Game #30 – Freaky Friday: Devils 5, Golden Knights 4 (OT)

If ever a game was going to drive me to Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! type mania it would have been tonight’s roller coaster of emotions at the Prudential Center.  No I don’t smoke, drink, sniff glue or do amphetamines, but a game like tonight may well have caused me to start – if any of that stuff had been readily available during what can only be described as an emotional, wild, disjointed game.  Really, tonight’s game was more a tale of two games in one.  Any emotion you could possibly feel as a fan was encapsulated in both the local games tonight with one team falling behind by three goals early and coming back to win late, while the other went up by three goals early and lost in OT.

Given the way both teams have played so far this season, I would have penciled in the Rangers for the former scenario and the Devils for the latter if you had given me a blind choice before the night of how each game would turn out.  Particularly given the Devils 0-6 OT record before tonight, which has already been the source of some consternation this year.  Already in the middle of a bleh week personally, I wasn’t amused to learn that the Devils were heading into tonight’s game with Cory Schneider in net, and without Taylor Hall due to an unspecified lower-body injury that’ll cause him to miss at least tomorrow night’s game in Nashville along with tonight’s tilt against the defending Western Conference Champs.

While I’ve dreaded all year what would happen if Cory started at home, even I couldn’t have forseen just how badly this would turn out for him personally.

I was actually relieved when Cory was NOT booed during the intros, or at least I didn’t hear any from a late-arriving but still rowdy Friday night crowd.  It wouldn’t take long for the DEFCON 1 scenario to occur however, as Alex Tuch scored a horrible wraparound goal just 79 seconds into the game and things didn’t improve much thereafter.  Even as early into the game as it was it seemed as if both the crowd and the team itself collectively went ‘here we go again’, and Vegas overran the Devils in the first ten minutes.  It was bad enough when Wild Bill Karlsson scored on a two-on-one to double the Golden Knights’ lead, but the coup de grace came when William Carrier’s trickler went off of Cory’s glove and through his pads for his most embarrasing goal of 2018 yet, and I’m not exaggerating.

Now sound turned into fury and the boos rained down from all sides.  I’m not proud to say I joined in, but in my case it was more of a frustration boo than just a pure ‘go to hell’ one although at that point they were all the same for the poor guy.  I was just overall frustrated with Cory’s career as a Devil, frustrated with the team and its dissapointing season.  I did not, however cheer when Cory was pulled and Keith Kinkaid came in less than halfway through the first period (unlike the rest of the crowd who roared as if we scored a big playoff goal).  How could I?  This is probably the end of the man’s career, or at least his career as a Devil.  I did also notice how Cory sped down the tunnel, and I didn’t think he was injured or going down there to sulk over being pulled.  I don’t doubt for a second he had other emotions bubbling up at that moment.

Though I pitied Cory at that moment I was still disillusioned and even briefly pondered a super-early exit but thought better of it.  And not so surprisingly, the team’s play picked up after Cory was (for lack of a better word) emasculated by the crowd and his own play, but even that annoyed me to no end.  You couldn’t give an effort when this poor guy was struggling but now you decide to play down three goals?  Not that things improved on the scoreboard right away, the power play was horribad as usual in the first period earning more boos, as well as the final buzzer of the opening twenty minutes.  I don’t regret joining in those boos, to be honest – the team earned every one of them.  If you’d told me what was going to happen the rest of the game I would have thought you were playing me for a gullible fool.

Even when Travis Zajac finally scored (and on the power play no less!) early in the second I still wasn’t amused.  It was going to take more than that for the team to get my heart back into the game.  Especially when just as Zajac’s goal was being announced, Karlsson scored again on the Golden Knights’ own power play.  Seeing as this now was two straight home games we’d given up a killer goal while having one of our own goals be announced I not-so-kiddingly told my friend next time they need to hold off the goal announcement till a stoppage in play.  Midway through the second period Miles Wood finally made himself useful again this season, getting to the front of the net scoring a goal off a nice feed from Blake Coleman.  While my friend Rudy didn’t like his overexhuberant goal celebration jumping against the boards I actually didn’t mind it, figuring he was trying to fire up the crowd and the team.  Not to mention I’ve seen too many emotionless goal celebrations this year. 

