Ahead of the New Jersey Devils’ Dec. 21 game versus the Florida Panthers, head coach Lindy Ruff was asked if he expected any carryover from the last time these two teams met on Dec. 17 at Prudential Center.
“I don’t know. You have to be aware of it, if there is a carry over. We have to be be ready, as simple as that.”
His club was ready.
Devils Came Out Ready to Go
Through 33 games, the Devils have 541 hits, which is the second lowest in the league. For a team that averages 16 hits per game, it was a statement that they finished the first period with 14. To no surprise, Brendan Smith and Kevin Bahl led the team with a combined seven.
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“I think the group was disappointed in what had happened (last game),” Ruff said. “They were there every second of the way tonight. I have to give them credit for that. We realize we still have to grow as a team. It’s just a part of remembering where we’re at and where we have to get to.”
Carter Verhaeghe was one of the Panthers players who targeted Nico Hischier early in the game. The center knocked the young captain to the ice, but this time his linemate Tomas Tatar was there and responded with a little shoving match near the benches.
Erik Haula would be the only player to drop the gloves as he fought with Anton Lundell with 13 minutes left in the opening frame. There was no shortage of physical play in the first 20 minutes of the game, with a combined 24 hits between the two teams.
The First Thing to Do Is Win a Hockey Game
Before the game, Matt Loughlin asked Ruff what in his mind would be the best response.
“Well, the first thing we have to do is win a hockey game. Second thing is everybody needs to stand up for themselves. That’s a big part of being a team. Along with standing up [for yourself] is standing up for each other. You have to be there for each other the same time.”
The Devils jumped back into the win column last night (Dec. 21) with an impressive third-period comeback. They scored three unanswered goals in the final frame earning a 4-2 victory. Mackenzie Blackwood made 34 saves on 36 shots, while Jesper Bratt scored two goals.
“It was a team effort,” said Hischier. “We all battled hard and wanted that win.”
Will The Physicality Carry Over to the Next Matchup?
This saga may not be over yet.
The Panthers were only down by a goal and were fighting hard to force overtime. Once their dream of tying the game came to an end, courtesy of Tatar’s empty-net goal, chaos broke out behind the net. A scrum ensued, and Matthew Tkachuk wasted no time going after Hischier. A couple of referees attempted to separate the two, but struggled as the Panther’s winger would not let up.
Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad received misconducts, along with Devils’ defenseman Damon Severson. Before the camera panned away to focus on Tkachuk and Hischier, fans saw every player New Jersey had on the ice was engaged with someone. Tkachuk would eventually be called for a roughing penalty against Hischier and would get tossed from the game with seconds left.
Will Tkachuk have a target on his back when these two clubs meet again, or will it be water under the bridge as the two teams will be focused on the postseason? It’s an answer that will not reveal itself for 86 days, as the two teams won’t meet again until March 18 in Sunrise Florida.
In addition to earning the win, the Devils came out with a much-needed response. They played a physical opening for 20 minutes and stood up for themselves when it was necessary. Once that message was sent, they shifted their focus to winning the hockey game and prevent their losing streak from reaching seven games.
New Jersey will play one final game before the holiday break on Dec. 23 as they host the visiting Boston Bruins at Prudential Center. MSGSN will have the call with their pre-game show starting at 6:30 P.M. ET.