4 Devils Takeaways From 8-4 Win vs. Hurricanes

The New Jersey Devils have excelled coming back from down 2-0 this season. Whether it’s a 2-0 deficit in a game or a playoff series, they’ve shown resiliency to keep themselves alive. They still have plenty of work to do against the Carolina Hurricanes, but their dominant 8-4 win in Game 3 is a good starting point. Here are four takeaways as the Devils look to even up the series tomorrow night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. 

Devils Made the Hurricanes Chase the Game

In the first two games of this series, the Hurricanes got off to hot starts and made the Devils chase the game. With the style of hockey they play, it made it close to impossible for New Jersey to mount a comeback. This time, the Devils flipped the script, as they got out to a comfortable early lead and never faced a deficit. 

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With about six minutes remaining in the opening frame, Jack Hughes made a slick one-handed, between-the-legs pass while behind the net to Timo Meier, who stuffed the puck in the net for his first goal of the playoffs. From then, the Devils got their game on, as they imposed their will and dictated play, unlike the first two games. Hughes scored courtesy of a terrific pass from Brendan Smith to make it 2-0. Shortly afterward, Michael McLeod tallied a shorthanded marker with a great individual effort to make it 3-0, the score at the first intermission. 

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The score was quite indicative of the run of play, as the Devils had a 22-12 shot attempt advantage over the Hurricanes while controlling a touch over 66 percent of the expected goals (xG%) after the first period. They could’ve easily sat back, but they poured it on the second frame, totaling 13 high-danger chances compared to the Hurricanes’ four. They’d maintain the lead, taking a 5-2 edge into the second intermission. 

The Devils’ power play certainly made things more interesting than they should’ve, but the team’s effort at five-on-five was too much to handle for the Hurricanes. They will need a near-repeat performance at full strength in Game 4 to even up the series, especially since the Hurricanes will bring their A-game to try and take a 3-1 advantage back to Raleigh. 

Devils’ Star Players Were Star Players

Even though the Devils managed to defeat the New York Rangers in seven games in Round 1, it was mostly a quiet series for their star players. Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Jesper Bratt, and Meier had four goals combined, with three of them coming from Hughes. That carried over into the start of the series against the Hurricanes, as they were held off the score sheet in the first two games. 

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It was only a matter of time before they had breakout performances, especially for Meier, who’s had plenty of scoring chances this postseason. Coupled with some poor goaltending from Frederik Andersen and Pyotr Kochetkov, the Devils’ star players broke out in a big way in Game 3. Hughes had two goals and two assists, bringing him to nine points in ten games these playoffs. 

After going his previous 20 appearances without finding the back of the net, Hischier broke through early in the second period to make it 4-0, his first-career playoff goal. The Devils dominated the Hurricanes when Hischier was on the ice, generating 2.28 expected goals while only giving up 0.24, an xG% of 88.33 percent. He spent most of his minutes against the Hurricanes’ defense pair of Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce and absolutely worked them. Here’s how the Devils fared with Hischier on the ice against that duo:

  • 97.85 xG%
  • 11-1 scoring chances
  • 8-0 high-danger chances
Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Credit goes to Bratt, too, who was Hischier’s linemate alongside Ondrej Palát. Bratt had his best game of the 2023 Playoffs, totaling two assists while leading the way in five-on-five xG% among Devils skaters at 90.38 percent. The Devils out-chanced the Hurricanes 16-3 when Bratt was on the ice, so it was good to see him have such an impact after being the source of fans’ frustrations on social media through the first two games of this series. 

And, of course, there was Meier, who finally found the back of the net after getting 20 million scoring chances through the first nine games of the playoffs. Scorers love to score, so there’s no doubt that tally could make a difference for Meier for the rest of this series. It’s possible the floodgates open for him, which will help the Devils make it a best-of-three.  

Luke Hughes Impressed

There was a lot of pressure on Luke Hughes, who was making his NHL playoff debut. The Devils needed a spark to get their offense going, and the younger Hughes certainly provided one, totaling two assists in 14:28 of ice time. There were a couple of concerns entering the game, one being nerves, but he certainly looked as poised as a 19-year-old defender making his NHL playoff debut could be. 

On Hughes’ opening shift, he made a strong play to keep the puck in at the blue line. Shortly afterward, he canceled out Jesse Puljujärvi on the forecheck, retrieved the puck, and made a quick and smart pass to help the Devils break out of the defensive zone cleanly. 

Perhaps his most impressive play came in the third period after the Hurricanes scored two shorthanded goals to make it a 7-4 game. After an offensive zone faceoff win, Hughes collected the puck near the blue line and skated into the slot with speed, drawing the Hurricanes’ penalty killers toward him. He then makes a quick pass to Bratt, who makes a royal road pass to Palát for the one-timer tally: 

Hughes did have some gaffes, one being an ill-advised pass to Dougie Hamilton on the power play that Jordan Martinook intercepted and turned into a penalty shot. He also didn’t play a 2-on-1 well early in the third period, but Vitek Vanecek made a big stop on Jesper Fast to bail out his defenseman. 

Overall, though, Hughes had a more than solid playoff debut. The Devils had a 58.2 xG% and controlled most of the shots and chances when he was on the ice at five-on-five. Given his impact, it’d be a surprise if he weren’t in the lineup for Game 4 tomorrow evening. 

Devils Power Play Was…an Adventure

Had it not been for the Devils’ power play, this game wouldn’t have been as helter-skelter as it was. They gave the Hurricanes life by allowing three shorthanded goals, which tied a record for most in an NHL playoff game. Obviously, that’s not great, and it’s not like it’s been a one-off against the Hurricanes this season. 

Palát’s power-play tally was the first time they’ve scored on the man advantage in 20 tries against Carolina this season. Oh, and they’ve also given up seven shorthanded goals to them, including yesterday’s game. The Devils need to figure out how to solve the Hurricanes’ penalty kill, which has been one of the best in the NHL for a couple of seasons. 

Ondrej Palat New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Ondrej Palát (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Still, you should never have to say to yourself, “Just decline power plays” in a playoff game. If the Devils perform how they did at five-on-five in Game 3, they should have no trouble in Game 4. And their power play shouldn’t be negating that success. 

Devils Quick Hits

  • The Devils made the switch from Akira Schmid to Vanecek for Game 3, the right move based on how the first two games went. While Vanecek made some key saves, I thought it was a shaky performance for him. He allowed four goals on 29 shots, gave up 1.39 goals above expected, and only stopped four of the eight high-danger shots he faced. Though Vanecek secured the win, Schmid should get the start for Game 4. He’s been the more consistent goaltender in the postseason and likely needed a break after making seven starts across 13 days.
  • There was plenty of backlash from fans on social media when they saw Brendan Smith making his first appearance since Game 2 of the Rangers series. He proved many of them wrong, as he was solid yesterday, posting a game score of 1.54. Given how the team won, he likely stays in the lineup with a similar 11/7 look for Game 4, especially since it allows head coach Lindy Ruff to shelter Luke Hughes as needed. 

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