Not that I was fired up though (yet).  I still figured this was going to be a typically too little, too late surge especially when Vegas nearly made it 5-2 at the end of the second period, but a couple of big saves from Kinkaid and a nice stick play from Andy Greene on an open net kept the Devils in the game.  After being dominated early in shots on goal (which I believe was 7-1 in favor of Vegas when Cory was pulled), the Devils would outshoot the Golden Knights 41-15 the rest of the night and eventually caught some breaks they needed in the third period.  First, Kyle Palmieri scored on a wraparound which made me think we were back in the 1980’s with both starting goalies allowing simple wraparound goals.  Then Marc-Andre Fleury got a taste of Devil goalie medicine when his own defenseman swatted a Brett Seney shot past him into the net for an own-goal with just over five minutes remaining, tying the game and sending everyone – including me at last – into a frenzy.

With everyone in the crowd firmly behind them, they had one more chance to do something on the power play but despite some good chances couldn’t get another one, and narrowly avoided disaster when Sami Vatanen gave up a two-on-one on the PP.  Even though they failed to get the win in regulation, the Devils earned themselves a standing ovation at the end of sixty minutes.  Was this really the same game where they were booed to the high heavens in the first period?  As Chico Resch wryly noted on the postgame, ‘I was just happy for the fans (after the comeback)…they were so angry during that first period’.

Of course the comeback would have lost something if this turned into just another OT/SO loss and next-to-useless loser point.  Although after the great comeback and what it took just to get to OT, I observed that if they didn’t win now in OT, they never would this season.  Inexhorably and finally, the Devils would get the job done in OT through a magnificent play from the resurgent Marcus Johansson and teen prodigy Nico Hischier – with Johansson threading the needle to find Hischier in front and Hischier, while being hauled down to the ice somehow got enough on the puck to muscle it past Marc-Andre Fleury for the winning goal.  Finally, our OT futility was over.

Or was it?!

In perhaps the most preposterous plot twist in a night full of them, the refs and the league let the Devils and the fans celebrate for a couple of minutes, with the Devils going through their entire postgame ritual of celebrating, skating around the rink and lifting the sticks to the fans from center ice before going off…and only then did Toronto call down and say the goal was under review due to possible offsides.  Everyone there flipped their lid, at least the ones not already on their way out of the arena.  I joked coach John Hynes was probably at the podium already for his post-game presser, which wasn’t too far from the truth since he was well into the locker room before being informed the play was under review.

Thankfully, after a couple of anxious minutes the refs ruled that Nate Schmidt played the puck back into his own zone, canceling out the potential offsides and the unbelievable result stood.  I’ll leave the angst over whether Cory should be sent down (narrator: of course he should), and how the team can make this result stick in Nashville tomorrow for someone else to comment on.  It is noteworthy some AP reporter was the first one to actually ask coach Hynes in the postgame if sending Cory down was a consideration.  While it’s a fair question, it’s perhaps odd timing after such a huge win.  At this point I’m not sure anything short of a change of scenery – beyond just a stint in Binghamton – can fix Cory if it’s even possible.  If what happened the last fifty plus minutes of the game didn’t happen this blog would have a very different, far more melancholy tone, especially given what this game could mean for Cory’s future going forward.

Clearly the net is Kinkaid’s going forward, despite an injury scare that had some paranoid we’d have to put Cory back in during the second period.  I figured if worse came to worse – just wheel Keith out in a wheelchair and let his good fortune continue, which it did tonight with yet another post shot.  Not to mention a trickler that almost went through him the same way the third goal went through Cory, although in Keith’s case the puck stayed on the line and was eventually cleared.  Speaking of luck, maybe the returning John Quenneville’s actually the lucky charm.  After all the team’s 5-0 when he plays and he’ll surely draw in again tomorrow with Hall missing and Stefan Noesen on IR.

It is too bad the team has to play again (and going on a road trip all the way to Nashville no less) on a back-to-back and not have enough time to savor tonight’s win.  Still if this team’s going to get back in the race they have to find a way to win in less than optimal circumstances.  Tonight was a good example of how that can be done.

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