NEWARK, NJ — Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid had a vision come to his mind about how tonight’s topsy-turvy game would end, and, not too long after seeing into the future, teammate Stefan Noesen made sure that his goalkeeper’s soothsaying skills were on the mark.
Noesen scored the game-winning goal for New Jersey on a rebound with 1:33 remaining while Kinkaid kept his team in the game with 31 saves, including multiple stops on breakaways, as the Devils defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 at the Prudential Center on Tuesday. The win moved New Jersey three points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference standings with just six games remaining. (Florida has two games in hand on the Devils.)
In a game so wide open that there were 57 shots combined by the two teams after 40 minutes, the Devils showed off its potential playoff mettle by coming back from a goal down in both the second and third periods, and Noesen’s goal, a forehand from the slot past Carolina goalkeeper Scott Darling after a point shot from defenseman Andy Greene, might very well prove to be the most important goal of the season for New Jersey to date.
It was a goal that Kinkaid knew was coming as he was taking in the action from the other end of the ice.
“I was playing it, before it even happened, in my head,” said Kinkaid, who made 31 saves in recording his 22nd victory of the season. “Let’s just end it here and not go to overtime and have it be so dramatic. We just kept putting pucks on net, we get a lucky break and [Noesen] jams it home.”
New Jersey put a lot of pucks on Darling in the third, outshooting the Hurricanes 15-7 in the final period, and they needed to exert that pressure after Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin scored at the 3:39 mark of the third to break a 2-2 draw.
New Jersey responded like a team that knew a loss would give a genuine opportunity to its closest pursuers to chase down its playoff place. Kyle Palmieri scored his second power play goal of the game at 11:05, at the very end of the two-minute advantage, to tie the game at three. Soon after, Noesen netted the game winner, his 12th goal of the season.
Despite giving up 27 shots in the first 40 minutes and, admittedly, appearing sluggish for large portions of the game, the Devils found a way come up with a win that resembled more of a playoff victory than one in the team’s 76th regular season game.
“It’s not pretty, but not every game is going to be pretty,” said Noesen. “But this is the biggest step for our team, is finding the ways to win. Maybe early in the year, we don’t find a way to win that game. So that just shows the character and how much we’ve matured as a team.”
Along with his two power play goals, Palmieri also provided a key defensive play in the third not too long after his goal tied the game. Despite being a man down, Carolina found itself with a 2-on-1 opportunity, with Palmieri being the Devil on defense. However, Palmieri was able to block a pass attempt down low from Hurricanes forward Justin Williams with his skate, preventing a chance on goal from Carolina and keeping New Jersey within a goal from tying the game.
“As a forward, not an idela situation, taking a 2-on-1 in a tie game in the third,” said Palmieri, who had three points in the game. “I’m not really sure if that’s the textbook way to play it, but I got lucky and I think the puck went off my skate. As long as it didn’t end up in the back of our net, it’s a win there.
“It wasn’t our greatest game execution wise, defensively wise,” Pamieri continued. “But, this time of year, you got to find a way to do whatever it takes. It was an emotional game.”
Palmieri provided an important save from his forward spot, but Kinkaid was the player for New Jersey who saved the game, as he kept his cool when the Hurricanes piled on the pressure early in the game and looked to extend its 2-1 advantage in the second period. In the frame, Kinkaid had to come up with a huge stop on Brock McGinn as the latter was in on goal on breakaway.
“I just had to keep the boys in it in some way,” said Kinkaid. “Unfortunately, in the third, they got the go-ahead goal. But we kept battling non-stop and we didn’t take out foot off the pedal until the end.”
New Jersey win did allow it to gain on the Philadelphia Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan, as the Flyers lost in overtime to the Dallas Stars later in the event. Columbus won its game against Edmonton, as it leapfrogged Philadelphia into third in the devision. Florida, three points behind New Jersey at 85 points was off tonight and will take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto tomorrow. Regardless of all the possible permutations over the next week, the Devils players know that all they need to do from here on out is keep winning.
“We need to worry about our games and not worry about anybody else,” said Kinkaid.” We can’t rely on anybody else. If we win our games, we’ll put pressure on the other teams.”