Saturday, February 18, 2012

Devils win second-chance shootout against Ducks after Getzlaf's disallowed goal

For all the regular season games I've gone to at the Prudential Center and the Continental Arena over the last several years, and many other games watched on TV I can't remember one ending like this. Ryan Getzlaf scored in overtime, leading the Ducks to an apparent 3-2 win, completing their comeback from 2-0 down and continuing their improbable playoff run. Clearly, this game was over and I was annoyed - especially at our lack of jump in the overtime. I had my coat on and was walking out of the arena, but I didn't even get to the end of my row before I noticed a bunch of odd things.

Martin Brodeur was still defiantly in his crease. Zach Parise was talking to the refs and the rest of the Devils were still on the bench. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out something was amiss, and sure enough seconds after I stopped walking out, the announcement came...'The play is under review'. Even so, we never get the benefit of the doubt on video reviews from Toronto anyway. I thought it was just delaying the inevitable - until I saw the second replay where it was as clear as day Getzlaf kicked the puck in the net with his skate.

And even then I worried we would get screwed because the call on the ice was no goal, and the review was taking forever. Parise later said somewhat sarcastically he thought the call was going our way simply because seemingly nothing else has, including his own disallowed goal against the Islanders back in November. My exact words at the arena were 'if this (Getzlaf's goal) isn't kicking, can we get the Parise goal back?' Finally however, justice prevailed and the erroneous call was overturned in a kick that was obvious to everyone outside the Ducks locker room except Chico Resch, who clearly needs Davisvision after I heard him later on still wondering after the tenth replay if it was kicking. It was a kick, Chico...and as obvious as one I've ever seen.

Anaheim had gone to the locker room in fact, thinking they won. No doubt many fans turned off the telecast and wound up surprised later when they found out the later outcome, for this game would eventually go into a shootout. Though captain Parise continued his post-Montreal penalty shot hex by missing, teammates Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias bailed him out with goals, and Brodeur - who stood tall with 36 saves (many of the highlight quality) - would come up with the key saves on Corey Perry and yes, Getzlaf to end the shootout.

Overshadowed by the wild ending was a compelling game between two good teams. Anaheim was trying to continue their massive run (14-2-3 in their last twenty after a terrible start that had them twenty points out of a playoff spot). In the pregame in fact, ex-Devil Rod Pelley admitted there were parallels to the way Bruce Boudreau's handled his team compared to Jacques Lemaire last year when the Devils were making their own even more improbable surge. For us there wasn't quite as much at stake though we were looking to continue our surge up the standings, possibly to finish as high as fourth and get home-ice in the first round - quite the change from when the Devils were still a bubble team at the All-Star break.

After a cagey first twenty minutes, the Devils went ahead in the second period when Parise and Kovalchuk worked the puck to rookie sensation Adam Henrique in front with a brilliant pass by Parise and a shot by Kovy that rebounded to Henrique, and the Calder candidate did the rest beating Jonas Hiller with a deke at 1:25. A fortuitious bounce off of Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa led to our second goal at 10:56, when Danius Zubrus pickpocketed him and found a wide open Alexei Ponikarovsky. The former Cane - who's been a revelation since he's come here - scored his tenth goal overall and third as a Devil, beating Hiller with a quick five-hole shot.

That two looked large with the way the game was going, even as the Ducks continued to outshoot us every period. Brodeur was continuing his recent return to excellence by stoning chance after Duck chance...until Perry finally broke the lock, putting home a backhander off the rebound from a Getzlaf shot at 16:08. The Ducks right-winger, who scored 50 last year put home his 29th of this season to cut the Devils' lead in half. And there it remained as the end of the second and most of the third period rolled by quickly, despite power play chances for both teams in the final twenty minutes the game seemed destined to end 2-1.

But then a former Devil came back to burn us, and no it wasn't Pelley - it was the even more obscure Sheldon Brookbank, who was made to look like teammate Teemu Selanne after getting open in front and roofing a wrister past Brodeur with under four minutes remaining to tie the game. Then came the overtime, where it seemed like either the Ducks found another gear, or we downshifted and the result was a couple of bad shifts that led to the Getzlaf goal...or almost-goal. Credit defenseman Anton Volchenkov on the play, for the second time in the last couple of weeks his work tying up an opposition player's stick in front of the net proved key (following his role in the much-debated Marian Gaborik no-goal a couple weeks ago), as Getzlaf couldn't shake loose and actually had no other choice but to try and kick it in.

However it came, the Devils win continued their terrific post-All Star break play as they improved to 7-1-1 and got their second win in a row after losing two straight last week. It's been said so often by GM Lou Lamoriello and others, but your best players have to be your best players more often than not for you to win - and with Marty turning it on and Kovy coming through with twenty-seven points (13 goals and 14 assists, including a hat trick in Buffalo Tuesday) in his last eighteen games, that's exactly what's happening here. No longer are people wondering whether Marty has lost it or Kovy will ever fit in as a Devil. With all the great stories from this season so far, those two are among the most meaningful ones.

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