Road Warrior Canucks Escape New Jersey with 2-1 Win

Vancouver 2               Devils 1

The Vancouver Canucks came into Prudential Center on Friday night with the NHL’s best road record (21-10-2) and then left the arena with another road win, beating the New Jersey Devils 2-1, by holding off a torrid attack over the game’s final 40 minutes. The Devils were unable to tie the game thanks in large part to Canucks goalie Cory Schneider, who made 30 saves and was easily the star of the game.

“We’ve played five games in seven nights, in seven different cities,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said of his team, who managed only 16 shots on goal after playing and winning the previous night in Detroit. “It’s very challenging to say the least, obviously there was nothing left in the tank tonight. Our guys did everything they could on the ice and we were very fortunate tonight to get some unreal goaltending.”

Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome started the scoring 8:44 into the game when he alertly followed up on a shot from his partner Christopher Tanev that Martin Brodeur couldn’t control. The puck deflected off of the paddle of Brodeur’s goal stick and careened directly to Rome who scored his fourth goal of the season.

The Canucks doubled their lead to 2-0 when Mason Raymond fired a wrist shot past Brodeur 2:07 into the second period; Raymond’s shot from just outside the right face-off circle hit Devils’ defenseman Andy Greene’s skate before eluding Brodeur. After that goal New Jersey really picked up their game and began firing quality shot after shot at Schneider, who was gobbling them all up while allowing very few rebounds.

David Clarkson finally solved Schneider (scoring for the third consecutive game) when he converted his 24th goal of the season on a nifty pass from Patrik Elias into a wide open net side at 11:30. Elias faked as if he were about to shoot the puck and then sent a perfect slap-pass to Clarkson for an easy tip-in goal.

The Devils continued to increase the pressure on Vancouver over the final two periods, but Schneider was there at every turn, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced. “He’s a good goalie, I played against him in college,” said New Jersey defenseman Matt Taormina after the team’s first loss in five games. “Every year he has backed up (Roberto) Luongo really well, he can be a starter almost anywhere. He’s a really good goalie who’s hard to get a lot of rebounds off of. We just couldn’t bury our chances that we needed to.”

During the game it was announced that New Jersey had traded defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Pamieri and Stephane Veilleux and two draft picks to Minnesota for defenseman Marek Zidlicky. He should provide help on the Devils power play, as 40 of his 60 career goals have come during man advantages. Devils coach Peter DeBoer is happy to have another piece added to his roster heading towards the playoffs. “He’s experienced, he can move the puck, we’ve got a pretty good handle on this guy. Patrik (Elias) knows him, assistant Dave Barr worked with him in Minnesota, Jacques Lemaire coached him in Minnesota; I think all of the reports I’ve heard are very positive.”

Prior to the game there was a brief ceremony to honor longtime television play-by-play voice of the Devils — Mike “Doc” Emrick. He stepped away from the position during the summer to spend more time at home after 21 seasons of work with the team and the franchise brought him back so the fans and some of the players could say thank you. He can still be heard on NHL games that air on NBC and NBCSN, as well as the hockey portion of the Olympics.

Game Notes: With the assist on Clarkson’s goal, Elias now has 13 points in 15 career games against Vancouver. Brodeur fell to 6-12 in 18 career games against the Canucks, by far his worst record against any NHL team. Ilya Kovalchuk led all skaters in ice-time with 26:34 and defenseman Kevin Bieksa led the Canucks with 23:57. Rome led all players with four blocked shots, while Devils’ winger Steve Bernier led all players with six hits. Zach Parise led all players with seven shots on goal, four players on Vancouver had two each. New Jersey (35-21-4) is off until Sunday afternoon when they host Tampa Bay (27-26-6) and Vancouver (39-16-6) will finish their road trip that same afternoon in Dallas (31-26-4).

Dan’s 3  Stars of the Game:
#1 — Cory Schneider (Van) — 30 saves, win (14-5-0)
#2 — Mason Raymond (Van) — gw goal (7)
#3 — David Clarkson (NJ) — goal (24)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Clarkson’s Flukey Goal Helps Devils Rally Past Rangers

Devils 4                        Rangers 3            shootout

Playing against the best team in the Eastern Conference and trailing by a goal with under a minute to go in the game Tuesday night, the New Jersey Devils needed some puck-luck and found it when Andy Greene’s dump-in hit a partition in the Prudential Center glass and kicked out to a wide-open David Clarkson in the slot. He quickly snapped a shot past Martin Biron and tied the game against the New York Rangers 3-3 with 47.6 seconds left in the third period.”As a team we kept battling back, we were down and we battled back,” said Clarkson, “it’s good to see at this time of the season. For our first game back after the All-Star break, this was a good win.”

After a scoreless overtime, the Devils prevailed in the shootout as Ilya Kovalchuk scored the lone goal and Martin Brodeur stopped all three of New York’s shooters to even up the season series between the Hudson River Rivals (1-1).

