, but if it weren’t for some wayward shooting from the Caps, that might not be the case. With less than 8 to go, the Devils tie it up through Dougie Hamilton. Boqvist is strong on the boards in the corner, gets it to Severson at the point, he slides it to Hamilton who snipes it five-hole for his 22nd of the season, which if I am not mistaken ties the franchise record for goals by a D-man in a season. What is certain is that it is his 70th point, which makes it a franchise record for the number of players with 70-point seasons. Schmid has made 13 saves, allowing zero since coming in, making this all possible.

Unvelieveable chance, Hughes passing it to Smith who waits and waits, taking it around Kuemper who slides out of the net, Smith puts it through the crease to Jack Hughes who puts it back through. No goal. Hischier holds on to the puck for ages, evading Caps who aren’t strong enough to challenge him. He passes it to Luke who skates into the slot and gets it back to Nico for a good look. Luke looking dangerous offensively and solid defensively, he won’t start in the playoffs, but if he does I’d sleep soundly. 3:19 to go, the Devils having all the chances right now. Wood sends it wide. Hischier then out in front jabbing and poking at it on Kuemper but it won’t go, Severson has a look as it comes across the ice to him but it is blocked out of play. Meier takes the puck into the zone and shoots it, nothing doing. Hamilton puts it on, Sharangovich gets what looks like a sure goal on the rebound but somehow it doesn’t go as his stick is tied up. 5-2 Carolina, with 2:21 to go in that one, so the Devils play the Rangers irrespective of how this one ends. The Devils press but we go to overtime.


Don’t listen to me, Florida have put it within one, with some time left. Still on, possibly.

Hischier out with Hughes (Jack) and Hamilton. Washington win the faceoff but the Devils get it back. Hughes takes it into the zone, gets a bounce and comes in on Kuemper, taking the shot between his legs but Kuemper stops him.

Ah, and now it really is over, 6-4 Carolina, Aho with the empty netter. What a roller-coaster in that one, 4our goals in the final three minutes.

Schmid makes a great save, twice, on Fehervary, first as he’s played in alone on the right flank for a one-timer, second as the puck is lose next to the net and he jams at it twice. Washington have possesion and look dangerous, Kuznetsov stepping around Haula and putting it off the blocker of Schmid. The Devils get it but turn it over, the Caps go 2-on-1, the puck ends up in the air as Schmid makes another save, and the whistle is blown as it is on top of the net. After that Jack between-the-legs shot, this should be over for the Capitals as Schmid shuts the door.

The starting lineup is out again, Hischier winning the faceoff. Hughes skates around and puts it off the post. Hischier then draws a penalty as he is harrassed — hooked, slashed, roughed, you name it — by Sandin. 1:15 to go for the 4-on-3 to get it done. Devils call the timeout to give Hamilton, Hughes and Hischier some rest. Those three will be out with Bratt. Big faceoff this, don’t want to burn the clock. The Devils lose it, and Hamilton gets called in turn for tripping Jensen, Hamilton taking him out as he shot up the ice, not realising that Jack would have got there to prevent what Hamilton thought was a breakaway. Luke out with brother Jack and Nico. Luke takes it into the zone, dangels around two Caps, and has his shot stopped by Kuemper, but it drops next to the side of the net, Luke skates around, picks the puck up and wraps it around for his first career goal, an OT winner to end the Devils’ season in style. Astonishing skating and stick-handling by the second-game 19-year old. Wow, what a story, what a start for Luke, who makes a massive claim for being in the game-one lineup versus the Rangers. By the way, Jack and Nico both had assists on the game winner, taking Jack to a tantalising 99 on the season, Nico to 80. Great great season for the Devils captain, who breaks 80 points for the first time in his career after being one of the premier defensive forwards in the league all year. The Devils win it, 5-4 in overtime on their 26th come-back win on the year.

