After getting less than four hours of sleep Thursday in the middle of a stressful weekend, I wasn’t even thinking of watching the Devils’ game in Arizona Friday. Particularly after their horrendous loss in Dallas two nights ago. So I wound up sleeping through the early part of the night but actually woke up in time for the replay on MSG+ or whatever they’re calling it now. I did see the final result before but figured I’d at least watch the superextended highlight version.
Essentially that’s what a late-night game replay is, they show the periods of the game where goals are scored and the most intense action (late third, OT/SO) and cut out parts of the early game that aren’t as action-packed. I did get at least a feel for the action, seemed like a bit of a weird game or as eventual SO hero Drew Stafford described it, a ‘greasy’ game. I do like Stafford but giving him the first star based on a game where he played just over nine minutes and only scored in the shootout is just normalizing the shootout as a ‘GW goal’ a bit too much for me, but whatever. After a rare road win it’s a good problem to have.
I was actually a bit surprised the refs and Toronto gave Nico Hischier a goal in the first minute plus of the game – granted, he earned it with a nice finish off a Kyle Palmieri feed but a sliding attempt by Clayton Keller to block the pass had already dislodged the net and resulted in no goal called on the ice. Correctly, the refs ruled it didn’t impact the play (and indeed arguably was a nonintentional intentional dislodging of the net caused by Keller), and gave birthday boy Hischier a goal.
Things went from good to shaky to bad though when an extended five-on-three saw Mackenzie Blackwood make some brilliant saves but one too many split stretches during that sequence resulted in what apparently looked like a slightly pulled/tight groin (fellow goalie Keith Kinkaid admitted as much in a postgame interview). Blackwood did stay in the game for several minutes after that but eventually gave way to Kinkaid, who as things have gone this season gave up a goal on his first shot although ‘credit’ for the goal should go to Pavel Zacha for a dreadful turnover in front of his own net.
For once, the D and non-Blackwood goaltending actually held up for the most part in a game where they outshot the Coyotes 35-25 despite that extended five-on-three (despite Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman both being in the box during it!), and Brian Boyle’s double-minor in the third period that our vaunted PK unit shut down. I say for the most part because a blocked shot led to a fatal two-on-one for the Coyotes in the middle of the period. While defenseman Ben Lovejoy actually did what he was supposed to and took the pass away while not overcommitting early, Kinkaid allowed a shortside dart by Christian Fischier to get past him to give Arizona a 2-1 lead.
It was Zajac and Coleman who got the Devils back on equal footing late in the period, keeping their poise on a broken play in front with Zajac getting the puck through a defender to Coleman who basically redirected it under Darcy Kuemper to tie the game. While I didn’t realize this while watching the replay initially, apparently during the second period the refs did disallow a goal by the immortal Blake Pietila with a (possibly quick?) whistle and we could have won the game in regulation instead of just being tied. Oh well…we might have blown it if we had to protect a third period lead anyway.
With the game tied, the Devils killed off the aformentioned four-minute PK but otherwise controlled the action late. Even in the dreaded OT the Devils were for once the better team, but of course couldn’t convert despite Nico being on the doorstep after some lovely work from fellow soph Jesper Bratt to get him the puck. Although the shootout has seldom been kind to us, at least we had SO specialist Stafford in the lineup, along with leading goalscorer Kyle Palmieri who’s improved at the skills competition the last couple years. Both scored while Kinkaid only had to make a pair of saves to seal the win. Kinkaid’s exaggerated can’t look reaction during Stafford’s winner said it all about how big a win it was for the team. Although they’re still far out of a playoff spot – essentially they’re 10 points behind and have to pass two of Buffalo, Montreal, the Isles and Columbus to get back in a playoff position – any extended run was going to have to start with at least a couple of wins on this trip.