After a rough month plus for the Devils finally they saw some light at the end of the tunnel last night in their final home game before the two-week Olympic break, with a 5-2 win over Nashville. New Jersey's win coupled with the Penguins' OT loss assured the Devils of remaining in first place at the Olympic break. All of the Devils' go-to forwards scored goals including Ilya Kovalchuk, who made his first goal as a Devil count big-time by breaking a 2-2 tie at 8:24 of the third period and setting off an unusual celebration by the crowd.
Normally throwing hats on the ice is reserved for when a player scores a hat trick, however upon Kovy's first as a Devil the ice was immediately littered with dozens of hats. Why? Well conveniently the Devils gave away baseball caps tonight and many of them were among the debris that had to be swept off the ice but more importantly it was an odd, if heartfelt showing of love from the Devils crowd towards their newest acquisition. Personally I went from 'what the **** is this crap?!' and being worried about a delay of game penalty to 'okay, that was kinda fun' in my reactions to that odd goal celebration. Technically it was a Devils hat trick I suppose, and in itself three goals has been a rarity for the team lately.
Even before the so-called Kovy trick, it was an interesting game. Jacques Lemaire made a couple of lineup changes from Wednesday night's loss, scratching Rob Davison in favor of Cory Murphy (yes, he's baaack!) and in what's perhaps been a first since the Robbie Ftorek administration Jay Pandolfo was a healthy scratch in favor of Matthew Corrente, also back with the big club after Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond came down with his mysterious upper-body ailment again and was put on IR. As much as I like Pando, no Pando = no checking line which is a good thing, although to be honest that's been pretty well phased out anyway since the acquisition of Kovalchuk. For his part Corrente played well in his 5:28, even getting a couple of shots on net. I was actually surprised his icetime was that low considering I noticed him a bit - well mainly early.
As has been a pattern throughout this recent malaise, the Devils again started off well and jumped out in front at 9:49 when Jamie Langenbrunner's pinpoint pass just eluded Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne and found Travis Zajac's stick. Zajac had an easy open-net goal as a result, for his nineteenth of the season. Fellow PZL linemate Zach Parise also assisted on the goal. However, the Devils blew a golden opportunity to get that dreaded two-goal lead when they received a 1:26 five-on-three power play seconds after Zajac's goal, and did absolutely nothing with it. Granted, I've seen worse power plays from the Devils but there was still too much passing and not enough shooting. And when we did shoot, invariably it missed the net.
Seemingly that missed opportunity changed the momentum, and the Predators showed us how it was done at 18:30, scoring on their own power play when Cal O'Reilly blasted one through a screen in front to tie the game. Then just forty-six seconds into the next period the Predators took the lead when Jordin Tootoo's shot seemingly deflected off a Devils defenseman (either Mike Mottau or Colin White). While being down 2-1 was all the more annoying given our recent woes, maybe it was better than having a lead. Patrik Elias did respond less than two minutes later when he blasted one from just inside the blueline past Rinne at 2:30, with Mottau getting the lone assist on Elias's eleventh goal of the season.
Going into the third period, Lemaire made two crucial adjustments to his lines, having Elias center Kovalchuk and putting Danius Zubrus back on the Parise-Zajac line, where he was so effective for two straight games before Lemaire split them up. It was Elias who fed Kovalchuk for the wrist shot at 8:24 that set off Kovy's Jeff Friesen-like goal celebration, hat-gate and gave Kovalchuk his 32nd goal of the year. Langenbrunner also had an assist on that goal, which seemed to loosen everyone up. Finally on their fifth power play of the night, the Devils' man advantage had a breakthrough, when Parise went to the net (thankfully) and scored off a rebound from a Kovalchuk shot. Zajac also had an assist on Parise's 27th at 13:08. At first I exhaled then realized 'oh ****, here's the dreaded two goal lead' and almost on cue, Nashville had a great scoring opportunity that Martin Brodeur snuffed out.
Tonight wouldn't go according to that script however, and Langenbrunner sealed the deal with an empty-netter at 19:18 for his 15th of the year, ironic because all night it seemed as if the captain wanted to play the role of Adam Oates and pass the puck all over the place (and to his credit he did get two assists). His only shot on goal came in a situation where he couldn't help but get one, all alone with the puck and an empty net right in front of him. Finally, came a sigh of relief and celebration from the crowd, who gave Kovalchuk a huge ovation for being the first star.
Typically I had a couple of misadventures before the game. Before the lockout, I wasn't much of a jersey person and usually stuck to wearing t-shirts but finally started getting and wearing a couple of jerseys during the 2005-06 season, and since then I've pretty much worn a jersey except for very early in the season or in the spring when I go back to t-shirts. Long story short, tonight was the first time ever that I literally forgot to put a jersey on before leaving to go to the train station. And attempting to leave a ticket for someone at will call, apparently my super-small writing was too small to read and the guy who was supposed to get the ticket couldn't.
Fortunately both issues had a happy ending (along with the game). I'd actually planned to buy one of the limited quantity of green jerseys now on sale at the Devils' Den anyway and get it customized but instead of doing that I just wound up wearing it during the game and held off on the customizing. Even if it isn't totally authentic, it's close enough for me and looks nice so that's pretty much what counts in my book. And my acquanitance managed to get another ticket anyway, so for a night all's well that ends well. Especially considering the Devils have somehow gone 15-1 in the home games I went to after October. By blind luck or freak snowstorms or flu-like symptoms I managed to avoid some of the most brutal losses of the season, or at least having to experience them live.
Of course now I have to wait a month to attend another Devils game, since they're at Carolina tonight and have three more road games before their return to the Rock March 10th against the Rangers, which will feel like Opening Night II. Oh well, at least we ended the home slate with a bang and will remain in first no matter the result of the weekend games. It's been a rare night lately when both me and Derek can write a happy recap!
BoNY Three Stars:
- Ilya Kovalchuk (game-winning goal, assist, +3 and 7 SOG in 21:51)
- Patrik Elias (goal, assist, +3)
- Zach Parise (goal, assist)