The Rangers opened the scoring with less than a minute to play in the opening period when defenseman Anton Stralman collected a loose rebound and had an easy tap-in goal at the side of Brodeur’s net. Marian Gaborik (the All-Star Game MVP) fired the original shot that hit Devils’ blueliner Anton Volchenkov and then caromed off of Brodeur’s pad to a wide-open Stralman.

The Devils captain, Zach Parise, finally got his team on the board after his hard work and perseverance led to his 16th goal of the season 8:20 into the second period. On the scoring play Parise’s original shot was rebuffed by Biron but he slapped at the rebound — propelling the puck over Biron’s shoulder and under the crossbar. “I was trying to get the shot through and the rebound came right back to me,” he explained. “I didn’t know that it went in right away, it went in and came out pretty quickly. I wasn’t sure and then I heard the whistle and the crowd roared, so (laughs) I was pretty happy to get one.”

With the score still 1-1, Brian Boyle gave the Rangers a one-goal lead again when he cut across the slot with the puck on his stick and fired a high shot into the net past a Brodeur who had spun on his back with his legs up in the air. New York was able to maintain the 2-1 lead until Kovalchuk scored a power play goal at 15:25, but before the arena’s PA announcer could announce the goal the Rangers netted their third lead of the night 26 seconds later when Michael Del Zotto beat Brodeur with a shot that went right-to-left as the goalie slid left-to-right; Gaborik made a brilliant cross-ice backhand pass through three defenders on the scoring play.

That set up Clarkson to be the late-game hero, finding himself in the right place at the right time and hoping that he wouldn’t mess up the golden opportunity. “It was just one of those lucky bounces,” said a smiling Clarkson to reporters in the locker room after the game. “It kind of just landed right on my stick; I got a little nervous because I was like ‘How did this just happen?’ We played hard tonight, and Marty was unbelievable for us.”

Greene was happy to explain his part in the scoring play, returning to action after missing 22 games with a non-displaced toe fracture. “I was just trying to put it up and around the glass, but it’s not that easy to hit the right partition and pop out,” he said. When I asked if that’s what the coaching staff diagrammed he laughed and said, “Yeah, it’s like that Buffalo Wild Wings commercial with the field goal at the end of a game and the guy hits the sprinkler button.”

Parise was pleased with the team’s effort after a three game win-less skid and six days off, “We played hard, we played well; that’s a hard-working team and we matched them for the whole game and that’s how you have to beat them.”

In the shootout for New Jersey Kovalchuk went first and scored on a twisted wrist shot before Biron turned aside Parise and Patrik Elias’ attempts. Brodeur forced Derek Stepan’s shot wide of the goal and made a nice glove save on Brad Richards, setting up a showdown with Gaborik to determine if the game would continue or end. “He started so slow, I just kind of waited for him to do anything,” said Brodeur. “He started to go fast, I kind of went fast also (laughs); I tried to mimic him a little bit and it worked out — I was able to make a save on him.”

After dropping their three previous home games, this was a much-needed win for a team that will be battling for a playoff spot during the season’s final 33 games.

Game Notes: Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi led all skaters in ice-time with 33:46 and co-led his team in shots on goal with four (Boyle). Kovalchuk led the Devils in ice-time, 27:05, and led all players with five shots on goal. New Jersey defenseman Adam Larsson led all players with four blocked shots and Volchenkov led all players with five hits. New Jersey (27-19-3) is off until Thursday when they host Montreal (19-22-9) and New York (31-12-5) is back on the ice Wednesday night when they play in Buffalo (21-24-5).

Dan’s 3 Stars of the Game:
#1 — David Clarkson (NJ) —
goal (17), assist (7)
#2 — Marian Gaborik (NYR) — 2 assists (16)
#3 — Carl Hagelin (NYR) –– 2 assists (10)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

A Star Is Born As Henrique’s 2 Goals Sink Jets

Devils 3           Winnipeg 2 — overtime

Rookie Adam Henrique has played all of his 10 NHL games in relative anonymity. After notching his first career goal on Thursday in Philadelphia, he struck for two more goals Saturday night at Prudential Center — including the overtime winner — as the New Jersey Devils skated past the Winnipeg Jets 3-2, making him, at least for one night, a folk hero in Newark.

The home fans were already chanting ‘Hen-Rique’ after his goal that pushed his Devils lead to 2-0 in the second period, and they cheered even louder after his nifty goal on a breakaway during the five-minute overtime period gave the team their second consecutive win and pushed their record to 6-5-1.

New Jersey’s most consistent player this season has been Patrik Elias and he continued that trend early in the 2nd period, giving the team a 1-0 lead. Dainius Zubrus raced into the offensive zone along the left wing wall and found a streaking Elias wide-open in the slot; Elias hammered a one-timer into the top right hand corner over the Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec’s glove hand for his 6th goal of the season.

Henrique doubled the lead almost nine minutes later when on a semi-breakaway he flipped a backhand shot past the Jets’ goalie, while being hooked at from behind by 2 defenders. “It felt good,” said Henrique, “especially at the time of the game when we were up 1-0. I didn’t know if there was going to be a penalty (when they hooked me) or what, and the puck didn’t seem to sit down (for me) either.”