Luke Hughes

What a game for Luke Hughes. Not only the gamewinner, which will obviously be the highlight and main talking point, but he looked phenomenal throughout. Reading through my comments during the game above, I realise that I spent much of my time writing about good plays Luke Hughes made. He was completely composed, leaving no doubt that he belongs at this level. He played the second most of any Devils skater with 21:13 TOI, and had the second most shifts, second to Dougie in both. Per HockeyStatCards, he was fourth on the Devils in game score. He did get a goal and an assist, so you might think that this is inflated by his production, but he was one of the best Devils defensively and one of the best Devils offensively, simply playing great hockey at both ends of the ice. Per MoneyPuck, at 5-on-5 he was sixth on the Devils in individual xG for percentage, second on D after Severson. He wasn’t sheltered either, having three defensive zone starts, three ofensive and five neutral. Now, the Caps are a bad team, so we take all of this with a grain of salt, but I suspect we will see more than a little of Luke in the playoffs, and I feel completely at peace with the fact.


Per MoneyPuck, when Blackwood came out and Akira Schmid took the net, the Capitals had a 88.72% chance of winning from their 4-1 position. Schmid had other thoughts, shutting them out, saving 1.981 above expected on 20 shots. The kid is amazing and he gives the skaters in front of him a confidence (I can’t quantify this, but that’s how it seems to me) that Blackwood does not. Blackwood, on the other hand, conceded four goals on 1.112 xG against. Now, I can forgive him for one, maybe two of those goals, but in a pretty big game for his team he needs to stop at least two of those. I fully suspect that to be the last we see of Blackwood as a New Jersey Devil. Schmid will be the backup in the playoffs, having superior stats in every category. Blackwood’s contract is up, with him being an RFA in the summer. He is earning 2.8 million and I don’t see a way where the Devils extend him that qualifying offer. He will walk and the Devils will go with Schmid as the full-time backup next year. It is sad, because I do like Blackwood and have naively held on to that hope that he might become what we thought he would after his rookie season. Alas, that hope is long-gone.

The Playoff Outlook

With Florida falling to Carolina — thanks for nothing, Panthers, enjoy getting beat up by Boston in four — the Devils, despite the victory, will face the Rangers. I am cautiosly optimistic about the Devils chances. I believe that the Devils are a better team, but I am terrified not of the Rangers but of losing to the Rangers, which makes me hesitant to say too much about how the series will go.

I thought the Devils played a pretty good game overall, I think with Schmid in net from the start we don’t talk at all about them playing poorly. Granted, they gave up too many chances initially, with bad puck management and poor defensive coverage, but that will be cleaned up in the playoffs.

It will be very interesting to see how the lineup shakes out, with this game, seemingly, raising more questions than providing answers. I imagine that McLeod will be back for game 1, and I can’t imagine them leaving Wood out. Who, then, will be in the bottom six? Lazar has experience, so does Bastian drop out for him, or Sharangovich perhaps?

And on Defense, read above the case Luke Hughes has made for a spot. The locks are Hamilton, Severson, Sigenthaler, Marino, Graves, and then one of Luke, Bahl, Smith gets the sixth spot. For game one, I expect to see Brendan Smith in there as there is no way Ruff chooses a rookie over a vet. After that, though, perhaps after Smith plays poorly, it is anyones guess.

Shoutout to the Bratt-Haula-Hughes line, who had 100% corsi for — not shots for, shot attempts! — in 6:07 together. I have been calling for this to be the Devils’ Hughes line in the playoffs, as I prefer it to Palat instead of Haula. Doubtful that is what we see, however, as, admittedly, Palat-Hughes-Bratt has done very well in recent games.

Your Thoughts

The Devils win the final regular season game of the year and set records in the process while confirming the playoff date with the cross-river rivals in the Rangers. It is one of the great rivalries in hockey, nay, sports, and I can’t wait. What did you think of the game? Who played well, who didn’t (Blackwood aside)? That Luke Hughes kid, eh? Who do you want in the lineup for game one? How do you think game one turns out? And the series? We will have a lot of playoff content coming up over the next couple days, John with a full series preview, me with a couple pieces on Devils goalscoring and goaltending, and loads more, so keep an eye out for that. For now, thank you for reading this one and for supporting the site!