Thursday, November 4, 2010
Devils survive another on and off-ice scare to beat Blackhawks in wild tilt last night
After starting our road trip of doom out West with a 1-4 record and with star winger Zach Parise now on the shelf for three months, the Devils were looking for something, anything to build on in Chicago before returning home for four games over the next week and a half. Amazingly, the Devils managed to score more than three goals for the first time all season in a 5-3 win against what's left of the defending Stanley Cup champs after defections and injuries to key players like Marian Hossa.
With all of our problems this season though, my heart isn't exactly bleeding for the Hawks. This was a game the Devils needed desperately and got under some of the most bizarre circumstances you could outline. Last night was really a tale of two or three games. In the first part, the Devils dominated and got out to a rare 2-0 lead in the second period after goals from Jason Arnott and Travis Zajac. Arnott's goal came at 15:31 of the first on a nice bang-bang play when Patrik Elias found the centerman right in front of the goalcrease and Arnott put one past Marty Turco for his fourth goal of the season. Zajac's goal at 4:14 of the second was only his second goal of the season and it was assisted on by Ilya Kovalchuk and Jamie Langenbrunner, primarily Kovalchuk who helped create the goal with some nice stickwork.
Barely a minute later, the nightmare scenario of our season almost became a reality as a shot from Troy Brouwer hit Martin Brodeur near the elbow and stung him badly. While Brodeur tried to continue at first, he had to drop his stick when making a save and then left the game seconds later for good with what was officially termed a 'bruised elbow'. Even though I thought the shot was probably a stinger and it didn't look like anything serious (x-rays showed no broken bones so that was good at least), you couldn't help but think the worst. Especially since the last time Brodeur had a 'bruised elbow' he was out four months.
Just dealing with his loss last night proved to be almost an insurmountable challenge, as the stunned Devils (who were playing pretty well for the first twenty-five minutes) allowed the next ten shots on net and looked dazed and confused, as they have for much of this season. Even though Johan Hedberg was game and stopped the initial flurries - which included a breakaway save on Jack Skille - the wall came crumbling down eventually when a Brian Campbell shot deflected off of Colin White and in for the Hawks' first, at 16:02 of the second. Chicago brought that momentum into the third period and tied it at 3:42 when Fernando Pisani scored off a bad rebound allowed by Hedberg.
Facing a potentially devastating loss on and off-ice, the Devils finally found a second wind about midway through the third period, started skating and eventually got a power play to to work with. Unfortunately the power play was still powerless as we dropped to one for our last thirty with the man disadvantage. Still, we were playing better and for maybe the first time all season caught a break when faceless fourth-liner Brad Mills took a shot that was stopped by Turco but quickly shovled the rebound in from the side of the net for an extremely unlikely - but vitally important first goal of his NHL career at 16:09, with the assists going to Langenbrunner and Kovalchuk.
After Mills' goal, the Devils hung on for dear life until Langenbrunner's empty-netter with fifty seconds left apparently sealed the game after assists from Elias and Zajac. I say apparently because at that point everyone - fans included - relaxed, unfortunately so did the players as Henrik Tallinder got caught up-ice and Hedberg gave up another questionable goal to Viktor Stalberg with thirty-four seconds left, again cutting our lead to one and giving us more anxious moments during the final timeout of the game until Andy Greene finally sealed it for good after another empty-netter with just eight seconds left.
Even though Hedberg gave up one or two questionable goals, he also made some very good saves and played well under trying circumstances - coming in cold, with a stunned team not doing much to help him initially - and his win last night might do a lot of good down the road. After his inital nightmare against the Sabres a few weeks back at the Rock, maybe this game restores enough confidence in the veteran to play him more often. Hopefully not on Friday though, and Brodeur did speak to the media after the game and claimed he was fine with the expectation he would make that all-important home start against the Rangers.
For the first time all season things are looking up coming off a win where we finally put a crooked number on the scoreboard, with Anton Volchenkov's return imminent. Although the move hasn't been made yet, I'm pretty sure Tyler Eckford will be sent down to make room for the big, physical Russian since he played sparingly last night (less than two minutes) - to put it charitably. Having 'only' two rookies on our defense will be a step up for sure. Of course, since we haven't won two in a row all season Friday's challenge will be to keep our momentum from the big win last night.
Hopefully all the players will be in bubble wrap on the flight back to the East coast...with the way our season's been going you just never know from where or how the next injury will be coming.