Martin Brodeur and the Devils held onto the 2-0 lead until Mark Flood netted his 1st career goal 6:43 into the third period on a long shot. Jim Slater evened the score for Winnipeg when he took advantage of a no-call that neutralized Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov, allowing him to get a shot past Brodeur uncontested with 2:45 left in regulation.

Evander Kane took a hooking penalty with 48 seconds left in regulation but New Jersey was unable to capitalize on the power play that carried over into overtime. Henrique jumped on the ice to replace Elias during the extra session after the man-advantage had expired and found himself on a breakaway again after a perfect pass from Zach Parise. “He scored some awesome goals tonight for us,” said the Devils captain, who added that “he played really well. He’s getting better and better every game. It’s fun to play on a line with him.”

Henrique very calmly skated in towards Pavelec and snapped a wrist shot low to the glove side that found the back of the net, sending home a bunch of happy humans from the Rock. When asked about the winning goal after the game, the 21-year-old Henrique’s face lit up, “Oh my God, my heart started racing from the blue-line in again (like on the previous goal),” he said with a smile from ear-to-ear. “I got in there and tried to keep it simple, I didn’t want to go to the same move again.”

Strangely, the win was the first of the season for Brodeur (in his fourth game played out of 12, with the calendar reading November. “It was a good win for us, back-to-back wins after losing what, four in a row,” said Brodeur afterwards. “It definitely weighs on you, the way you approach a game when you haven’t helped the team get any points in the standings yet.”

Game Notes: Ilya Kovalchuk (groin) and Andy Greene (lower body) were scratches for New Jersey. Henrique has 5 points (3g-2a) in the last three games; Elias now has a point in four straight games (2g-2a). Parise had two assists in the game and has 21 points in 21 career games against the Thrashers/Jets. After not registering a point in his first ten games, rookie Adam Larsson now has an assist in each of his last two. Jets defensemen Zach Bogosian led all skaters in ice time with 26:25, and Henrik Tallinder led NJ with 24:58. Petr Sykora led all players with six shots on goal; three players led Winnipeg with three each. Volchenkov blocked a game-high three shots. New Jersey (6-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they host Carolina (5-5-3) and Winnipeg (5-6-2) plays at MSG against New York (6-3-3) on Sunday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Adam Henrique (NJ) – 2 goals, gw (3)

#2 – Zach Parise (NJ) – 2 assists (3)

#3 – Mark Flood (Wpg) – goal (1), assist (1)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Three More Weeks Until Hockey is Back…

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote, so I will try to cover a variety of topics here:

Congrats to the Boston Bruins who won the Stanley Cup in a Game 7 @ Vancouver. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron were off the charts in that series, and Tim Thomas’ performance was legendary. That Claude Julien guy that coaches the B’s is pretty good, it’d be nice if the Devils had a coach like that…

The Atlanta Thrashers (and their fugly uniforms) are gone and the Winnipeg Jets are back! It’s a shame they won’t be wearing the old uniforms, but a new beginning does deserve a new look and I think I like what I saw from the logo and the uniform scheme.

My sincere and deepest condolences to the families of all of the hockey players that passed away this summer. I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened in Russia with the plane crash and I still cannot erase the images of Pavol Demitra, Josef Vasicek and Alexander Vasyunov’s faces from my mind; hopefully they didn’t suffer. They will all be missed and never, ever forgotten.

So the Philadelphia Flyers brought in Ilya Bryzgalov to play goal this season, making him the 500th goalie they have employed since Martin Brodeur became a New Jersey Devil and the 1,000th netminder since they last won the Cup in 1975. They also traded their two best players — Jeff Carter and Mike Richards — in separate deals that did not bring back equal value and signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr. Good luck with that.

It seems certain that Sidney Crosby won’t be ready for the start of the season, but could suit up at some point in 2011-12. Concussions are a delicate issue and Crosby’s career could be derailed like Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya before him. Intentional head shots must be eliminated from the game, but certain players (ahem Criesby…) are also responsible for protecting themselves and need to stop admiring their passes.

Don’t be surprised if the New York Islanders (that’s right, I said it) make the playoffs this season. IF they can stay healthy! John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Matt Moulson seem primed to have big seasons and hopefully Evgeni Nabokov can add some stability to what has been a blue cross and blue shield crease the last few seasons.

The Rangers added the biggest fish in the free-agent pool in Brad Richards, but have we not learned anything over the past six seasons — the team that signs the top free agent never wins the Cup. They did make one right move this summer — naming Ryan Callahan their new captain.

