As I drove to the arena yesterday morning, it seemed to be a great day for a hockey matinee. It was for about 40 minutes. The New Jersey Devils kicked off Nickelodeon Weekend at Prudential Center by hosting the visiting Florida Panthers. Iconic television characters like SpongeBob SquarePants and Chuckie from Rugrats walked around the main concourse as young fans took photos and enjoyed other activities. Ahead of warmups, some players partook in their usual pre-game soccer ritual, and it appeared everyone put their 8-1 loss to the Boston Bruins behind them.
For two periods, the Devils were in control and played a great game. However, similar to a storm rolling in from the ocean, fans saw something brewing, and unfortunately, the tides eventually changed. The Devils allowed four answered goals in the third period and lost in overtime when Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling’s wrist shot got past goaltender Andrew Hammond to secure the win. It was an unexpected turn of events considering the Devils came out flying to begin the contest.
An Impressive Start
After their game in Boston, New Jersey’s head coach Lindy Ruff preached that a team can always learn something from a game and stressed the need to use that loss to light a fire. The Devils came out flying in the first five minutes and scored two goals on their first two shots of the game. Yegor Sharangovich got the scoring started, and 17 seconds later it was Jack Hughes who scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season. They held the Panthers to only five shots on goal in the first twenty minutes and entered the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
Hammond Makes His Devils Debut
Andrew Hammond was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline by the Devils. At 34-years-old, there was hope he would provide stability in a position that has been a weakness for the team all season long. The team activated their newest player off injured reserve and, after a couple of practices with the team, made his debut. He allowed a goal on the second shot he faced but played well enough overall for his team to earn the 6-2 lead after forty minutes.
After the game, Ruff was asked his thoughts on Hammond’s performance. He admitted there were probably a couple of goals his goaltender would want back. It is worth noting that yesterday was Hammond’s first game since March 3 when he suited up for the Montreal Canadiens against the Calgary Flames. His debut set a new franchise record with seven different goalies playing for the Devils this season.
Sharangovich Earns First Career Hat Trick
The second period was an exciting one as Sharangovich scored two more goals earning his first career hat trick. The 6-foot-2 forward scored his third goal shorthanded with a little over five minutes left in the period. Hats began to trickle down to the ice as the 23-year-old celebrated with his teammates. As statistician Nick Cahill pointed out, it was the first hat trick at Prudential Center since Oct. 30, 2019, when Kyle Palmieri scored three against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Interestingly enough that game also resulted in a 7-6 overtime loss for New Jersey.
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After the game, a visibly upset Damon Severson met with the media and was asked about his teammate’s big night. He acknowledged that Sharangovich’s performance should be the story instead of the way the team lost the game.
“We should be talking about an unbelievable hat trick by [Sharangovich], a great game by him, a big win by us,” said Severson. “Unfortunately, we’re talking about a great hat trick by him and a loss by us.”
Sharangovich had a rollercoaster of a season being utilized as a healthy scratch after a slow start. He did not score his first goal until Nov. 20 and did not perform at a high level until he was reunited with Hughes as his center. In February he was one of the Devils’ most consistent point earners with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in nine games.
A Shocking and Frustration End for the Devils
The shock and frustration were apparent on Severson’s face the minute he walked into the media room. He did not have an answer for what happened in that final period but harped that the team cannot start the third period with a four-goal advantage and lose the game.
“It’s 6-2 going into the third period,” Severson said. “We had full control of the game. We couldn’t keep the puck out of our net. We have to find a way. When you’re up 6-2 in the NHL, you shouldn’t lose the game 7-6. Simple as that. That’s brutal.”
Devils defenseman Ryan Graves was the second player to address the media. He was at a loss for what exactly happened minutes earlier. It was an honest response, as the team once again lost in an embarrassing fashion in front of their home fans. Like coach Ruff stated during the postgame press conference, the momentum swing was obvious to those in the building. Eventually, New Jersey’s coach did call a timeout. While some would say he waited too long, it doesn’t seem that it would have made a difference in the outcome.
It’s a quick turnaround for New Jersey as they host the New York Islanders at 4:00 P.M. Eastern time this afternoon. It is the fourth contest of the season between these two division rivals with the home team winning the first three meetings. The game will be a TNT broadcast, as the Devils will look to avoid three consecutive losses.