So what is a team to do when their best player is stuck on two goals finding new and creative ways to not score, their so-called best defenseman has been MIA, their veteran goalie has proven to be useless and the coaching staff is under fire from all sides? Of course, the answer is rely on a 22-year old with 37 career games in net to carry the entire team. Make no mistake, Mackenzie Blackwood is close to the only reason the Devils got any points out of this back-to-back, let alone all four. Certainly he was the only reason the Devils escaped the Rock on Friday night with an undeserved ‘win’ against the Penguins despite the team getting outshot 39-21. Even being at the game I didn’t exactly feel good about the performance of anyone this side of Blackwood, who was truly spectacular against the Crosby-less Pens.
That’s not to say the Devils didn’t play well last night. It was hard to tell given I really wasn’t expecting much from last night’s game so I didn’t pick it up until early in the third period, when the referee clown circus was rolling into town. And where the clown circus car is, Chris Rooney usually isn’t far away. Remember him, Devils fans? Most of us would rather forget, after his Stanley Cup Finals-deciding major penalty against Steve Bernier after missing a clear Kings penalty seconds earlier, and a handful of other games where he’s made a meal of the simplest things – usually against the Devils, to the consternation of former coach Pete DeBoer who got thrown out of a late-season game against the Rangers the following season – essentially for telling Rooney how much he sucked.
The irony of last night is it seemed to be two different refereed games, with zero penalties called in the first thirty-seven minutes followed by total mayhem and chaos in the game’s final twenty-five minutes. In the case of last night it seemed to go both ways at times with neither set of fans happy with the refs calling every little thing – real and imagined – as if it were an NFL game. Although really, when are Hab fans ever happy with the refs to begin with? With the Devils trailing 2-1 (despite outshooting the Habs and old friend Keith Kinkaid 20-9 in the first period!), the refs suddenly realized they had a quota of penalties to hit and started whistling everything under the sun. Back-to-back penalties against P.K. Subban and Damon Severson led to a 5-on-3 goal for the Habs that gave them a 3-1 lead and seemingly put the game to bed given the Devils’ lack of fight when falling behind this year.
But no…this time the team actually did show some grit and Nico Hischier’s shorthanded goal with just seconds remaining kept the Devils in the game at 3-2 and set up a ridiculous third period with penalty after penalty, which included a bench minor for too many men on a power play against us (LOLHynes), a double minor against the Habs’ Max Domi where they somehow avoided being shorthanded for very long given Domi’s penalty was just eleven seconds after Miles Wood went to the box, and then Kyle Palmieri went off for cross-checking during the 4-on-4 taking away all but about forty seconds of the four-minute double-minor. Mercifully Palmieri’s penalty was the last of a third period that saw six minors and two double-minors called, but it wouldn’t be the last time the refs interjected themselves into the game.
Shockingly, the Devils’ previously inept power play did manage to score with the little time remaining on Domi’s double-minor when a perfect Taylor Hall pass found the stick of Wayne Simmonds in front, and the big man tipped it home to tie the game at 3. It really is amazing how Hall can still be so pinpoint with his passes, but when it comes to actually hitting an open net earlier in the contest for what should have been a gimme goal, his aim was nowhere to be found. Be that as it may, Simmonds’ goal tied the game and seemingly set up overtime until…well the refs somehow calling THIS a good goal on the ice in the final minute of regulation:
Somehow both interfering with the goalie and shielding/shoving the puck in with your body counted as a good goal, not to mention on netmouth scrums like that we’ve been getting quick whistles when our skaters have come close to breathing on the other team’s goalie. It looked like another typical Montreal referee moment (thank you Peter Laviolette for the true viral clip that won’t die).
Fortunately the video review people in Toronto restored some sense of sanity and rightly disallowed the goal, sending the game to OT. Ironically it was one last penalty that would decide the issue, this one called on Phillip Danault in OT. With open ice on a four-on-three, Kyle Palmieri found the perfect spot from the left side of the ice to one-time the winner past Kinkaid off another on-target Hall feed. It was Palmieri’s seventh goal of the season, but first since his hat trick against Tampa Bay nearly three weeks ago. Blackwood was again strong in net with 31 saves, but this time at least the Devils gave him enough help offensively to get a more deserved win.
And wither poor Cory Schneider? If you can’t start him on a road back-to-back when Blackwood had to stop about five kitchen sinks that were thrown at him against the Penguins, then it’s time to waive/IR him and give Louis Domingue a shot. You can’t literally play Blackwood the rest of the way with over 60 games left in the season (despite the fact Blackwood does have every single win the team has), and it’s going to be a long while before the team either escapes peril or is eliminated for good. For John Hynes, everything is literally a one-game season right now though. Two wins may have cooled the griddle he’s on for the moment but this team has a long way to go to get out of the hole it built for itself.