NEWARK, NJ — A strong first period from the offense and a display of excellent goaltending in the second assured the New Jersey Devils would have a mirthful time during the Christmas break.
Brian Boyle continued his red-hot play with a seeing-eye goal from the left point, the first of three goals in the first period from the Devils as they defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 4-1 at the Prudential Center on Saturday night, New Jersey’s third consecutive victory as the NHL heads into its three-day Christmas break.
The win clinched a two-game season sweep of the Blackhawks, with the Devils scoring 11 goals in the two games against Chicago.
Any concerns about a letdown from the Devils after an emotional shootout victory over the New York Rangers two night prior were allayed just 2:48 into the first period, when Boyle saved the puck from going out of the Blackhawks zone on the left point and sent a hopeful shot on goal that sailed through the screen and deflection attempt by Blake Coleman and past Blackhawks keeper Corey Crawford, giving New Jersey the quick 1-0
Boyle now has eight points (four goals, four assists) in his last four games.
The lead doubled to 2-0 on the power play after Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews took a slashing penalty midway through the second period. Devils winger Kyle Palmieri tried to center a pass to Boyle, who was parked in front of the crease, but the centering pass hit a Blackhawks player in front and ricocheted past Crawford at the 9:20 mark of the first period.
Just four minutes later, New Jersey made it three and chased Crawford out of the game. New Jersey winger Stefan Noesen intercepted a pass just inside the Blackhawks zone before skating in on goal, holding the puck an extra half-second before setting up a wide-open Pavel Zacha in the slot, who scored to give New Jersey a 3-0 first-period lead at 13:22.
Crawford was pulled for Anton Forsberg after the Zacha goal, marking the second time in as many contests against the Devils that he has been pulled early from the game.
While the Devils dominated the first, period and held a three-goal advantage, the script flipped the second as Chicago unleashed a flurry of shots and much of the period was spent playing in the Devils’ zone. New Jersey goalkeeper Cory Schneider stood tall, making 21 saves on 22 Blackhawks shots in the second period, with the only goal coming with 2:42 remaining, as Patrick Kane recorded his 300th career NHL goal with a wrist shot that just went under Schneider’s glove.
New Jersey righted itself in the third period, and after Taylor Hall’s breakaway goal at the 2:20 mark early in the third period for a 4-1 lead, the Devils were able to coast to their fourth victory in a row.
“I think it’s a big growth step for our team,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “We played a very good first 20 minutes, we didn’t play very good in the second period but it didn’t turn into 40 minutes. Our goaltender stood on his head for us. Credit the guys in that we didn’t turn [the second period play] into 40 minutes and not find a way to win the game.”
The challenge of not having the subpar play in the second period carry over into the third was added to the pressure of wanting to win right before an extended break for the holidays.
“It was a good test,” said Schneider, who was the game’s first star as he had 39 saves on 40 shots. “A lot of guys are heading out tonight or tomorrow to go home, or have family in. It can be a distracting time of year, when you have people in and out, figuring out tickets and plans and figuring out what to do for Christmas. Fortunately, we have great support systems around us so we can just focus on hockey and I thought the guys, young and old, did what they had to do tonight.”
New Jersey could have made the score even more one-sided, but Jesper Bratt was stopped by Forsberg on a penalty shot at the 12:36 mark of the third period.
With the Blackhawks’ only goal in the second period, Kane becomes only the fifth player to score 300 goals in a Chicago uniform, joining Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Steve Larmer and Denis Savard.
“Right now you’re mad at the two (straight) losses and mad that we couldn’t finish strong going into the break,” Kane said. “You want to do what you can over break to come back and be ready for the games after.”
New Jersey stays home after the break to take on the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night while Chicago won’t take the ice until Thursday, as they will play their third game of a six-game road trip against the Vancouver Canucks.