Now that’s how you come out of the All-Star Break! The New Jersey Devils played one of their most exciting games of the season and topped the archrival New York Rangers in front of a sold out crowd at the Prudential Center. The 3-2 win was the Devils’ 26th victory of the season pushing their record to 26-20-5, 57 points. The win pulled the Devils within just two points of the Rangers, but they couldn’t gain any ground on the pesky Penguins or Islanders who both won as well. For now New Jersey remains just outside the playoff picture, although they are tied in points with Pittsburgh. The Penguins get the tiebreaker because they’ve played two less games thus far.
Tonight’s contest between the Hudson River rivals started out with a blazing pace. Both teams got quality chances early on and much of the period was a quick back-and-forth with Cory Schneider and Henrik Lundqvist each making their share of strong saves. It was the Rangers who broke through first when Eric Gelinas made an ill-advised pinch at the offensive blue line which sprung an odd-man rush the other way. Derick Brassard, who is having a really good season, came in and saucered a gorgeous pass over the sliding David Schlemko to J.T. Miller who had plenty of the net to shoot at. Schneider didn’t have a chance.
The first ended 1-0 thanks in large part to Cory Schneider who made nine saves in the frame, many of which were grade-A quality chances including this sequence:
— NHL (@NHL) February 3, 2016
After a very late Rangers penalty, the Devils began the second period on a power play where they would level the score. Eric Gelinas unleashed his laser of a shot, which was saved by Lundqvist, but there was Lee Stempniak providing a screen who put home the rebound. The Rangers challenged for goalie interference, but the call was correctly upheld. Stempniak has been one of the best pickups of the offseason. After coming to the Devils on a preseason PTO, he now leads the Devils with 38 points (tied with Michael Cammalleri) and is third on the team with 15 goals. It looks like Stemper finally has found a home.
Off to the third period we go and it was the Rangers and J.T. Miller again who would re-take the lead 2:06 into the frame. Miller took a cross-ice feed from Keith Yandle and beat Schneider from a tough angle. I guarantee you Cory will tell you he should have had that one, but seeing as he made 31 saves and completely stood on his head all night, I’ll give him a pass on that one.
Just a minute and seven seconds later it was rookie sensation Joseph “Blender” Blandisi who took a silky bounce pass off the boards from Captain Andy Greene and blew by the defense beating Lundqvist short-side. It was Blender’s second career goal, and first one he actually shot in – the first was deflected. What a huge goal that was to steal momentum right back. Blandisi has been brilliant since his second call-up. He brings much needed speed and skill to NJ’s forward group and solidifies the top-6. I don’t think he has to worry about playing for Albany again.
So here we are, 2-2, halfway through the third period and the Devils are now going on the power play. David Schlemko would have quite the time as he started the man-advantage by serving up a breakaway to Rangers’ Captain Ryan McDonagh with a no-look backhand pass. Luckily Mac missed the net and the crisis was averted. Back on the other end, Stempniak found Schlemko down low with a pretty pass and Schlemps made up for his mistake. He flicked one in off the post past Lundqvist to give the Devils their first lead, and one they wouldn’t surrender. Schlemko now has five goals this season, which is a career-high for the defenseman, after having nine total in his nine previous seasons. He has been another outstanding under-the-radar pickup by GM Ray Shero last offseason.
Cory Schneider was able to stymie the Rangers in their final push to tie the game and the Devils were able to pull out the hard-fought win. If you were wondering why Schneider is considered elite, or why he was a well-deserving All-Star, look no further than this performance. If the Devils are able to make the playoffs, forget the Vezina, Cory Schneider deserves the Hart.
MVP of the Devils for sure, MVP of the league we’ll see.