The Devils had a semi-quiet offseason after selecting Adam Larsson with the 4th pick in the NHL Entry Draft. They were able to rid themselves of Colin White and Brian Rolston’s ridiculous contracts, and they were able to re-sign Andy Greene and Johan ‘Moose’ Hedberg. Both Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise have been cleared to start the season, but Travis Zajac may not be back until December after tearing his achilles tendon during an off-ice workout; Zajac’s team record consecutive games streak will end at 401. Cam Janssen is back with NJ and Petr Sykora could be too — he will be in training camp on a tryout basis. The new coach is Peter DeBoer who was fired from the Florida Panthers, the same DeBoer who helped the Cats reach 94 points a few years back — a remarkable feat in itself with the roster he was given. I predict Mattias Tedenby will net at least 20 goals this season and Jacob Josefson will have 30 assists as they help lead the Devs back to the playoffs after last season’s hiccup.

Boston begins defense of it’s Championship on opening night (October 6); the Rangers open in Sweden against the LA Kings the following day (October 7); the Islanders (vs. Florida) and Devils (vs. Philly) both begin their seasons on Saturday October 8; and the new Winnipeg/old Atlanta team makes it’s debut on Sunday October 9 vs. Montreal.

Devils Win Season Finale/Lemaire’s Last Game

Devils 3 Boston 2

The New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins played a game on Sunday afternoon at the Prudential Center, but all of the talk following the game wasn’t so much about how much of an epic failure this season was for Jersey’s Team, it centered on their coach who was retiring again and stepping away from the Devils bench for the third time.

Jacques Lemaire ended his second stint as the team’s coach last season after the Devils were eliminated in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers; he cited his age and family as reasons to step away from the game. New Jersey started this season poorly under first-time bench boss John MacLean (9-22-2) and when GM Lou Lamoriello called Lemaire the week before Christmas looking for a coach to save the season, the 65-year-old couldn’t turn his back on the franchise. “I’m going back to where I was before this year,” said the coach at his farewell press conference.

“(The job) demands a lot. I want to enjoy life; I want to enjoy the family. I thought that I did make the right decision last year. I’m happy I took it, I took the job for the rest of the season; I had fun. It was a huge challenge for me; I thought the guys responded well. Like I mentioned this morning, the only regret I have is not making the playoffs.”

Lemaire came in and, although it took a few weeks, he was able to get the team back on track to their usual winning ways. Many of the players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, responded almost immediately and started to live up to the backs of their hockey cards. “Kovy really likes him, there’s no doubt about that” said Martin Brodeur. “They got along real well right from the get-go last year. So I’m sure he’d like to see him back; I think a lot of guys would like to see him back also. “Although they didn’t reach their ultimate goal of reaching the postseason, Lemaire’s Devils (27-17-3) gave a valiant effort that included a two-month stretch of the season where they reeled off eight consecutive wins and an incredible 20-2-2 record in 24 games to pull them back into contention for a playoff spot.

Ultimately the season was a failure, but the team never gave up and had some fun over the final 41 games — including the last game where they sent Lemaire out a winner with a 3-2 win over the Bruins. Vladimir Zharkov scored his second career goal, breaking a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, beating goalie Tuukka Rask on a breakaway. Rookie defenseman Alexander Urbom’s first career goal came 5:10 after Zharkov’s tally and proved to be the game-winner when Boston’s Chris Kelly scored with 3.1 seconds left.

Urbom (who appeared in seven games earlier this season) was recalled from Albany earlier in the day along with Adam Henrique — who was making his NHL debut. Henrique, the Devils’ 3rd round draft pick in 2008, became the tenth Devil (team record) to play his first NHL game this season: Mark Fayne, Stephen Gionta, Jacob Josefson, Oliver Magnan, Brad Mills, Matt Taormina, Mattias Tedenby, Urbom and Alexander Vasyunov. Lemaire really liked what he saw from the 21-year-old Henrique, “He didn’t look like he played in his first game in the NHL. He’s going to move the puck, can skate, sees the ice well and I’m sure he’s got a touch for scoring. So, all these kids that are either with us or came up, this is the future — and the future up front is bright, there’s no doubt about this.”

Johan Hedberg made 24 saves in front of the sellout crowd at the Rock and finished the season with a solid record of 15-12-2 (three shutouts) in 34 games; Brodeur’s season ended under .500 for the first time in his 16-year career, 23-26-3 (six shutouts).

Patrik Elias scored his 21st goal of the season 1:47 into the game and with his 62 points he led the Devils in scoring for the seventh time in his career. Kovalchuk led the team in goals with 31. Four players played in all 82 of the team’s games: Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Henrik Tallinder and David Clarkson; Kovalchuk appeared in 81 games — only missing a game when MacLean suspended him for missing a team meeting.

Lemaire admitted he was unsure up until two days ago, but was confident he made the right choice. “This is exciting, this is fun; especially when the team wins, and it’s a great atmosphere. You love a lot of things, you get really upset, you get mad about what the players do, not at the individual but at what they’re doing. But as soon as they do something good, right away you feel good. I said this today when I talked to my wife; I said if I was younger, I would be coach because I love it.”

