After the Devils' latest frustrating loss to a non-playoff team on Saturday night came a mini-contreversy when Zach Parise criticized the fans for booing a power play that has been struggling for months. A cynic might say that actually did help the players after last night, for the Devils managed to score not one, not two but three power play goals in a 6-3 win over the Blue Jackets last night. I hope we didn't use up two months' supply in one game! Seriously though, maybe the booing did help in an odd way for instead of overthinking the power play the Devils came out angry and determined to do something about it.
Parise himself led the way, as he usually does - scoring off a rebound from a Jamie Langenbrunner shot at 13:01 for his 34th of the season. Far too often this season I've been on the Devils for not going to the net with the man advantage but it wasn't a problem on their first goal last night as both Parise and the captain crashed the net. After an otherwise bleh first period, the Devils led 1-0 going into the second, and would score their second power play goal very quickly when a Patrik Elias shot rebounded right to Paul Martin, who put the puck into an open net just 74 seconds into the second period for Martin's second goal of the season. Both of Martin's goals have come in the week's time since the defenseman's return to the lineup and Elias also got his second point of the night after an assist on the first goal.
Despite Elias and Langenbrunner's contribution on the first two goals, both would be made to look silly at 3:40 of the period when Kristian Huselius stickhandled his way around both forwards and then slid a pass to a wide-open Antoine Vermette who fired one past Martin Brodeur to cut the lead in half. Later in the period the game would hang in the balance when Dean McAmmond looked like he was having a roid rage moment jumping Mike Blunden, but actually looking at a replay he was justified to do so after Blunden hit him up high along the boards plus after telling McAmmond he was willing to fight Blunden didn't drop the gloves, a Sean Avery-like cheap shnooker.
Amazingly we got the extra penalty out of all that (a double-minor at that!), and just over a minute later Rob Niedermayer's penalty gave the Jackets an extended five-on-three. Fortunately Brodeur and the remaining PK'ers killed off 43 seconds of that before a Huselius penalty canceled out the rest of the four on three and most of the double-minor remaining to McAmmond, who also got a ten minute misconduct penalty. Hockey justice was served as on the brief Devils power play that followed, Parise dished off to Kovalchuk on the side of the net and instead of firing a one-timer he waited for a couple of seconds and somehow slipped a wrist shot past Steve Mason shortside at 12:32 for his 37th goal of the year and second point of the night after a secondary assist on Martin's goal. Mike Mottau also got an assist on Kovy's sixth goal as a Devil.
Kovalchuk's goal seemed to loosen him up, as he'd actually not been having a very good game up to that point, passing when he should have shot (not to mention stickhandling, then losing the puck when Rick Nash lost his stick on one of the power plays) and missing the net when he did shoot although watching a replay to his credit he did make a good play backchecking on a breakaway early in the second, lifting the stick of R.J.Umberger before he could get a good shot off. It wouldn't take long for Kovalchuk to have his next positive impact on the scoresheet, getting open in the slot for a turnaround shot and rifling one that deflected off Travis Zajac and in at 15:40, giving the Devils a 4-1 lead for Zajac's 22nd of the year. Martin continued his strong game with an assist for his second point of the night, and played a team-leading 22:20 showing that he is indeed back in form now.
Zajac's puckluck continued when a Mike Mottau shot from the point bounced off his glove with just 53 seconds left in the second period for his second goal of the night, neither with the aid of a stick. Kovalchuk also added another assist for his fourth point of the game, which is kind of scary (for everyone else) to think about considering he had a shaky first thirty minutes and still put up four points. Still, even with a 5-1 lead the Devils gave me some anxious moments, starting with a spectacular defensive breakdown 33 seconds after Zajac's goal when four Devils got caught in the offensive zone - three on one side of the boards and Andy Greene got turned around on the ensuing two-on-one which saw Derick Brassard's feed find Jakob Voracek for a goal which took away some of the momentum from an otherwise great four-goal period.
While our 11-4 edge in shots during the third period suggested we took control from then on, it felt anything like that at the time, especially when Huselius scored in close six minutes into the third to make it 5-3 and really get me worried. Fortunately Parise wasn't finished with his highlight reel for the night either, executing a 180 degree spin in front of the net and roofing a pretty shot past Mason for a spectacular second of the night, making it 6-3 at 12:52 and effectively finishing the game. Elias and Langenbrunner got the assists on the goal but that was all #9's skill. Seconds from the end of the game Parise came oh so close to the hat trick on a late power play but it wasn't to be.
Almost lost in the shuffle of my recap was another impressive fight from sudden fan favorite Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond during the second period with Columbus scrapper Jared Boll. Three nights after the marathon bout with Cam Janssen, Leblond held his own with another proven fighter - this after Boll had challenged him earlier in the period during a scrap but Leblond apparently was smart enough to realize that because of McAmmond's 'fight' which had already taken place both would get thrown out if they dropped the gloves. So they waited, and eventually dropped them seconds after Kovalchuk's goal. Leblond lost his helmet during the fight but not his nerve and now seems to have carved out a fairly solid place in the lineup.
More importantly last night's win put the Devils back into first place by percentage points and gave Brodeur the eighth 40-win season of his career. With a showdown against the fading Rangers tomorrow, it would behoove the Devils to keep up the hot streak if they want the division since the Penguins' schedule softens up considerably the last couple weeks of the season aside from a couple of matchups with a Caps team that's on Indianpolis Colt-like cruise control after lapping the field for first in the East.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Ilya Kovalchuk (goal, three assists, +2 in 21:47)
- Travis Zajac (two goals, +1)
- Zach Parise (two goals, assist, -1 and 8 SOG)