Washington Capitals forward Troy Brouwer told MSG-Plus reporter Deb Placey during Thursday’s first-period intermission that beating a good team would “mean a playoff berth.”
These are the types of desperate teams the New Jersey Devils will have to play and beat if they want to be one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.
Yet, the Devils still found a way to win Thursday.
New Jersey claimed game one of the quirky back-to-back series, scoring two third-period goals to rally for a 3-2 win at Verizon Center.
Patrik Elias scored once, Ilya Kovalchuk potted the winner, and Andrei Loktionov netted his first goal as a Devil, as New Jersey gained its 10th win, jumping into sole-possession of first place in the Atlantic.
Matthew Perreault and Mike Ribeiro netted goals for Washington. The Caps fell to 5-10-1 and remain 15th in the East.
When Alexander Ovechkin is skating as he was Thursday, he really is fun to watch.
Ovechkin drew two penalties, and though he did not record a point, both penalties led to Washington power-play goals.
Ovechkin also led the Caps with four shots on goal and had two breakaways thwarted by Brodeur. He also missed the net a few times.
Brouwer was also on top of his game; he had two assists. His dangle around Henrik Tallinder led to Perreault’s second-period power-play goal.
Speaking of Tallinder, the much-maligned Devils defenseman was dreadful again Thursday.
There aren’t any stats to quantify just how bad he was, but watch the game and you’ll see. Twice his shoddy defensive play inspired the Devils to take a penalty, and his failure to corral Brouwer– then his inability to tie up Perreault– led to Washington’s first goal.
There are two other defensemen– Peter Harrold and Mark Fayne— who are healthy scratches from which Tallinder is taking a roster spot. Fayne, even if he’s injured, can’t possibly be worse than Tallinder.
Even though New Jersey only took four penalties, the Devils’ PK was lousy again Thursday.
The Devils surrendered two PP goals. New Jersey simply can’t kill penalties at a 50 percent clip and be an elite team. I spelled out their struggles– and that it may have started last year– but whatever the problem, New Jersey needs to shore that up fast.
When the Devils were down and out, a hybrid line delivered.
Loktionov, playing with Alex Ponikarovsky and Stephen Gionta, won a faceoff cleanly, and the puck dropped to Adam Larsson. The young defenseman fired a shot that Braden Holtby stopped, but Loktionov was johnny-on-the-spot at the side of the net to beat Holtby and tie the game.
The Devils were reeling after three consecutive failed power plays, but Loktionov’s goal gave New Jersey a much-needed momentum boost.
Kovalchuk’s game is really incredible.
Even before his third-period mark, the Devils horse led New Jersey with seven shots on goal and was on the ice a whopping 28:58.
It’s almost baffling that Kovalchuk has wind to play his regular shifts when he’s on the ice for two-minute power-play stretches, but it is a testament to his hard work.
New Jersey’s man-advantage certainly had enough chances, especially in the third period. The Devils were 1-for-6 on the power play– five of which came in the third period, two of those were five-on-three advantages.
Kovalchuk’s slap-shot beat Holtby with just 8:20 in regulation to break a 2-2 tie.
Elias had a two-point night.
His goal was shorthanded, and he had the primary assist on Kovalchuk’s third-period goal.
The Devils also outshot Washington 37-19. Holtby stopped 34 shots.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic
N.Y. Islanders (7-9-1) 4, Montreal (11-4-2) 3 (OT)
Ottawa (10-6-2) 3, N.Y. Rangers (8-6-2) 2 (SO)
Florida (5-7-4) 5, Philadelphia (8-10-1) 2
Up Next: Round two with the Caps in Washington is Saturday at Verizon Center at noon.
Pat Pickens is a lifelong Devils-fan and New Jersey native. To pay the bills, he works as a sports reporter for Hearst in Connecticut. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter here.