Game Notes: Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg led all skaters in ice-time with 22:54 while Greene led the Devils with 22:18. New Jersey forwards Rod Pelley and Clarkson led all players with five shots on goal each; Milan Lucic led Boston with four. Clarkson’s assist on Urbom’s goal was the 100th point of his career. The Devils will be in the NHL Draft lottery for the first time since 1996 and will find out where they pick in the first round on Tuesday night.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Vladimir Zharkov (NJ) – goal (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 24 saves, win (15)

#3 – Tuukka Rask (Bos) – 29 saves, loss (14)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com

Habs Feel Right at Home as They Eliminate Devils

Montreal 3             Devils 1

From the time the game started, check that — walking to and into the arena I could sense this wasn’t going to be a good night for the New Jersey Devils. I had to navigate my way through multiple busloads of partying Montreal Canadiens fans to get to the arena entrance; and the party didn’t stop there. “It’s impressive; that’s all I can say,” said Devils goalie and Montreal-native Martin Brodeur. “It’s better than the Rangers when they come in here. I know the Canadiens’ fans are die-hard, but to show up in the numbers that they did and how much noise they made, it was weird. I knew there were a lot of people coming, but not half the crowd.”

Figuring about seven buses, forty people to a bus, about 280 fans maybe, but in the arena it looked — and sounded like — 12,080 of the sellout crowd were rooting for the Canadiens, something that has become the norm on the road for current Canadien and former Devil Scott Gomez. “It seems like everywhere we go on the road there is a huge Canadien-following, and yeah they’re passionate; but it’s nothing new to us. They’re everywhere we go, it’s unbelievable.”

The result was a 3-1 Canadiens victory, officially eliminating the Devils from the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Ex-Devil and current captain of Montreal Brian Gionta had a strong game with two primary assists on Mathieu Darche’s two goals which were sandwiched around PK Subban’s power play marker early in the third period. “They’re a team that’s known to lock down the middle of the ice,” said Gionta talking about both of Darche’s goals. “There are not many plays there, so you have to drive them wide; Matt did a good job of getting his stick on the puck as I drove them wide.”

Despite being out-shot 23-12 heading into the third period, New Jersey only trailed 1-0 thanks to their best player, Brodeur, who made several big saves that gave his squad a faint pulse. “Can you ask Marty to be better than how he was tonight?” asked Devils coach Jacques Lemaire afterwards. “He had nobody in front of him. Sorry, but that’s what it was. Mistakes after mistakes; just a bad game.”

Perhaps the best news of the night for Devils fans was that Zach Parise played for the first time since October 30, missing 65 games with surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. But even the always-energetic Parise couldn’t save New Jersey from elimination on this night. “He looked like a guy that didn’t play for a year,” said Lemaire. “It’s going to take a little time, and he didn’t get any help either. It’s not because he didn’t try. For his first time, he was fine.” Parise played 21 shifts for a total of 16:05 and had two shots on goal.

Montreal’s Carey Price was lined up for his ninth shutout of the season until Ilya Kovalchuk scored his 29th goal of the season with Brodeur on the bench during a delayed penalty. “He’s at that level now where it’s just expected,” said Gomez of the 23-year-old Price. “That’s one area we don’t have to worry about. He’s up there now with the Brodeurs and the other guys; it shouldn’t be too shocking because he’s the best goalie in the world right now. We know he’s going to come up with the big saves, he’s done it all year (for us).”

Game Notes: Devils rookie Mattias Tedenby had an unsuccessful penalty shot attempt 4:48 into the game but after beating Price his shot hit the goal post and stayed out of the net. “He actually got roasted on that penalty shot,” said a smiling and laughing Gomez loud enough for his buddy Price to hear it. Gionta’s first assist was the 400th point of his career. Devils defenseman Andy Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 29:02, and was a game-worst minus-2; James Wisniewski led the Habs with 24:24. Mike Cammalleri led all players with seven shots on goal; no one from New Jersey had more than two shots on goal, Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus were the only two players on the team to not record a shot on goal.

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mathieu Darche (Mtl) – 2 goals (12)

#2 – Brian Gionta (Mtl) – 2 assists (17)

#3 – Martin Brodeur (NJ) – 26 saves, loss (25)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Greene Powers Devils Past Islanders

Devils 3           NY Islanders 2

For the first time since the spring of 1996 it appears that the New Jersey Devils will not be a participant in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something to play for over their disappointing season’s final seven games. “It’s definitely a different territory for all of us to go into seven games left and you know the season is going to be over come April 10 at 6 o’clock,” admitted Martin Brodeur afterwards. “I think it’s important that you leave the season with a good taste. We’ve come a long way, really (played) well in the second half and so let’s no try to destroy that.” After blowing a two-goal lead in the third period, defenseman Andy Greene scored with 4:56 left in the game and gave New Jersey a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night at Prudential Center.

The Devils had been shutout in each of their previous two games and their scoring drought eventually lasted a total of 178 minutes and 12 seconds when Ilya Kovalchuk gave his squad a 1-0 lead 4:17 into the game. Kovalchuk’s 28th goal of the year was set up by a nice pass from rookie Nick Palmieri to the Russian sniper in the slot. “Coming off of two shutout losses, it’s nice to bounce back and get a win,” said the 21-year-old Palmieri. New Jersey maintained the one-goal lead into the second period and extended that lead when Jacob Josefson found a rebound from Palmieri’s in-close shot and stuffed it past Islanders’ netminder Rick DiPietro.

