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Tyler Toffoli Hat Trick Saves Devils Season in 6-5 Overtime Win Over Golden Knights

This game was going to be a killer. Tyler Toffoli saved the day.

Vegas Golden Knights v New Jersey Devils
You’ve never seen Tyler Toffoli this happy.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

First Period

The new look Bratt-Hischier-Meier line looked good on their first shift, pinning Vegas back for the majority of the first minute. Meier had a shot and was getting into the right spots, stopping Vegas from breaking out and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. The Toffoli-McLeod-Mercer line nearly got on the board as well, a few minutes later, when Toffoli and Mercer both had whacks at the puck right in front of Logan Thompson, but Thompson made the stops.

Vitek Vanecek let his first in when Chandler Stephensen passed to Pavel Dorofeyev on the rush, and Dorofeyev beat Vitek over the far-side shoulder. The Devils should have had the pass covered, as John Marino doubled up on the puck carrier, but Vitek also should have had the shot. 1-0, Knights. Vanecek did make a stop on a close chance for Mark Stone when Tyler Toffoli fumbled the puck skating back into the defensive zone during a breakout.

Cal Foote drew a tripping penalty, called on Zach Whitecloud, when he jumped up into the play and tried to make a spinning backhand pass or shot. Nathan Bastian nearly scored right off the bat of the power play, as he replaced Tyler Toffoli and was in front for a quick Bratt shot. Vegas cleared, and the Devils set back up. Nico Hischier had a backhand flip that almost hit the top corner, but Thompson made the stop. After another clearance, the second unit came on. After Toffoli lost the puck on an entry, Holtz had a shot deflect out of play. Luke Hughes had his shot deflected off the following draw, and the Knights cleared once more.

The new-look top line continued their strong performance. Nico Hischier blocked a Vegas zone entry pass, springing the Devils forward. Timo Meier went low to the corner, pulling the Vegas defenseman away from the front of the net. He wrapped a slick pass back for Nico Hischier, who roofed a shot! 1-1 on Nico’s 13th goal of the season!

At the very end of the period, I saw one of the best bottom six goals I’ve seen from the Devils in awhile. After Simon Nemec made a huge stop at the blueline to prevent a tired Vegas line from getting the puck out, Erik Haula wrapped the puck around the net and centered it for Curtis Lazar, who smacked a one-timer through! 2-1, Devils!

Second Period

Jesper Bratt averted danger early on, getting a puck out of the slot and moving it to Timo Meier, who passed it out of the zone. The Devils and Knights then got into a neutral zone back-and-forth until Tyler Toffoli took the puck in the offensive zone, made a move to beat Whitecloud, and he hit the corner! 3-1 Devils lead, less than two minutes into the period!

Vitek Vanecek made a huge save on a Mark Stone redirection from a hard point shot. A couple minutes later, Vitek lost his positioning when a point shot fluttered high to the net and was tipped down, giving Jonathan Marchessault an easy tap-in goal. 3-2, with 12 minutes to play in the middle frame. The Devils really needed to get the puck out here when they had a chance to.

Timo Meier had a chance to re-extend the lead when a Luke Hughes one-timer rebounded off Thompson. The Vegas goalie just squeezed the five hole shut in time. Then, Cal Foote lost the puck in the neutral zone on the next shift, giving Jonathan Marchessault an easy shot to tie the game with off a feed on the two-on-one, which Hatakka could not defend. 3-3, tie game.

Then Simon Nemec was hit behind the play by Brett Howden, and Kevin Bahl made a beeline for him. Nemec was hit with a charge from Howden from behind. Bahl was sent to the box while the referees took a look on their iPad for a potential game misconduct. His penalty was reduced to a minor, and the teams skated at four-on-four. Vitek let in a five-hole goal on a redirection on the rush. 4-3, Golden Knights. Lindy Ruff called timeout.

The timeout changed nothing. In the final minute of the period, Vitek let in another when Nicholas Roy was left alone in front of the net as Bahl was pinned to the wall below the goal line. Marchessault sent it out to Roy, and the Devils went down 5-3.

Thankfully, Tyler Toffoli had an iron will. Dawson Mercer took the puck away in the defensive zone and banked it up the wall for Toffoli. Toffoli backed off the defense, holding the puck away, and his sudden wrister got through Thompson to make it a 5-4 game in the final 15 seconds.

Third Period

Vitek Vanecek returned to the net for the third period. After Vegas iced the puck, Michael McLeod came on and won an offensive zone draw. Luke Hughes had a chance to make a play, but fanned on the shot. The Devils had to recollect and re-enter the offensive zone. Cal Foote came on for Hughes and just missed the net when his shot deflected wide.

Just as Erik Haula was about to go off to the races with a loose puck, Dorofeyev tripped him up. The Devils went to the power play, with Toffoli back on the first unit. They looked entirely uninspired, and the second unit came on before the first minute ven ended. Mark Stone had a shorthanded shot when they were changing. Haula had a slap shot go wide, and a low Mercer shot was padded. One shot on the power play.

Chris Tierney had Curtis Lazar on a two-on-one after Michael McLeod sent him away. Lazar was covered, so Thompson had to get Tierney’s shot with the blocker. After a stoppage and TV timeout, Jesper Bratt had a spin-o-rama backhand on the rush that deflected just wide of goal. Then, with the third line out after an icing nine minutes into the period, Simon Nemec sent a high flick at the goal. It came off the end boards to Curtis Lazar, who squeezed it through to tie the game! 5-5!

