The home portion of the New Jersey Devils schedule this season has been sketchy at best. With so many blown leads it likely has the fan base feeling like they are watching the movie Groundhog Day. Remember the scene where Bill Murray’s character keeps stepping off the curb into a puddle of icy water? That’s been the third period for the Devils this season thus far.
“A win is a win in this league. You don’t look back at the numbers,” said Blake Coleman who had the game-winning goal for the Devils in their most recent home victory on Nov. 15. “Guys have to be committed to playing the right way.”
The hope is that the win puts the horror show of blown leads behind them from the first ten games of the season. It was a roller coaster of emotions at Prudential Center in October and November, with the only other two wins coming in a span of three nights: a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers and a 1-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks.
On opening night they blew a four-goal lead and lost in a shootout to the Winnipeg Jets who scored three times in the third period. Six nights later they blew a one-goal lead in each period before eventually succumbing to the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout. Four days after that they blew a 4-1 lead to the Florida Panthers and gave up five straight goals, three coming in the third period.
Watch Out For that First Step, It’s a Doozy
11 nights later they were up 3-2 against the Arizona Coyotes before dropping a 5-3 decision that saw the visitors score twice in the third period. Five nights after that they were up 5-3 in the third period before the Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times. Kyle Palmieri completed his first hat trick as a Devil with eight seconds left to salvage a point, but Tampa went home with a wild 7-6 win after scoring 1:16 into overtime.
Two nights later, the Philadelphia Flyers scored the tying goal in New Jersey in, you guessed it – the third period, before swiping the extra point in a shootout. After a five-game road trip where the Devils went a respectable 3-2, they returned home and had a 2-1 lead with just over six minutes left…and then the Ottawa Senators scored three goals to rally for a 4-2 win.
Groundhog’s Day. Over and over and over and over again.
The Devils finally woke up from their nightmarish start at home and held on for that 2-1 win over the Penguins. They carried a 2-0 lead into the third period until with 12 minutes left in regulation Jack Johnson finally got the visitors on the board with his first goal in 91 games. Everyone in attendance at the Prudential Center was thinking the same thing: here we go again.
“We gave up that first one but I thought we hung in strong there and continued to play, hunkered down, and made sure we got the win,” said relieved Devils captain Andy Greene after the game. “This was really important for us. Obviously we have some battle scars there. I think it’s important for us that when we get in these situations to keep improving on it and get better, more comfortable (with the lead).”
But they held on for dear life and thanks to Mackenzie Blackwood’s stellar performance in net (38 saves) the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins never found the equalizer and New Jersey improved to 3-3-4 at home. “Blackie was an absolute stud tonight,” said Coleman of his netminder. Blackwood had 10 saves in the final period, including three big saves during the final seconds with Pittsburgh’s goalie on the bench for an extra skater.
The Devils record is not pretty. At all. But if you’re into silver linings, they aren’t getting blown out every night. In fact, as the voice of the team’s television broadcast pointed out before the game against Pittsburgh, New Jersey had held a third-period lead in 10 of the 17 games they played before that one. So with a little fine-tuning over the final 3/4 of the season they might be able to right the ship and climb out of the Metropolitan Division basement and back up the standings.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.