The Devils played far from their best hockey but still managed to win their fifth game in a row on Monday as they completed the sweep of all three California teams.
The Road Warriors find a way to do it again. the Devils are now a staggering 18-2-1 on the road and sit just one point behind Carolina in the Metropolitan division standings. After struggling through December, the Devils have started to catch fire again, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, including five wins in a row. The Devils now have 61 points through just 44 games, which is only two fewer points than they earned in 82 games last season. Even when this year’s Devils aren’t at their best, they are still finding ways to win. Yesterday afternoon is a perfect example.
Despite Ryan Graves scoring just 29 seconds into the game, the Devils did not have a strong first period and ended the period down 2-1. Not only did San Jose have more goals in the net, but they had drastically more shots on net as well, out shooting New Jersey 13-4 in the first period. The Devils were sloppy with the puck and gave it away multiple times, took a few penalties, and really struggled to get any pressure on the Sharks net aside from the goal in the game’s first minute. The Devils played a little better in the second period but failed to the puck past San Jose goalie James Reimer and entered the third period still trailing 2-1.
The Devils started the third period very similarly to how they started the first… with a goal in under 30 seconds. Nico Hischier tied the game off a play set up by Bratt and Palat just 11 seconds into the period. Things were looking for New Jersey at this point, but that wouldn’t last. Like in the first period, the Devils failed to gain much momentum from the early goal and couldn’t find a way to take the lead. As mentioned earlier, the Devils took a few penalties in this game. Jack Hughes uncharacteristically took a high sticking penalty in the third period and the Devils struggled to clear the puck and kill the penalty. As the penalty was expiring, the Devils failed to tie up Nick Bonino’s stick and Bonino put home the rebound of an Erik Karlsson shot to regain the lead for the Sharks with just over 14 minutes to go. The Devils would start to take over the game and put more pressure on San Jose in the last 10 minutes of the third period but still couldn’t put one past Reimer to tie the game. Their momentum was completely halted when the Devils were called for their second too many men on the ice penalty of the game with just over three minutes to go. A mental lapse like that so late in a tight game shouldn’t happen to a team that is fighting for first place in the division, it absolutely shouldn’t happen twice in a game, and this should have cost the Devils this game… But, we have Jack Hughes…
The Devils were able to kill the penalty and pull Vanecek with just over a minute remaining. The Devils pushed hard for a goal and kept the pressure on the Sharks for mist of that time. Then, fittingly, with just 8.6 seconds remaining, the puck was on the stick of number 86 in white and he ripped the puck off a Sharks defenseman and into the net to send the game to overtime. That was Hughes’ 29th goal and 55th point in just his 49th game. The guy is absolutely dominating as he continues to make a case for the Hart trophy. (Or at least to finish second behind Connor McDavid…) The five minute overtime would end scoreless and the game headed to a shootout where Tomas Tatar would score for the Devils and Vitek Vanecek would shut out the Sharks to miraculously give the Devils two points from this game.
I can’t say enough about what Vitek Vanecek has meant to this team. He is now the unquestionable number one goalie with 29 games played, earning a .914 save percentage and a 2.37 goals against average. Vanecek has been what the Devils have been searching for since 2016, solid, reliable, above average, goaltending. The Devils sit just one point behind Carolina for first place in the division thanks in very large part to the outstanding play of Vanecek.
There are still 38 games remaining in the regular season and not only are the Devils competing for a playoff spot, but they are competing for a division title. The Devils have not finished first in their division in over a decade and they have a very real possibility to do that this season. It’s an exciting time to be a Devils fan but I’m already getting anxious waiting for April, when the Stanley Cup Playoffs will return to Newark. You can follow me on Twitter at PatBoooooth