After the goal, Vitek Vanecek made two huge saves — one in a sprawl — to keep the game tied. Vanecek really made it harder on himself with his kick-rebounds. On the other end, Timo Meier just missed the net on a redirection. Play grew ever slower after that, as the teams focused on staying tied more than taking the lead. The Devils were looking for opportunistic passes, but had few lanes.

An avenue was finally stumbled upon when a Vegas drop pass at the Devils’ blue line went right to Timo Meier, whos sent it ahead for Jesper Bratt. Bratt cut into the zone and up into the slot, but Thompson’s right-handed glove got the shot. Vitek almost lost the puck when playing it at the side of the net in the final two minutes, but Luke Hughes saved the day and cleared it away. Vitek then went way out of the crease on another deflected shot, and Toffoli nearly gave the loose puck away before the Devils pushed the puck down to their offensive end, where McLeod, Toffoli, and Holtz were able to kill the remaining clock.

Overtime

Nico Hischier lost the initial draw but broke loose to take the loose puck. Bratt’s first shot was touched above the net by Thompson. Vegas came down, and Vitek lost his stick sprawling to save the rush chance. Bratt came back down and rang a shot off the post. Timo Meier danced into the zone and just missed with a backhand shot before Simon Nemec froze play with a wrist shot into Thompson’s chest.

Holtz, Hischier, and Hughes took the ice. Vegas got the puck off the draw, but Holtz defended Alec Martinez to get the turnover in the neutral zone. Hischier gave Holtz a chance to shoot as Bratt came on for Nico, but the shot went high. Bratt was about to get a breakaway but left the puck behind him. Toffoli came on for Bratt. As the Golden Knights were about to try catching the Devils sleeping, Luke Hughes stepped up an intercepted a breakout pass, retaking the offensive zone and sliding it over to Tyler Toffoli for a hat-trick, game winning goal! 6-5 Devils win!

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

Must-Win

With the way the New Jersey Devils have been playing, they could not afford to cough up a loss after taking a two-goal lead. Jack Hughes likely won’t return for at least another couple weeks, and the gap between the Devils and a playoff spot was about to slip to four points. But despite the team blowing this game, they were able to fight back twice. And the second comeback was a tougher hill to climb — but they did it. Say what you will about giving up the first goal of the game, but the Devils showed how tough they can be tonight.

They were missing Colin Miller, leading to Santeri Hatakka joining the squad as their third rookie defenseman. He ended up playing 17:22, including 16:38 at five-on-five. While Cal Foote was taken out of the rotation for the most part — he had just one shift at the start of the third period — Ruff trusted Hatakka. Hockey will be hockey, and Santeri Hatakka jumped into the lineup and was on the ice for four Devils goals: more than any other skater tonight. I do think Santeri can clean up his defensive zone passing decisions, but his physical presence and ability to seal players off from continuing their play on the boards was welcome tonight. He’s not a bad skater, to boot.

And of course, some love for Curtis Lazar. While his offense disappears in general, he always seems to score at the perfect times. But he didn’t just score. He blocked shots, played hard, and Vegas practically never had the puck in scoring areas when Lazar was on the ice. Gotta love two-way dominance, and the Lazar-Haula-Bastian line brought it, working as a great support for the Hischier line.

On the Teetering Verge of Must-Act

When the Devils went down 5-3, I was already preparing to write a section regarding Tom Fitzgerald having the team continue to run with Vitek Vanecek as one of their NHL goalies. Thankfully, I was able to eat my spoken and yet-unspoken words. It does not change, however, that Vitek had another statistically poor game. If Lindy Ruff was not prepared to replace Vitek with Nico Daws when the game was tied at three (I will give him credit for the mid-game timeout), or when the Golden Knights took the lead, then Tom Fitzgerald needs to find a veteran third goalie ASAP.

I am glad Vitek was able to see his win. The Devils clearly love having Vanecek as a teammate. He has been a Devil for quite awhile now, by post-Schneider goaltending standards. However, the win does not take the bad feeling of seeing the Knights tie the game and take the lead. It was just about impossible to watch. But, credit coming where it’s due — Vitek made the tough stops in the third and overtime, even if they didn’t always look pretty.

20-Goal Scorer, Hat-Trick Scoring Tyler Toffoli

If not for Tyler Toffoli, this would have been one of my angriest write-ups. Toffoli was one of those skaters I named last Monday as being mired in a slump leading up to the midway point of the season, but he has rediscovered his scoring touch. And so, Tyler is the first Devil to reach the 20-goal mark this season. If you have poked your nose around the internet lately, you might have seen some Devils fan regretting the trade that sent Yegor to Calgary. But this is Tyler Toffoli showing how effective he is. Aside from one bad turnover, Toffoli played a strong, full game, and his poise with the puck was impeccable. While most forwards were forcing it tonight, Toffoli was the most patient of all, waiting for the perfect opening in Logan Thompson and finding it twice in one-on-one situations with Vegas defenders. On that overtime winner, there was no way he was missing the net on the feed from Luke. No chance.

If we can get games like this from the Bratt-Hischier-Meier top line, who played an impeccable offensive game, allowing Toffoli to operate like this in the middle six is our best bet to see wins with Jack out of the lineup. I think he just saved the season with his hat trick, and I’m excited to see what he does on Thursday.

Your Thoughts

What did you think of tonight’s game? Were you holding onto the rollercoaster? Did you have any cardiac episodes? What did you think of Hatakka? How did Toffoli’s game make you feel? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.