If it’s possible to have “must win” games in February, last night’s contest against the Rangers seemed to be one for the Devils. Coming into the game on the heels of a three game losing streak, the Devils desperately needed a win to keep their playoff aspirations a realistic goal. With teams they’re fighting against having more points and more games in hand, it will be a tough task getting into the dance but certainly not an impossible one.
The first step was beating their biggest rival and they did so in impressive fashion sending the Rangers back to New York with a 5-2 loss. Defeating the Rangers is always sweet, but it was even sweeter because of how awful the last three games were. First they absolutely collapsed in the final few minutes against the Flyers, then they played really well but had no luck in a 1-0 shutout loss to the Islanders, and finally they blew another third period lead against Washington. They needed this win which brought them within one point of the final wild card spot.
New Jersey started the game pretty poorly allowing the Rangers to get whatever they wanted early on. However it was the Devils who would draw first blood (you’ll get this joke later). Sergey Kalinin battled on the boards and sent a pass to Damon Severson at the point. Severson ripped a shot that was deflected into the top corner by Tyler Kennedy. It was Kennedy’s second goal as a Devil, both coming in the last four games. The Devils actually got 5v5 scoring from the bottom six… shocking I know.
Then the Rangers really turned it on and scored a pair of goals in the span of 45 seconds. Viktor Stalberg used his speed to fly at Jon Merrill down the right wing. Merrill got beat badly as Stalberg cut to the inside and let a shot go that Cory Schneider was able to get a pad on. Unfortunately the rebound went to an uncovered Kevin Hayes who leveled the score. Hayes was uncovered because Joe Blandisi fell asleep in his defensive duties. It wasn’t a pretty moment for the rookie who almost immediately got demoted to the third line. 45 seconds later Keith Yandle shot a puck ten feet wide and it banked into the net off of Dominic Moore‘s skate. Schneider could do nothing about it.
All of a sudden it’s 2-1 Rangers and the Devils could have easily given up. Three game losing streak, playoff hopes fading, punch to the gut, let’s just pack it in? Not so fast. The second period started and the Devils absolutely turned it on. Whatever John Hynes said in the locker room clearly worked as New Jersey had breakaway after breakaway and tons of odd-man rushes. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Henrik Lundqvist, the Devils would have scored five goals in the frame. As it is they would get a pair.
After a tripping penalty, the Devils’ scorching power play got their first crack and tied the game at two. Blandisi redeemed himself with a sexy pass from the far corner to the slot where Kyle Palmieri was waiting to one-time it past Hank. After going through a bit of a lull, Palmieri now has three goals in the last four games and 23 on the season. Our budding superstar is heating up again at the perfect time.
So it’s a 2-2 game and… CORY SCHNEIDER SAVE OF THE YEAR???????????
CORY. FRANKLIN. SCHNEIDER.
— NHL (@NHL) February 24, 2016
After more sustained pressure and that GEM by Schneider, Blandisi sent another nice pass to Lee Stempniak who broke a nine game goal drought of his own to give the Devils their second lead of the game and one they wouldn’t relinquish. It was Stemper’s 16th goal of the season and team-leading 41st point. His trade value has to be pretty darn high right about now. This next week should be interesting.
With one second left in the period things really got interesting as Kalinin dropped the mitts with J.T. Miller. It was a nice scrap and nothing seemed out of the ordinary… that is until Miller was assessed a match penalty for, well, I wasn’t sure. I had no idea what happened. Then it was explained Miller had tape on his hands, which isn’t illegal, but when the opponent is cut or injured in an altercation that means an automatic five and a game. Kalinin had a cut on his nose which is what triggered that rule being enforced.
Throughout the game, a picture of Kalinin’s hand being taped circulated around social media prompting Rangers fans to be pretty annoyed that he wasn’t ejected as well. In fairness, it’s a very obscure rule so I understand the confusion, but it wasn’t the tape that mattered – it was the cut. If Miller was cut in the fight, Kalinin would have been given a match penalty as well, but he wasn’t. There’s the difference. The rule is black and white.
Their anger only intensified when Kalinin scored on a breakaway with three minutes left all but sealing the win for New Jersey. Let’s recap: Kalinin now had an assist, a fight and a goal. That’s the Gordie Howe Hat Trick! When asked about it after the game, he had a funny quip about him being from Siberia but still having internet access. He shall now be known as Siberian Kalinin. Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it? This was easily Kalinin’s best game as a member of the Devils and he showed everything he can bring to the table. He reminds me of Dainius Zubrus – a big, power forward who can play anywhere in the lineup at any position and in any situation.
Adam Larsson added an empty netter to make the final score 5-2. The Devils showed a ton of character and fight (wink wink) in the comeback victory. A loss would have almost assuredly ended any realistic playoff hopes and made Ray Shero’s trade deadline decisions much easier. Let’s hope the Devils keep making his job as difficult as possible the next few games.