Game 666 very Devilish, The Rat strikes again, break up the Senators, Tuukka Rask announces retirement

The Devils played Game 666 on the NHL schedule last night when they visited Montreal. It was a good omen. Coming off a seventh straight defeat, they turned the tables on the woeful Habs by routing them 7-1.

Montreal is the worst team in hockey. Somehow, they have gone from an astonishing run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup appearance since ’93 to an eight win awful team whose record is so futile, Habs fans are counting down to the end of the season. Eight total wins in 45 games is appalling.

Maybe playing Game 666 is why everything went right for New Jersey. It’s a Devilish number. It’s based on The Book of Revelation. Referred to as the Antichrist, it’s considered the devil’s number. However, it can also be viewed as a positive due to an optimistic spiritual message. Whatever the reason, 666 treated the Devils well.

A lucky 13 players registered points in the 7-1 victory. Thirteen being another interesting number. For years, the Devils never handed it out under former GM Lou Lamoriello. He believed it was unlucky. Current captain Nico Hischier wears number 13. Ironically, he’d score one of the seven goals on Tuesday night.

How good was the game? Seven Devils recorded two points. That included rookie Dawson Mercer, who finally ended a long scoring drought by getting his 10th from Jesper Boqvist and Ty Smith. He’d gone the first 14 games of the new calendar year without a goal. Mercer also had an assist on the Hischier tally that made it 3-1.

Boqvist also had a goal and assist in the win. A former second round pick in 2017, he’s got five points over his last five games including three goals. A positive sign for the 23-year old Swede. The Devils need to see progress from more of their younger players. Ty Smith has struggled this season. However, he set up a pair of goals.

Former first round pick Pavel Zacha had a goal and helper. Checking pivot Mike McLeod chipped in with two goals including the first of the game on a rebound in front past Montreal goalie Cayden Primeau. Even disappointing vet Tomas Tatar got his ninth versus his former team to close the scoring.

The touchdown and extra point were all in support of Jon Gillies. He made 30 saves on 31 shots to notch his second win as a Devil. Given his struggles since coming over from St. Louis, it had to feel good.

Ditto for coach Lindy Ruff, who finally saw his team get a win. They are still without Jack Hughes, who’s in Covid Protocol. He must miss at least one more game before becoming eligible to return.

The Devils next play on Thursday when they visit the Blues. They will be back home for the Penguins on Sunday afternoon.

In other news, Brad Marchand lost it literally at the end of a Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the Pens last night. One of the game’s best players, he is sometimes his own worst enemy. Nicknamed The Rat appropriately, he struck again when he sucker punched Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry during a scrum with the game decided.

It was a cheap shot from an ornery player who makes mystifying decisions. Especially given his talent. There was no reason for the left punch to Jarry’s head. Fortunately, he was fine. Of course, Marchand wasn’t done delivering a high stick to Jarry’s mask. He was assessed 12 penalty minutes including a match penalty at 19:35 by ref Wes McCauley. The right call.

A match penalty is an automatic league review. With him being suspended three games earlier this season, Marchand faces a stiffer punishment for his lunacy. He’s been given an in person meeting by the Department of NHL Player Safety. That means he could be looking at over five games. Given his track record, it will be deserved.

One question is what goes through his head. For a superstar who also is a unique personality, it doesn’t make sense. By now, the 33-year old left wing should act his age. The best player on the Bruins cost himself at least five games or more which can hurt his team. Even though they look like a playoff lock, his decision was selfish last night.

As big a fan as I am of Marchand the hockey player, I was perturbed with his idiocy. Is it an anger management issue on the ice? This isn’t to say there haven’t been stars who crossed the line. Theo Fleury played with the same fire. However, as we now know, much of it was due to his past history dating back to juniors. It’s not worth repeating because it truly disgusted me and many hockey people.

In another game, the Senators scored the first four goals to defeat the Hurricanes 4-3 at home. Ottawa has played better lately. Even without key center Josh Norris, they’re getting contributions throughout the lineup.

Led by captain Brady Tkachuk, who scored twice, they caught Carolina by surprise. Improving sophomore Tim Stutzle assisted on a pair including the game’s first goal 71 seconds in on a great baseball bat deflection from Tkachuk. He also passed in front for another strong Tkachuk finish 40 seconds into the second that made it 3-zip.

Alex Formenton also tallied and Chris Tierney beat Antti Raanta following a sloppy Andrei Svechnikov turnover that made it a 4-0 lead. It was enough to hold off a Canes’ third period rally.

Anton Forsberg made 42 saves including 13 in a busy third. Although Carolina made things interesting on goals from Svechnikov, Brendan Smith and Vincent Trocheck, they couldn’t force extras.

Credit the Sens for playing well enough to get the home win. At 16-22-4, they’re about where one would expect. A rebuilding team with Tkachuk, Norris and Stutzle the clear building blocks along with defenseman Thomas Chabot, they’re playing respectable hockey. Matt Murray is finally healthy and playing better. Forsberg has supplied a solid backup. Would a goalie starved team such as Edmonton come calling?

And finally, it looks like Tuukka Rask has played his final game for the Bruins. The winningest netminder in Bruins franchise history, he tried to come back from hip surgery. After a solid start, he struggled. Apparently, he didn’t feel as good physically after a loss to Anaheim on Jan. 24.

If it’s indeed over, the affable 34-year old Czech netminder had a great career. After Boston stole him from Toronto for Andrew Raycroft, Rask first backed up Tim Thomas on the Stanley Cup championship team. Eventually, he took over and won 308 games while posting a 2.28 GAA, .921 save percentage and 52 shutouts all with the Bruins.

Among the highlights included a Vezina and two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in ’13 and ’19. Despite some of the unfair criticism he received over those two losses, Rask performed extremely well. Leave it to Boston fans to not appreciate how great a goalie he was. They just got beat by the Blackhawks and Blues. It happens.

If he formally announces his retirement as has been speculated in The Athletic, happy trails to Tuukka.

UPDATE: Tuukka Rask made it official this afternoon. At 34, the Boston Bruins netminder announced his retirement from hockey. Best wishes.

Rask will be missed. He truly was a great goalie.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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