The Islanders were unable to get a shot through Brodeur until they took a four-minute high-sticking penalty 7:57 into the third period. Isles center Frans Nielsen scored his league-leading seventh shorthanded goal on a clean breakaway after a turnover in the neutral zone. “We had a ‘first half of the season’ type of breakaway,” said Brodeur when asked what went wrong on the play.

“I knew exactly who it was, he scored on me in the shootout on his backhand; I knew he was going to go there. I couldn’t get enough momentum to make the save, different situation then on a shootout breakaway.” Nielsen’s 7 SH goals in one season tied a franchise record held by Bob Bourne 30 years ago. Four minutes and six seconds later it was Nielsen who scored again, getting credit for the tying goal after a goalmouth scramble in Brodeur’s crease.

The tie didn’t last long as Greene flipped a long shot past DiPietro from the top of the left circle, allowing the Devils to recapture the lead. Brodeur was the more active of the two goalies on this night and was able to make the crucial saves at crucial times, ensuring the victory with 27 saves. “He plays with a lot of confidence, a lot quicker in the net,” said coach Jacques Lemaire of his goalie. “I’m sure he feels good about his game.”

Besides pride and doing their jobs, another motivation for New Jersey is to finish the season at .500, meaning they must win the final six games; the last Devils team to finish below .500 was pre-Brodeur days, back in 1990-91.

Game Notes: New Jersey finished the six-game season series with New York 4-2-0. Nielsen has eight shorthanded points this season, also first among all NHL players, perhaps he should get some serious consideration for the Selke Trophy. Palmieri’s two-point game (2a) was the first multi-point game of his career. Devils forward Rod Pelley played in his 200th NHL game. Greene led all skaters in ice-time with 28:55 and defenseman Jack Hillen led New York with 23:40. Kovalchuk led all players with eight shots on goal; Nielsen led the Islanders with six. Devils rookie defenseman Mark Fayne led all players with five blocked shots and Hillen led the Isles with four. Josefson now has four points (2g-2a) in three games against the Islanders.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Frans Nielsen (NYI) – 2 goals, sh (13)

#2 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – goal (28), assist (26)

#3 – Nick Palmieri (NJ) – 2 assists (7)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Hedberg & Devils Blank League-Leading Capitals

In game two of this season the New Jersey Devils played the Washington Capitals and got smoked in D.C. to the tune of 7-2. In game 21 on Monday night at the Prudential Center, with both teams heading in different directions, the Devils evened the score by shutting out the NHL’s most talented team in a much-needed 5-0 win. It was perhaps their most complete game of the season as four different players tallied goals and Johan Hedberg was rock solid in net to the tune of 30 saves and his first shutout as a Devil.

Jason Arnott scored twice for the winners (bumping his team-leading total to eight) and rookie Mattias Tedenby continued to impress with a penalty shot goal and the primary assist on the winning goal — scored by him and Arnott’s linemate, Patrik Elias. “He said before the game he felt good,” said Elias of the 20-year-old Swede, “he was right.”

With rookie Braden Holtby making his fifth appearance in an NHL game, Elias opened the scoring 5:49 in when it appeared he got the shaft of his stick on a crisp pass from Tedenby during a power play. He admitted to the media that the puck hit Caps’ defenseman Mike Green’s stick and hit off of his pants leg. Arnott doubled the lead at 16:15 when he carried the puck into the zone, fought off Capitals’ defenseman John Erskine and forward Brooks Laich, and then scored on a quick wraparound that had Holtby spinning in his crease.

Tedenby was pulled down by Erskine on a breakaway 1:59 later and he was able to make it 3-0 for his Devils on a penalty shot when he calmly skated in and flipped a backhand shot over the fellow rookie’s glove hand. “I don’t know if it’s good or luck,” he admitted shyly after the game before a media crowd.

Arnott added his second goal of the game 2:43 into the second period, collecting the rebound of Andy Greene’s point shot and sliding it into the net and Dainius Zubrus delivered the final blow when he flicked a rebound into the net after a well-orchestrated 3-on-2 into the Caps’ zone.

To their credit, Washington never quit, and they certainly made Hedberg work for his 15th career shutout. “It felt good,” said the Devils’ netminder. “We needed a win badly and I think the way we played we started something good.” He denied dangerous sniper Alexander Semin’s wrist shot from deep in the slot midway through the second.

The great-eight aka Alex Ovechkin challenged Hedberg 6:10 into the third period with a booming slap shot that loudly bounced off the goalie’s leg pad – right back to the ever-dangerous Ovechkin who quickly fired another shot towards the goal. But his shot rang off the goal post and bounced away, perhaps signaling that this would indeed be the Devils’ night. They’ve now won two in a row at the Rock, a small positive, but something that they can build on, as well as the 5-0 thrashing of the team with the NHL’s best record.

