Preseason Game 4: Lettieri’s OT winner gives Rangers exciting win over Devils

For a preseason game, the Devils and Rangers put on quite a show last night. In the second meeting before the season, it was once again the Blueshirts that prevailed in overtime. Last week, Neal Pionk was the hero in Newark. On Monday night, Vinni Lettieri was the hero at MSG, giving the Garden hosts an exciting 4-3 victory over the Devils.

There was a pretty good crowd for preseason too. You had some energy in the building. Similar to last week against the Flyers. It’s early but you can feel a more palpable excitement surrounding this year’s rebuilding team. Maybe it’s the fact there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Reggie Hammond David Quinn. I couldn’t help but make a classic reference from Another 48 Hours.

Most exhibition games are just that. But you couldn’t tell by how hard both Hudson rivals competed for almost 64 minutes before a winner was determined. Each team dressed a fair amount of regulars with a few fresh faces mixed in. It made for a compelling game. One that didn’t lack in intensity and emotions. They ran high on a few occasions, which is a refreshing change for our side of the rivalry. The turn the other cheek, vanilla era is gone. Believe you me, we are all happier about this development.

Even if it means Cody McLeod will play in some rivalry games, which is how he should be used. Truth be told, he hasn’t been bad so far. He’s even been in on some goals, including the Peter Holland shot that was officially changed to McLeod’s on Saturday. When he isn’t busy finishing checks or battling Devils defenseman Eric Gryba in a fight he won to avenge Boo Nieves, he was involved in another goal from the fourth line.

Following a scoreless first period that saw actual backchecking and defense than we were accustomed to the past season, McLeod was in on the game’s first goal scored by Steven Fogarty. The 25-year old out of Note Dame has had a good camp, which is why he’s still around fighting for a roster spot. I’d love to see him stick, but it looks like Lettieri has a leg up in the competition. With both Jimmy Vesey and Vladislav Namestnikov blocking spots, there isn’t much room. If either weren’t guaranteed roster spots based on the contracts they signed, they’d be in deep trouble. Neither have distinguished themselves. The final two games are tomorrow at home against the Islanders and Thursday at the Flyers.

The second certainly was busier. There was more offense from both sides. The teams combined for three goals and 19 shots. Following Fogarty nudging a McLeod rebound by Devils starter Eddie Lack, the Devs picked it up. They were getting out played till that point. Eight of the first nine shots in the period were in favor of the Rangers. However, that changed quickly thanks to more aggression from New Jersey. Eventually, it resulted in a tying goal from Kyle Palmieri.

One-third of the Devils lethal top line, Palmieri took a centering pass from Taylor Hall and rifled a shot top shelf past Rangers starter Henrik Lundqvist to tie the score. Pavel Buchnevich made a poor choice, making a bad drop pass to Marc Staal, who had Hall pressuring him. Not surprisingly, Hall came out with the puck and made the perfect set up for Palmieri. That’s the kind of brilliant play you expect from the Devils Hart winner. His line with super sophomore Nico Hischier and Palmieri will be a handful for anyone to handle. They combined for all three goals with both Hischier and Hall picking low glove, far side on reliever Marek Marzanec in the third.

Lundqvist wanted more work. So, he stayed in for the entire second. He was sharper throughout in his second appearance, finishing with 14 saves. He was particularly strong down low and more square to the shooter. His rebound control also was an improvement.

The Rangers responded with a goal from another new face. This time, it was 2016 fifth round pick Tim Gettinger, who had a shot come right back to him off Gryba. His follow up beat Lack for a one goal lead. Pionk made the play by intercepting a pass in the neutral zone. He then passed for the big man, Gettinger, who did the rest. Listed at 6-6, 220, the 20-year old is an interesting prospect. He had a good year with Sault Ste. Marie. We’ll see how he progresses.

In the third, a beautiful power play goal from Chris Kreider scored off a rush and excellent pass from Mika Zibanejad made it 3-1 on the power play. Tony DeAngelo started it from behind his own net with a pass leading Zibanejad, who flew into the Devils zone and found Kreider alone for a great one-timer that Lack had no chance on. For a third string goalie, he played quite well, stopping 33 of 36 shots. That included some superb saves down low including a big one on a redirect attempt late in regulation.

The Devils rallied thanks to that wonderful top line. First, Hischier took a Palmieri drop pass in transition and whistled a wrist shot far side and between the arm of Mazanec to cut it to 3-2. Sami Vatanen got it started following a Brendan Smith turnover in the Devils zone. Hischier looks poised for a big second year.

Then, Hall flew off the bench on a line change to score from the identical spot that Hischier scored. It was well executed. No Ranger ever saw Hall, who had too much time to unleash a bomb from Palmieri and Hischier, tying it up. Buchnevich was the closest player, but it was too late. Chalk it up to a great play by the opponent. That is a lot of skill from those three players. I think the cohesive trio could each go for 70 or more points.

Even late with strong checking from Zibanejad, Fast. Kreider, Brady Skjei and Pionk, that line came out with the puck to set up a Vatanen shot that was blocked.

Fittingly, the game went to overtime. By that time, we had gone downstairs to catch the action. MSG security let my brother and his friend sit down and watch up close. I decided to watch from the steps on the big screen.

There were no less than four times the Devils should’ve ended it. Hall was in alone and Mazanec got a piece of it to keep it out. You had Hischier in two-on-one and a goalpost was hit. Devils first round pick Ty Smith just missed. So chaotic and frenetic was the three-on-three that everyone who stayed enjoyed the fast paced action.

Eventually, it was Kevin Hayes, who patiently outwaited Vatanen with a series of fakes, who somehow passed down low for a Lettieri deflection inside the crossbar and out, that made the winning play. I think everyone thought he would pass across to Pionk. Even though it looked like the shot was open,it wasn’t. The play confused the ref behind the net. He actually waved it off. But one replay was enough proof on the big board to leave. Here’s how it looked:

Quite an ending for a preseason rematch. It didn’t feel like it. Not with the two scraps including McLeod getting the decision over Gryba, who got the better of Matt Beleskey in the early going. Beleskey was injured and didn’t return. Considering the direction the roster is headed, he isn’t making it anyway. Neither is the still concussed Nieves. Poor guy.

I’d like to see the hard working Fogarty on the roster, but with Quinn giving Lettieri over 20 minutes of ice-time in an expanded role, it looks like the final two forwards will be Lettieri and the enforcer, McLeod. Look for the final 23-man roster to include eight defensemen, including Fredrik Claesson, who was up and down yesterday. Former Bruin Adam McQuaid will be the seventh D behind Smith and DeAngelo, who has had a much better camp. He looks like he belongs. Let’s hope it continues.

Other Devils regulars who played included Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle, Stefan Noessen, Jesper Bratt, Andy Greene and Mirco Mueller. John Quenneville remains with the club in a close competition for a spot. Nick Lappin was placed on waivers. Mikey McLeod, Joey Anderson and Marian Students were sent down to AHL affiliate Binghamton.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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