– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — Just over a month ago, the mind of recently-called up forward Nathan Bastian was racing a hundred miles per hour in anticipation of his first National Hockey League game. Tonight, when Bastian actually put in his first National Hockey League goal, Bastian’s mind, admittedly, went completely blank.
In his second-career game in the pros, Bastian scored his first National Hockey League goal on a deflection in front, helping to lead the new-look New Jersey Devils to a 2-1 victory over the Montréal Canadiens at the Prudential Center on Monday night, just hours after a number of veteran key players, including winger Marcus Johansson, defenseman Ben Lovejoy and goalkeeper Keith Kinkaid, were traded before the 3 P.M. trade deadline.
“More than anything, I just wanted to be part of a win,” said Bastian, who made his NHL debut on Jan. 19 at home against the Anaheim Ducks. “You go from being a fan to playing against NHL’ers in a matter of 24 hours. I was out there and I was able to contribute in a win.”
Bastian was one of nine players on the active roster on Monday night who, at some point this season, spent time in the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton. At 12:35 of the first period, Bastian skated toward the net to deflect a shot from newly-acquired defenseman Connor Carrick past Canadiens goalkeeper Carey Price to give New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
After his goal, Bastian pounded the glass in excitement of his first career NHL tally. When asked by A Lot of Sports Talk what was he was thinking just moments after scoring, Bastian admitted that what was running through his mind was all a blur.
“Nothing,” Bastian said. “I just blacked out. I was too excited.”
“For me, to come up, it’s one of those things that my minutes might be limited, I’m probably going to be my fourth liner,” Bastian continued. “I’m in bed before and I can’t sleep and I’m thinking about scoring the overtime winner or something outrageous. I was able to score the kind of goal that I kind of score, so I’m pretty fortunate there.”
Another first-year player and former Binghamton Devil, Kurtis Gabriel, scored on a backhand at 3:06 of the second period to double New Jersey’s advantage. Carrick, acquired by the Stars for Lovejoy, had the primary assist on the two Devils’ goals, with all of the new faces contributing to the scoresheet tonight signaling an official shift in New Jersey’s priorities this season: seeing how much the young kids have to offer during the final stretch of a lost season.
One of the holdovers for the Devils, goaltender Cory Schneider, made 34 saves in winning his fourth game in his last five.
“When you have young guys called up and guys in the lineup due to injury or trades, you need people to step up,” Schneider said. “The top line was getting keyed on, so to have guys step in and contribute like that was huge. We’re going to need everyone to contribute. Win or lose games like tonight, we can live with this effort and that compete level.”
Another loss to the bottom-dwelling Devils is something the Canadiens can not afford if they want to hold on to a playoff spot, as they missed an opportunity to open up a three-point cushion over both the idle Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, a three-team race for the two Wild Card spots at the moment. Montréal lost all three games this season against the Devils, taking just one point in the season series.
“We just didn’t start on time,” Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said. “We didn’t play well enough to win a hockey game. This time of year, you have to play 60 minutes and we didn’t do that.”
Paul Byron, recently returning the lineup after missing six games due to an arm injury, scored a shorthanded goal with 13:30 remaining in the third period for Montréal’s only goal.