The Devils ended their three-game losing streak by posting a much needed win in the final regular season meeting against the Hudson rival Rangers. They earned it with a 5-2 home victory before a sellout crowd of 16,514 at The Prudential Center.
Five different Devils scored including Ranger killer Lee Stempniak to put them ahead for good at 18:06 of the second period. It was Stempniak’s third goal in the four-game season series won by the Devils. They improved to 3-1-0 against the Rangers. A nice reward for a hard working team that always hustles and outworks opponents with relentless effort in wins. They were the far better team tonight out-shooting the Blueshirts 30-14 at one point. With a flurry in the third, the Rangers closed to 33-25 but fell short on the scoreboard.
After a rare goal for Tyler Kennedy which was only his second, the Rangers responded with two straight less than a minute apart. Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore scored within a 45-second span to put them ahead 2-1. Rookie call up Marek Hrivik recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Moore’s tally. In an otherwise forgettable night, he was a bright spot logging 16 shifts (9:54 ice-time) including 1:56 shorthanded to help kill off a five-minute major to J.T. Miller. Miller was given a match penalty for wearing tape on his hand while fighting Sergey Kalinin at the end of the second period.
What was discovered is that the NHL prohibits any player from wearing tape on their knuckles during fights. If the other participant is cut, that player is automatically ejected. The confusing aspect is it also appeared Kalinin might have been wearing tape. Who knows anymore what’s allowed and what isn’t. What is clear is that the Rangers were without one of their best forwards for the third which didn’t help matters. Especially skating without defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal.
The turning point came in a lackluster second. The Devils completely outplayed the Rangers outscoring them 2-0 and out-shooting them 17-5. With Mats Zuccarello off for a trip, rookie Joseph Blandisi neatly set up Kyle Palmieri for a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at two with 9:34 remaining. The penalty kill continues to be a serious issue for the Blueshirts, who after killing off nine straight the previous two games couldn’t get it done minus both McDonagh and Staal. Derek Stepan didn’t pick up Palmieri, who had enough time to score his Devils-leading 23rd from Blandisi and Jacob Josefson.
Speaking of Blandisi, the first-year Devils forward was again nabbed for embellishment. Having already served a coincidental minor for mixing it up with Dylan McIlrath, Blandisi helped sell a interference call on McIlrath leading to matching minors. Having already had one of the worst dives in recent memory, he should be fined by the NHL. As for what he did offensively, Blandisi was a standout setting up Stempniak’s game-winner from the same vacated area with 1:54 left in the second. Adam Larsson drew a secondary helper.
With time winding down in the stanza, Miller decided to go with Kalinin. An odd match-up to say the least. I’m not sure what he was trying to prove. Fighting a lesser role player and getting himself kicked out of the game was silly. Even if I disagree with the rule, it is what it is. It cost the Rangers their most effective forechecker, forcing Alain Vigneault to move Hayes up with Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. Chris Kreider played with Derick Brassard and Jesper Fast. Vigneault had to mix and match with 11 forwards including Hayes’ normal linemates Viktor Stalberg and Oscar Lindberg.
It was an advantage for the Devils. They successfully sat back and protected the lead. Though it wasn’t without some close calls. Cory Schneider made some key stops including a highway robbery late in the second that denied a certain goal. He finished with 23 saves.
Lundqvist wasn’t as lucky. Despite keeping his team in the contest with some important saves when the Devils were pressing, he was victimized late by Kalinin on a breakaway with 2:44 left in the third. Having also recorded an assist on Kennedy’s goal and the fight with Miller, that gave him a Gordie Howe hat trick. Off a Brassard faceoff win, Andy Greene made a great defensive play poking the puck by a pinching Dan Boyle trapping him. That sent Kalinin in on Lundqvist alone and he made no mistake going top shelf inside the crossbar. Adam Henrique also got a helper.
Larsson added an empty netter with 29 seconds left for the final margin.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Adam Larsson, NJD (empty net goal-3rd, assist, 3 hits, 3 blocked shots, +3 in 26 shifts-21:55)
2nd Star-Kyle Palmieri, NJD (power play goal-23rd, 4 SOG, 26 shifts (21:12)
1st Star-Sergey Kalinin, NJD (1-1-2 fight-Gordie Howe hat trick, 4 hits, +2 in 22 shifts-14:37)