Sunday, October 16, 2011
Late rally in Nashville leads to Devils' third straight win
Being down 2-0 with twenty minutes left against one of the NHL's top defense-goaltender combos on the road isn't an ideal position to be in. Certainly the Predators' Pekka Rinne was on his game last night, making 39 saves. And it's always tough to sustain an attack against a defense led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. A contreversial major boarding call on David Clarkson in the first period gave the Predators a three-minute power play (after Weber took his own minor for roughing Clarkson) where they scored twice, and that was seemingly enough.
Someone forgot to tell the Devils they weren't supposed to come back in the third period to tie before winning a shootout, going from 2-2 and sitting on a loss for almost six days to 3-1 and being uplifted with a major confidence boost going into the break.
It's cliche, but it really did look for all the world that it wouldn't be the Devils' night in the first period. After a failed power play early in the game, there was a wild five-minute sequence that started when Clarkson got called for a penalty on Suter. Clarkson 'hit' Suter before he got to the puck but he later claimed Suter leaned back into him to draw the penalty. I only got one or two looks at the play so I couldn't say for sure but based on the reaction from the player, announcer Chico Resch and all over the Internet, it's probably safe to say Clarkson at best deserved a two, if anything.
Weber took a minor penalty sticking up for his d-partner, reducing the major penalty to three minutes with two minutes of four-on-four before that. During that sequence, Sergei Kostitsyn took another penalty giving the Devils an abbreviated minute and a half power play during all this (of course, to no avail). After Kostitsyn came out of the box and the Predators started their nearly three-minute power play, he wound up drawing a penalty shot when Bryce Salvador was forced to take him down from behind. Johan Hedberg - again starting thanks to Martin Brodeur's shoulder injury - made the biggest save of the game stopping Kostitsyn to keep the game scoreless.
Despite that save, the Preds would cash in on their power play when a Colin Wilson tip beat Hedberg, and then moments after the power play ended Jerrod Smithson also scored to give the Preds a somewhat fortunate 2-0 lead. That two loomed large on the scoreboard with Rinne in the form that made him a Vezina trophy finalist last year. Clarkson, in particular was having a frustrating evening even aside from the penalty, as he saw a couple of prime scoring chances hop over his stick in the first period then just missed the net on another early in the second and got stoned by Rinne in front as well. Ironically he was playing his best game as a Devil maybe in three years but still had nothing to show for it - yet.
Pretty much the only bright spot in the first two periods came from Cam Janssen, who fought the Preds' Brian McGrattan (one-time Senator) and despite taking a lot of punishment, fought back with a few shots of his own and was still standing at the end of the long bout. Considering the fact McGrattan's really out of Cam's weight class it was a Rocky-like effort from the Devils' tough guy. More than I can say for Eric Boulton, on a one-way deal to be the team's enforcer but in his first three games he's just been sucking up air. Despite only playing Cam one shift in the final two periods, coach Pete DeBoer praised Janssen for the fight:
“Wow, what a contribution he makes with that...What a warrior. To fight a guy that much bigger than him for that long, that was an epic one.”
Despite the lift Janssen's fight gave the team and the fact the Devils dominated territorially for much of the night, they were still down by that 2-0 score heading into the third. Back-to-back Predator penalties following a Devil too many men on the ice minor in the final sixty-seven seconds of the second period made it imperative the Devils score on the power play to start the third. Which amazingly they did, moments after Petr Sykora came out of the box to give the Devils a short five-on-three, Ilya Kovalchuk took advantage with a rocket that finally beat Rinne (thanks in part to a Zach Parise screen in front) to get the Devils back in the game just a minute into the period, with assists going to Patrik Elias and Henrik Tallinder on the goal.
Sensing an opportunity, the Devils poured even more rubber on Rinne in the third, outshooting them 11-3 at one point midway through the period. With all that momentum, maybe it was just a matter of time before someone cashed in. That someone turned out to be Clarkson, who finally got his just reward for a good night (and payback for a tough break early) with a tap-in goal off a Mattais Tedenby feed on a play that started when Mark Fayne forced a turnover - and also got a secondary assist on Clarkson's tying goal at 7:57.
If the Devils wouldn't quit last night, neither did Nashville - who got the majority of the chances later in the third, including a hair-raising play in the final five seconds. With a faceoff in the Devils' end, DeBoer called a timeout but it seemed to benefit the Preds more. After Smithson won a faceoff back to the point, Weber managed to get a shot towards the net that barely trickled wide after a deflection. In contrast to the frantic third period, overtime went by rather uneventfully and the Devils went into their second shootout in three nights.
With Nashville electing to go second, the shootout proved to be a bit of deja vu as Kovalchuk and Parise both scored (though on different moves than they used Thursday) and Hedberg stopped Cal O'Reilly, but then could only watch as former Devil prospect Matt Halischuk clanged a shot off the crossbar to end it. After a couple of uneven games at the start of the season, Kovalchuk in particular deserves notice for playing an insane 32:04 - over thirty minutes for the second consecutive game - and having a strong game with seven shots on net before the shootout, including the third period goal. Perhaps' the Devils long break before Thursday and after last night factored into both, but eventually when the schedule tightens up we're going to have to find a way to not play Kovy that much.
For now though, 3-1 suits me just fine. Especially with comebacks in the last two games against good teams.