I’d by lying if I said I wasn’t out of breath right now. The New Jersey Devils (19-18-9) defeat the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild (28-10-5) by a score of 4-3. Let me say that again just in case you misread that. The New Jersey Devils (19-18-9) (yes, the New Jersey Devils) defeat the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild (28-10-5) by a score of 4-3. They handed Minnesota only their second regulation loss in their last 21 games (17-2-2). Minnesota was also 19-1-2 when leading after two periods at home (now 19-2-2). The odds were stacked against them and I’m sitting here in disbelief.
What a game. Minnesota went up 2-0 on Jared Spurgeon and Jason Zucker’s goals but Pavel Zacha pulled the Devils within one when he scored his third goal of the season. It was also a power play goal; the Devils only had one power play opportunity tonight. Adam Henrique tied the game with a beautiful shot on net off of a perfect pass from Taylor Hall; it was his 11th goal of the season. The Wild went back up 3-2 on Erik Haula’s goal but Kyle Palmieri retied the game at three with a goal shortside with ten minutes to go. Both teams saw plenty of scoring chances but Beau Bennett scored the game-winning goal with less three minutes in regulation. He now has three goals on the season. Blake Coleman picked up his first NHL point with his assist on Bennett’s goal.
New Jersey played a complete game, just like they did in Vancouver, in Calgary, and in Edmonton (for the most part). They had an abundance of scoring chances tonight despite only taking 26 shots on goal. They were excellent in the face-off circle. They killed two of Minnesota’s three power play opportunities (Minnesota was 13th in the league coming into tonight’s game) and managed to score on their lone power play. They were outshot 35-26 but they made their shots count. Taylor Hall only had three shifts in the second period after a giveaway led to a Minnesota goal but he returned in the third to set up Henrique’s goal. All four goals tonight came on genuinely perfect shots (and perfect set-ups). If you can find videos of them anywhere, watch them. This is also the first time the Devils have scored four goals in a game in nearly a month, since they shut out the Philadelphia 4-0 on December 22nd.
Cory Schneider was phenomenal. I’m running out of adjectives to describe him. He stopped 32 of 25 shots and had to repeatedly make ridiculous saves. The defense really helped him out; they’ve really come together over the last few weeks after being ravaged by injuries to key defensemen. They’re limiting shots on net and winning puck battles. The younger defensemen are stepping up and taking on more ice time. Jon Merrill had another great night and has become someone that the team can rely on, Steven Santini and Karl Stollery as well. The team as a whole is keeping the puck out of their zone as much as possible. The Devils goaltending and defense have kept the Devils in every game and the offense came to their aid. We’ve talked a lot about how the records of Schneider and Keith Kinkaid don’t show just how well they’ve played. The offense has this tendency to hang them out to dry but that’s changed. If the offense can get going and stay hot (and it looks like they just might), this team could go on a serious run.
The Devils finish this four-game Western Conference road trip with a 3-0-1 record and pick up seven out of eight possible points. And I know it’s still January and we haven’t hit the All Star Break just yet, BUT the New Jersey Devils are officially three points out of a potential playoff spot. They face the Montreal Canadiens Friday night at home and if they do win, they will Philadelphia on Saturday which could have playoff implications. But it is January. There’s still plenty of hockey left. I don’t start religiously checking the standings until at least after the All Star Break but it wouldn’t hurt to take a peek.
New Jersey will be back home at The Rock Friday night to take on Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens; puck drops at 7:30PM.