At the Prudential Center in front of an estimated 3,000 of the 15,000+ that showed up Friday night, the Devils and Lightning finally were able to complete the game which got interrupted two nights ago by a faulty circuit breaker at the Prudential Center. While Mike Smith would not maintain the shutout he had when play stopped Friday, the Lightning goaltender did make a combined 33 saves in the game as Tampa held on for a 4-2 victory.
Even with the loss the Devils acquitted themselves well, in fact this is really the first time this season I can think of where the Devils were (by far) the better team and still lost, while they've managed to steal a few games where they didn't play particularly well. I'll take that ratio. And in a bizarre circumstance they gave it the good ol' college try attempting to come back from 3-0 down. With only minutes left in an abbreviated second period in fact, Zach Parise scored off a rebound but the goal was waved off after the refs lost sight of the puck.
Parise's goal being waved off was a tough break, for despite applying the same pressure they did on the Tampa defense Friday they were still down by the same 3-0 score, and actually were fortunate the game wasn't totally out of reach after having to kill off two penalties in the latter half of the period. Tampa's goals on Friday came from Steve Downie off a deflection of a Kurtis Foster point shot at 6:58 of the first, Brandon Bochenski taking advantage of a Rob Niedermayer turnover to score on a quick turnaround at 5:13 of the second, and Martin St.Louis and Steven Stamkos combining on a two-on-none goal in front just moments before the lights went out. Both Downie and Bochenski's goals came on the power play.
Interestingly there were lineup changes adding to an already surreal setting, although in Tampa's case they were given two injury exemptions after Mattias Ohlund and Matt Smaby were both hurt in last night's game against the Flyers, with Andrei Meszaros and David Hale replacing them in the lineup. Also, Yann Danis relieved Martin Brodeur for the Devils after Brodeur had played on Friday (giving up three goals on seven shots) and Saturday, giving Marty two full days off before the latest Battle of the Hudson on Tuesday. And while both referees from Friday's game were able to return for tonight's finish, two new linesmen had to join them for tonight's conclusion.
For the third period, the Devils returned and couldn't make a dent in the Tampa net until finally Jamie Langenbrunner's nifty backhand pass had eyes and eluded two Lightning sticks on its way to a wide-open Travis Zajac in front, and the center scored his 12th goal of the season at 8:36 of the third, momentarily getting the Devils back in the game at 3-1. Johnny Oduya also picked up a secondary assist on the goal (incredibly his first of the year), but his next shift proved disasterous when an ill-timed pinch led to a two-on-one with Stamkos and St. Louis alone with Andy Greene. Worse, Greene chased St. Louis to the boards to get a loose puck, a race he would not win nor could he prevent St. Louis's pass to a wide-open Stamkos that gave him his second goal of the game and restoring the three-goal cushion just 99 seconds later.
From there I pretty much stopped paying attention as the die was fully cast although Parise would score his 20th goal of the year with 33.2 seconds remaning to make the score closer and start the 'what if' game, as in what if the goal in the second period had counted and both defensemen didn't brain cramp on one shift midway through the third? On Friday, the Devils registered a 20-7 advantage in shots and today it would be 15-7 but none of that mattered in the end as the Devils did go down to the expected defeat.
Oh well, at least the team didn't disgrace themselves in their effort today under trying circumstances, suffered no injuries and actually gave Danis a little work though he still hasn't actually started a game since November 22, and I don't see that changing until at the very earliest January 23 when the Devils play in Long Island a day after a home contest with the Canadiens. If then. I didn't particuarly like Stan Fischler asking the players afterward if it felt like a preseason game, not when they played all-out to try to salvage something from the mess Friday night but I'm sure the crowd size probably contributed to that perception.
And to their credit, the team allowed the fans who were there to move down to the lower level for the third period and finally - if belatedly - thanked them for their patience the other night during the first stoppage of the third. Although the Devils still did a bad job in regards to letting fans know about parking, since it took writer Tom Gulutti asking around to finally get the word out (mere hours before gametime) that fans could bring their parking stubs from the other night and park for free, or park at half-price for $15 in the arena parking lot if they didn't have a stub. And we'll see just what else they compensate ticket holders with in terms of a free game, etc on Tuesday.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Mike Smith (33/35 saves)
- Steven Stamkos (two goals)
- Zach Parise (goal)