NEWARK, NJ — The beatdown they suffered two weeks ago across the Hudson River was all that was necessary for the New Jersey Devils to make sure to announce themselves in a big way the next time they had a chance to play the New York Rangers.
In probably the first game at the Prudential Center this season that had the feel of a playoff atmosphere from beginning to end, the Devils avenged their three-goal defeat at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago and posted a 4-3 shootout win over the Rangers, their second win in three games against the Blueshirts this season.
The most recent encounter between the longtime rivals before tonight, however, proved to be one of the few low points of the season for the upstart Devils, losing 5-2 in a game that did not seem that close given that they were outhit while allowing 39 shots on goal. That performance on Dec. 9 stuck with the Devils, and, fortunately for the team, it did not have to wait too long to make amends against “Big Brother.”
“The last time we played the Rangers, we just didn’t play competitively enough to make it a game,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “You don’t learn lessons until you go through something and you have a chance to reapply it. I thought tonight that our intensity level and our effort and competitiveness on the puck, and really in all areas, was strong.”
The first 20 minutes were played at a breakneck pace with few stoppages of play, and New Jersey got on the board first at the 7:22 mark when defenseman John Moore pinched in on a pass from Nico Hischier to put a wrist shot above the glove of Rangers goalkeeper Henrik Lundqvist and into the roof of the net.
It took just two and a half minutes for the Rangers to tie the game, and another two minutes after that to gain their first lead. Jimmy Vesey stuffed the puck past Devils goalkeeper Cory Schneider in a goal-mouth scramble to level things at the 9:55 mark of the first, then defenseman Nick Holden converted a rebound off of a shot by Chris Kreider just 2:04 after the leveler to but the Blueshirts on top.
New Jersey outshot the Rangers 15-10 in the first period, then turned up the heat on Lundqvist in the second period by throwing 23 shots at him in the second. As per usual, Lundqvist made one unbelievable stop after another, including one on Devils winger Kyle Palmieri, who appeared to have a yawning net at his mercy but was stopped by a sprawling Lundqvist, who was able to get his blocker on the puck while almost lying prone on the ice.
The near-relentless pressure finally tolled for New Jersey at the 16:24 mark of the second period, though ironically enough, the goal came while the Devils were a man down; Just seconds after a potential game-tying goal by Hischier was waved off because of a cross checking penalty called on Palmieri right before the puck went into the net, Blake Coleman skated in on Lundqvist on the penalty kill and blasted a slap shot above Lundqvist’s glove to tie the score in the late stages of the second period.
The Devils outshot the New York 23-8 in the period, and finally were able to get the goal that their dominance deserved.
“I think that’s the challenge when you’re playing in these types of games, where you feel like you’re doing the right things but you don’t get rewarded for them,” Hynes said. “The challenge in that is that you can’t waver in what you’re doing. You have to continue to stick with it and you have to believe that the reason you’re getting the shots and you’re getting the chances is because you’re playing the right way.”
Another challenge for New Jersey presented itself less than two minutes into the third period, when Kevin Hayes scored to give the Rangers the lead against 1:48 into the final period. The Devils responded once again, and once more it was special teams that delivered. Kreider took an elbowing penalty at the 10:55 mark and, on the ensuing power play, former Ranger Brian Boyle took a pass from Taylor Hall and backhanded a shot past Lundqvist glove side to tie it up at 11:54 of the third.
New Jersey outshot the Rangers 46-24 in regulation, but, as the game progressed into overtime, the Rangers looked the team more likely to come up with the game winner. It especially looked that way after Taylor Hall was called for a hooking penalty on an on-rushing Brady Skjei 3:52 into overtime. New Jersey was able to kill the remaining 1:08 off the clock in the overtime while a man down, forcing the shootout.
Both teams scored one goal in their three opportunities in the shootout, with Palmieri and Mika Zibanejad exchanging goals in the second round of the shootout. Boyle then beat Lundqvist’s attempt at a poke check and scored in the first extra round of the shootout, and Schneider then denied Kevin Shattenkirk’s attempt to clinch the victory for the Devils.
Though the less busier goalkeeper throughout the game, Schneider, who did not play in the Devils’ loss to New York two weeks ago, came up with big saves in the third period and the shootout, ending with night with 25 saves and three more in the shootout. After the game, he summed up the collective thought the team had going into tonight’s game against a rival that had humiliated them the last time the teams met.
“I’m not sure what [the Rangers] thought about us coming into this game,” Schneider said. “I’m sure they respect us, but [you’re not sure] until you do it on the ice. I don’t think they had seen our best yet, in both games that we played before this. I think we showed them what we’re capable of.
“I’m sure both teams respect each other, and it’s a fun rivalry right now.”