If only they could’ve won this one, who knows what may have happened. Instead, the Devils will be lamenting a lost opportunity to gain in the race for the final wild card. They dropped a tough game to the Canes 3-2 in Raleigh. The loss was costly as it left the Devils with just six games remaining. In fact, Carolina moved ahead of them by a point in the standings. The Canes have 81 with six left while the Devils remain at 80 with six to go.
Unlike the complete effort they gave in a frustrating 1-0 overtime loss to the Caps, New Jersey got off to a awful start. They were dominated in the opening 20 minutes by the Canes. Carolina scored twice within a 36-second span to put the Devils in a early hole they never recovered from. Following a fight that Brad Malone started with Bobby Farnham, they were on a power play when Travis Zajac was nabbed for a hold 18 seconds later.
Shortly after, the Canes took advantage with Ron Hainsey scoring the game’s first goal from Jordan Staal and Jacob Slevin. Staal made a nice cross ice feed to a wide open Hainsey for a tap in. Rookie Joseph Blandisi complicated matters by taking a tripping minor. Carolina needed only 21 seconds to convert on the power play when Victor Rask beat Scott Wedgewood at 9:46 to make it a two-goal deficit. Left alone in the slot, he took a Elias Lindholm feed and snapped a wrist shot that squeaked through Wedgewood.
Rask wasn’t done. Early in the second, he got behind the Devil defense for a breakaway goal making it 3-0 at 2:01. Jeff Skinner found him with a nice outlet that trapped David Warsofsky and Vojtek Kalinin. The breakdown proved costly. Rask’s 20th proved to be the game-winner.
Afterwards, the Devils showed resilience coming back to make it a game. Under first-year coach John Hynes, they’ve been relentless throughout the season. It explains why they entered only five points behind the idle Flyers and Red Wings, who both lost on Saturday. Bobby Farnham took advantage of a Malone giveaway to beat Cam Ward at 6:27. Just 50 seconds later, a aggressive forecheck from Kyle Palmieri forced Ward into a turnover behind the net. Rookie recall Blake Pietila fed Travis Zajac for an easy finish cutting the deficit to one.
The Devs continued to carry the play. In fact, they outshot the Canes 22-9 after the first. However, they were unable to complete the comeback. Ironically, Blandisi had the best chance. He made a great move around a Carolina defenseman getting in on Ward but his backhand deke five-hole attempt was denied by the former Conn Smythe winner in the third.
It was as close as they came. From there, the Canes played textbook defense. Keeping the Devils to the perimeter, they really did a good job limiting their chances and shots. Even though they wound up with nine in the period, only one was dangerous. Unfortunately, Blandisi couldn’t beat Ward.
Even after Wedgewood went to the bench for an extra attacker, the Canes’ attention to detail prevailed. They blocked shots and got in passing lanes. That was all she wrote. Maybe for the Devs’ playoff chances too.
Battle of NY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Bobby Farnham, Devils (his goal-8th gave team life, 1st since Jan. 12, plus fight)
2nd Star-Jeff Skinner, Canes (primary helper on Rask’s winner-has had a much better season)
1st Star-Victor Rask, Canes (2 goals-19, 20 incl. breakaway winner at 2:01 of 2nd)
Notes: With six games left, the Devils probably have to run the table to realistically make it. They’ll also need plenty of help. They can max out at 92 points. Both the Flyers and Wings have 85. Their tragic number is 8. … After stopping 91 of the first 93 shots in his first three NHL starts, Wedgewood allowed three goals on 24. … The assist for Pietila was his first NHL point in only his third game. He’s a former 2011 fifth round pick. Pietila was one of the best Devs all game finishing with four shot attempts and four hits in 22 shifts (16:15). … Devils (36-32-8) have 80 points in 76 games played with 34 ROW (regulation overtime wins). They host the Bruins Tuesday. Then visit Panthers Thursday and Lightning on Saturday, April 2.