Game Notes: The Devils are honoring their former coach Pat Burns with memorial “PB” patches on their jerseys for the next four home games. Each of the jerseys will then be autographed by the entire team and auctioned off. Proceeds from the sale of the jerseys will be donated in Pat Burns’ memory to La Maison Aube-Lumiere, a cancer hospice in Sherbrooke, Quebec. The team also showed a brief video and held a moment of silence before the game. Elias, Arnott, Tedenby and Greene each had two points in the game; Tedenby led all players with a +3. Ovechkin and Semin led all players with five shots on goal apiece, while Elias and Arnott led New Jersey with four each. Washington defenseman John Carlson led all skaters in ice-time with 27:11, while Henrik Tallinder led New Jersey with 25:23. Ovechkin led all players with five hits, while Devils defensemen Colin White and Anton Volchenkov had a game-high three blocked shots each. New Jersey (6-13-2) is off until Wednesday when they host Calgary (8-11-1) and Washington (14-6-2) is also back in action that same night when they play at Carolina (9-9-2).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Mattias Tedenby (NJ) – goal (3), assist (2)

#2 – Johan Hedberg (NJ) – 30 saves, win (2), shutout (1)

#3 – Jason Arnott (NJ) – 2 goals (8)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Koval-Choke Becomes Koval-Clutch!

Devils 4 Edmonton 3           overtime

In the span of 48 hours, Ilya Kovalchuk experienced first hand why so many people love sports — the agony of heart-breaking losses, and the thrill of dramatic, heart-stopping victories. On Wednesday night when his New Jersey Devils lost to the Buffalo Sabres, Kovalchuk never got to take his shootout attempt because the puck jumped off of his stick blade as he was stickhandling — sending him to the locker room frustrated and embarrassed.

After a solid day of practice, he was ready to move on, “It’s all history. Today the sun is up and everything is good,” Kovalchuk said on Thursday with a fresh outlook. “Tomorrow we have to win because we don’t have a win at home yet; that’s embarrassing.”

Friday night at Prudential Center it was Kovalchuk who accomplished that mission when he scored the winning goal — in overtime, capping a rally that saw New Jersey get off the mat after falling behind 3-1 to the young Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the game the Russian sniper had a handful of shots that never reached the net and entering overtime, he had still yet to register a shot on goal.

Despite only having scored three goals in fifteen games and despite all of his recent lack of puck-luck, he continued to work hard and 2:15 into the five-minute o.t. he drew a penalty on Edmonton’s Dustin Penner who tripped him at center ice along the boards. The Devils coach, John MacLean, called a timeout and before a minute had elapsed in Penner’s penalty, Kovalchuk had won the game with a rocket shot past Oilers’ goalie Devan Dubnyk from the left circle. “It feels good. But we’re still, I don’t know, 14th or 15th in our conference,” said Kovalchuk, “which is not where we want to be.”

Before the game was ten minutes old, New Jersey found themselves down by two goals — thanks in large part to Edmonton’s Colin Fraser, who scored both. The Devils continued to fire shots at Dubnyk and 5:57 after Fraser’s second tally, rookie Alexander Vasyunov took a pass from Travis Zajac and scored his first career NHL goal on a nice redirection in front of the crease.

Sam Gagner restored the two-goal bulge for the Oilers when he scored on a rebound 5:11 into the second period, silencing the crowd at the Rock who came hoping to see the first home win of the season. The next ten minutes were frustrating for New Jersey as they fired shot after shot at Dubnyk and had nothing to show for it until Brian Rolston finally scored with 3:08 left in the period. On the scoring play, David Clarkson’s wraparound attempt was denied but the loose puck came right to Rolston who was standing in the blue paint of the crease. “It was just a good play, a hard-working shift by our whole line. Clarkie came around the net, wrapped the puck and I just got the rebound,” explained Rolston, “I was basically on top of the goalie so I didn’t have to shovel it too far.”

With 15:31 left in the third period rookie Mattias Tedenby (playing in his second NHL game) thought he had scored his first career goal, but was robbed by Dubnyk’s sharp glove hand. The 20-year old Swede finally got his first career goal when he tied the game with 9:00 left on the power play. Andy Greene fired a shot from the blueline that Tedenby deflected from the slot and under the Edmonton netminder. “I think it hit my (stick) blade,” said the diminutive rookie after the game. “It felt very good when I scored out there.”

Kovalchuk was able to complete the comeback for the Devils in overtime and for the second game in a row they scored four goals — perhaps a sign that they are coming out of their season-long collective slumps. “Obviously it was big,’ said Patrik Elias (2 assists) after the game. “I’m pretty sure he’s relieved and it was a big goal for all of us.” Kovalchuk concurred, adding, “We never gave up, it was a great team effort and a great comeback; we’re definitely going to build on this.”

