Game 74 Recap: Moose-egg with a side of Koval-sauce
(headline by @YesJamesIsAsian)
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Ilya Kovalchuk (Game-winning goal)
2nd star: Ben Bishop (Senators – 33 saves)
1st star: Johan Hedberg (34-save shutout)
The Devils entered Tuesday night with a 10-4 record in the second night of back-to-back games this season. Last night, they suffered a tough 4-2 loss at the hands of their biggest rivals, the New York Rangers, so bouncing back in Ottawa was quite a feat. Ottawa entered Tuesday just three points behind the Devils in the standings, so it was a big game for more than one reason for both teams. The Devils didn’t get off to the best of starts, but battled their way to a 1-0 victory. Here’s what happened.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Devils played pretty well, and didn’t have three fights at the same time. Just 50 seconds into the game, they got a chance on the power play. They didn’t score, and it wasn’t a great power play, but they set up some good offensive chances after the penalty, and since they’ve struggled offensively of late, that was a good sign. Ottawa goaltender Ben Bishop’s best work came on an odd man chance for Jacob Josefson and several shots by Zach Parise. The Devils’ captain had four shots in the first period. The rest of the team had five. Johan Hedberg, on the other hand, was much busier than Bishop in the opening period. He made 15 saves, and many of them were tough ones. He stopped Erik Karlsson on a 2-on-1 and made perhaps his best save of the period on a penalty shot awarded to Erik Condra after Anton Volchenkov took him down on a breakaway.
The first period ended the same way it started: in a scoreless tie. Here’s what Twitter thought of the period:
@levinakl: Devils owe a big thank you to Moose for surviving that first period 0-0; not a lot of flow.
@markscocco: Anyone feel like the [Devils are] waiting for the bubble to pop?
The Devils played a much stronger second period, but at this point, most people are looking for goals. They got close on several occasions, but Bishop stopped a shot by Adam Henrique early in the period, Dainius Zubrus’ wraparound attempt after he gave the puck away to Zubrus and got some help from the post on a tough angle shot by Ilya Kovalchuk, so late in the second period, the Devils were still without a goal. That changed at 17:20 of the second period. Marek Zidlicky fed Kovalchuk at the left circle on a power play, and Ilya blasted the puck past Bishop for his 400th regular season NHL goal. Only Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne were younger when they scored their 400th goals among active NHL players.
That score held up through two periods, thanks to Kovalchuk, Hedberg and the Devils’ defensemen. The Devils outshot Ottawa, 14-7 in the second period. Kovalchuk’s goal snapped a streak of 282 minutes and 20 seconds in which the Devils did not lead during a game (they beat Colorado, 1-0 in a shootout during that span, but never led in the game). They led the final 2:40 of the second period.
Here’s the pulse of Twitter after two periods:
@HardipGoDevils: Great Secod Period by the Devs, we need to take more shots and keep on the pressure!
@kastrol: Love the “yeah whatever” 400 goal celebration by Kovy.
In the third period, the Devils mastered a skill they struggled with early in the season: protecting a lead. They played well defensively, and many of you singled out Bryce Salvador’s play in particular. As he has most of the season, he played physical, deflected shot attempts away from the net and protected Hedberg very well. He may very well be the Devils’ unsung hero winner at the end of the season.
The Devils went on a power play early in the third period, but Ottawa pressed shorthanded, as they already had two shorthanded goals against the Devils this season. Hedberg stopped Ottawa’s captain, Daniel Alfredsson and emerging star Milan Michalek. The Devils went back on the power play midway through the period. Although it struggled at times at MSG on Monday and early in Tuesday’s game, it looked better as the game went on. Obviously, Kovalchuk’s second period goal was the main result of that. They couldn’t make it 2-0, but Bishop made four saves on the Devils’ final power play. Late in the game, the Devils started to get called for some penalties. Ottawa had 25 seconds of 5-on-3 power play time, but the Devils did a great job of not allowing Ottawa to set up their power play, and when they did, Hedberg stopped all of the shots he faced, and made sure the rebounds were going to Devils and not Senators. Hedberg finished off the Sens with 34 saves and another shutout.
So the Devils pull to five points ahead of Ottawa in the standings. The two teams will meet on the final day of the Devils’ regular season: April 7th in New Jersey. The Flyers lost, so the Devils pull closer to them as well for fifth in the conference. They’ll have a rare two consecutive days off before they face a struggling Toronto Maple Leafs team on Friday at Prudential Center.