NEWARK, N.J. — All it takes is a good ol’ fashioned rivalry to get the blood boiling.
The New Jersey Devils, winless their first six to start the season, fed off the emotions and a highly-energized 16,514 in attendance Thursday night at Prudential Center instigating a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
After letting three games with leads slip away late at home, the Devils did not bend in front of family and friends this time around, showing something that had been missing — the ability to come from behind and close home-ice advantage to secure their first win of 2019-20.
Blake Coleman erased a one-goal deficit in the first and Kyle Palmieri and Miles Wood kept the fire burning in the second with a couple of hard drives to the net as the Devils took a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Though the Rangers’ Jesper Fast put a scare into the Devils’ Den cutting it to 3-2 just 2:22 into the third, New Jersey overcame an unsuccessful coach’s challenge with a huge penalty kill before rookie Nikita Gusev came up clutch with an unassisted, insurance goal with 7:39 remaining. P.K. Subban’s empty-netter with 48 ticks left iced it for the Devils (1-4-2), which received 29 saves from Mackenzie Blackwood in between the pipes.
“Oh, man — we needed that bad,” Blackwood said. “Everyone showed up to play today. Bounces went our way — huge blocks — a great team effort.
“You could sense the desperation in the group. The sacrifice everyone gave to the game — the heart,” Blackwood said. “We’ve been needing this for a little while — it’s great to get that tonight.”
The Devils arguably made The League’s biggest off-season splash, acquiring toughness and grit in the form of Subban and Wayne Simmonds while adding No. 1 pick Jack Hughes. But the team’s rocky start became a snowball in effect leaving the team searching for answers.
“We won a ton of battles — and when we didn’t, we worked so hard to get the puck back and that was the difference in the game tonight,” Subban, a five time NHL All-Star, said. “Talk about X’s and O’s, but our tenacity on the puck, our resiliency if we lost the puck or made a mistake we got it back and made a play — that was the difference.”
Tony DeAngelo, one of only a handful of New Jersey natives in the National Hockey League, got the Rangers on the board just 6:02 into the action when the Sewell-born defenseman banged home a loose puck in front assisted by Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei.
The goal lit the fuse in the New York-New Jersey Hudson River rivalry as push came to shove after nearly every whistle.
The Devils never backed down and Coleman knotted it back up at one when he sneaked one through Rangers’ goalie Alexandar Georgiev 6:56 later.
It remained 1-1 until the second frame when Palmieri scored the game’s only power play goal 2:18 in when the Smithtown, N.Y. right winger swooped in and picked up the rebound off the draw. Palmieri went bar down from the short side snapping the Devils’ dreadful 0-for-20 start to the season with the man-advantage.
The Rangers nearly tied the game up at 2-2 after some nifty puck movement between Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba, but Blackwood made a sprawling save moving left to right to foil Mika Zibanejad at the far post.
Five minutes later, a Miles Wood deflection in front, tipped by Hughes in the slot off of Matt Tennyson’s initial shot from the point, proved to be the game-winner for the Devils.
“Momentum is a funny thing, right?'” asked Blackwood, answering his own question. “When it’s going against you, it feels like the weight of the world. But when it’s going with you, you can do no wrong. I think we wanted a desperate, hungry game and we got that.”
The assist on the Wood goal marked the first-career NHL point for Hughes.
“I think I’m starting to make more plays, have more puck time. Each game I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Hughes, the first overall pick out of the U.S. National Team Development Program, said. “It was just nice to figure that one and get on the board. It’s special, it’s exciting, hopefully I can score a little bit more for them.”
Hughes relished his first taste of the Rangers-Devils rivalry.
“It was pretty crazy — almost 60 percent Devils fans, 40 percent Rangers,” he said. “It’s a really special rivalry we play in. Two teams pretty similar. It could be a pretty good rivalry the next several years… It’s big for us — that was our first win. We needed that to get our confidence back, our swagger back. That win, especially coming against the Rangers — it’s really good timing.”
After Fast gave the Rangers some life with a rebound goal from Ryan Strome and Brendan Smith, Gusev capitalized on a failed clearing attempt, stole the puck and beat Georgiev low on the ice, five-hole, for a 4-2 lead.
“It’s puck management, we’ve been talking about it forever,” Rangers coach David Quinn said. “Sometimes our makeup hurts us; we think we have to make plays all the time. We have to understand situational hockey. The good news is we get to play more hockey to understand it better. It’s tough to emulate it in practice, so we’re going to be able to draw from what happened and be better.”
“The power play has to be better and we have to capitalize on the opportunities that we had,” Quinn added, “because we had plenty.”
The Rangers (2-2) have played just four games to date, something Fast pointed out after the game. Thursday night’s tilt was the start of three games in four days for New York continuing with Friday night’s road bout against the Washington Capitals, followed by a Sunday matinee against the Vancouver Canucks at Madison Square Garden.
“Of course it takes some time. Some teams have played twice as much,” Fast said. “The best practice is to play games. I mean, no excuses. But it is good to have a couple games now to get into the rhythm.”
“We made it tough on them,” Subban said. “We weren’t waiting around for them to make plays. We had good stick positioning and when there were loose pucks we jumped — and when we jumped we made sure we got possession of it.
“We were all on the same page — you could see it all game — there was never a moment when any group of players where on their own page,” Subban added. “I think it’s a commitment thing. We have a lot of new faces and we’re still gelling in certain areas, but it was a pretty complete game.”
After the game, Devils’ coach John Hynes was pleased to get the proverbial monkey off the team’s back and focus on the future.
“The season is so long — it’s 82 games. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what your record is or what’s going on when you get into these rivalry games. You see the crowd, you see the fans, you know there’s something special about these games,” Hynes said. “It’s nice to see the guys rise up, push through and come out with a performance we needed tonight.
“I’m really happy with the players. I think they really went out there and executed,” Hynes said. “You look at the way the boys competed and battled, the shot blocking. They put their heads down the past couple of weeks trying to work through what we’ve done and I think they did a tremendous job. We want to keep moving forward. Let’s keep it going.”
Written by John Christian Hageny
Special to HockeyClan
Photos by Mark Carosiello / @SnapthePicture6
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