Game Notes: Kovalchuk now has eleven career overtime goals, which ranks third in NHL history; his teammate Elias is tied for first all-time with 15. Rolston returned to the lineup after missing 14 games due to a sports hernia. Oilers defenseman Ryan Whitney led all players with five blocked shots, led all skaters with 30:26 of ice-time and he also chipped in with two assists; Greene led the Devils in ice-time with 27:39. Elias led all players with six shots on goal, while Edmonton rookie Taylor Hall (last June’s no. 1 overall draft pick) led his team with five. Both captains didn’t play in the game due to injury — New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner (soreness) and Edmonton’s Shawn Horcoff (thigh bruise). Fraser’s two goals were the first two of the season for him. New Jersey (5-10-2) is off until Monday when they play at Boston (8-4-1) while Edmonton (4-8-3) next plays Sunday afternoon at MSG against New York (8-7-1).

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Ilya Kovalchuk (NJ) – gw/pp goal (4)

#2 – Colin Fraser (Edm) – 2 goals (2)

#3 – Patrik Elias (NJ) – 2 assists (9)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.

Sabres Crush Devils 6-1 in Latest Home Debacle

Buffalo 6         Devils 1

Not only did the New Jersey Devils lose badly to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, but rookie coach John MacLean may have lost one of his superstars — making Ilya Kovalchuk and his $100 million dollar contract a healthy scratch. Kovalchuk was not made available to the media after the game, but MacLean was — and the only explanation for the odd move was, “I’m not going to get into it. That’s between him and I. That was my decision.”

The Devils’ players that did play in the 6-1 thrashing, didn’t show any signs of life after the first five minutes of the game and fell to a disappointing 0-4-1 at the Prudential Center this season. “Early on the Devils were the team that was rested and they came hard,” said Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, “but we settled into an organized game and got the pucks where we needed them.”

When asked if he welcomed the team’s upcoming six-game road trip that begins Sunday night at MSG, New Jersey’s David Clarkson didn’t hold back, stating: “It couldn’t get any better. I think it’s an opportunity for us to get to know each other better; a chance to get on the road and do some team bonding, go out together. I think just a thing where you get to know everybody; that’s something that will help us out a lot.”

Miller was his usual stingy self in nets for the winners, turning aside 26 of the 27 shots he faced; his only error of the night was when his US Olympic teammate Zach Parise ended the netminder’s shutout bid with 8:35 left in the game. Offensively the Sabres seemed to score at will against Johan Hedberg, who was making his Devils debut — and it was an ugly one as he was pulled after surrendering four goals on 13 shots.

Even Martin Brodeur (who shutout the Sabres 1-0 last week) was unable to stop the barrage of goals and was touched up for two goals by Thomas Vanek. The Austrian sniper almost completed the hat trick, if not for Brodeur’s glove save with 2:27 left in the game. “Great save; great goaltender,” said Vanek afterwards. “I thought that was one of my better shots of the game — he just made an unbelievable save on it.”

Buffalo got goals from four different goal scorers — Drew Stafford 6:57 of the first period, Tyler Myers at 16:33, Tyler Ennis at 3:10 of the second and Patrick Kaleta at 8:17 — before Vanek netted his pair to seal the victory. “I don’t think I played as well as I did some of the other nights where I didn’t score,” said Vanek humbly, “but I got two tonight. Obviously I’ll take it and hopefully I can keep it going.”

Even his teammates had no clue that Kovalchuk wasn’t playing until they arrived in the late afternoon and they didn’t know why he wasn’t playing, but didn’t use it as an excuse for the dreadful performance. “I had no idea until I got here this afternoon, so I’m not sure what happened or what’s going on,” said Clarkson in the somber Devils locker room. “We’re all professionals no matter who’s in or who’s out; we just have to go out there and still play our game. Kovy’s obviously an unbelievable player and adds so much to this team, but we have to still go out there and play better than we did tonight.”

We may never get an explanation as to why Kovalchuk was scratched from the game (for the first time in his career), but MacLean may be playing with fire (and his job) if he decides to bench one of the league’s premier goal scorers on Sunday night against the rival-Rangers.

Game Notes: Kevin Boss from the New York football Giants, a frequent visitor at the Rock, was in attendance among the announced crowd of 14,228. Hedberg’s career record against Buffalo entering the game was 12-2-2. Five different Sabres had two-point nights: Jordan Leopold, Derek Roy, Rob Niedermayer, Mike Grier, Vanek and Ennis. Ex-Sabre Henrik Tallinder was a game-worst -3; Three Sabres (Leopold, Ennis and Steve Montador) were a +3. Leopold led all skaters in ice-time with 24:50 and Andy Greene led New Jersey with 23:08. Vanek led all players with seven shots on goal, while Clarkson led the Devils with six. Buffalo (3-5-1) is off until Tuesday when they play at Philadelphia (3-3-1) and New Jersey (2-5-1) next plays at the New York Rangers (3-2-1) Sunday night.

 

Dan’s Three Stars of the Game:

#1 – Thomas Vanek (Buf) – 2 goals (3)

#2 – Ryan Miller (Buf) – 26 saves, win (3-4-1)

#3 – Tyler Ennis (Buf) – goal (2), assist (5)

Dan Rice can be reached at drdiablo321@yahoo.com.