Newark — The New Jersey Devils ensured Connor Bedard’s first-ever visit to the Prudential Center didn’t last very long.
It was an emotional tilt between the Devils and Chicago Blackhawks following Bedard’s first-period exit on Friday night.
Fortunately, the Devils were able to swing momentum in their favor and escape with two points.
Let’s dive into the Devils’ 4-2 victory over the Blackhawks.
Despite the ice tilting the Devils’ way, Chicago took a 1-0 lead on the power play by the stick of Jason Dickinson after a physical start. It took a while, but the Devils eventually got on the board in the second period following a give-and-go between Simon Nemec and Alexander Holtz. The latter deposited the rubber to tie the game. Boris Katchouk regained the Blackhawks’ lead late in the second period. However, Nemec scored his second goal of the season and Tyler Toffoli hit the empty-net goal to secure the victory for the Devils.
Vitek Vanecek made 25 saves to earn the win.
When you lay out the youngest All-Star in NHL history, it’s bound to draw some retaliation from the opposition.
Devils hybrid Brendan Smith laid a huge hit on rookie Connor Bedard, sending him to the locker room holding his face. It was a clean hit, however, the Blackhawks took exception. Chaos ensued with Philipp Kurashev and Nick Foligno going after Smith and the rest of the players on ice followed. When the refs eventually broke it all up, four penalties were assessed and a fifth one followed in what became a chippy contest.
By the end of the opening 20 minutes, the Hawks only out-hit the Devils 6-4. However, the statistics don’t account for the physical play between the whistles, and that’s where most of the physicality played out, except for one.
Connor Murphy got his revenge by laying a big hit on Devils captain Nico Hischier skating the puck up ice toward Chicago’s zone. Murphy’s hit made it difficult for Hischier to return to his skates. Once he did, the Devils captain walked down New Jersey’s tunnel.
The Devils captain returned to the game in the second period. Bedard did not return to the game.
As a result, Smith was forced to answer the bell in the second period and dropped the mitts with Foligno.
Nick Foligno and Brendan Smith drop the gloves as things get even more rowdy in New Jersey 😳 pic.twitter.com/kBtkcN6IMA
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) January 6, 2024
Even Jack Hughes got in on the action, throwing a reverse hit on Brett Seney that sparked another line brawl. Friday night was certainly fight night.
Alexander Holtz, Simon Nemec Appreciation Post
You have to appreciate the beautiful things in life. Stop, take a minute, and smell the roses. Or, watch this goal by Holtz because… wow!
— James Nichols (@JamesNicholsNHL) January 6, 2024
First of all, Nemec is an absolute player. If you didn’t know that by now, you haven’t been watching. Nemec does an excellent job negating a Blackhawks clearing attempt to maintain the offensive zone. Holtz picks the puck up, moves it to the slot, and drops it back to Nemec who promptly returns it to Holtz for the one-time goal. It was certainly a thing of beauty.
But wait, there’s more. The Devils found themselves down once more after Katchouk’s late second-period goal. Nemec answered, although half a period later, while the Devils were on the attack. Chris Tierney sprung Nemec through the Blackhawks zone with a pass at the blue line. Nemec, who is unafraid to step up in the play, gained the right circle and sniped the puck past Soderblom stick-side.
Welcome to the Simon Snipeshow Era. pic.twitter.com/3xUj2xwxEz
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) January 6, 2024
Even more impressive? When the Devils needed a goal most on more than one occasion in an emotional tilt, the young guns were the ones who broke through for the Devils.
Nearly Undone by Goaltending
The Devils weren’t lucky to get the win. They earned it. However, they were lucky they weren’t undone by their goaltending.
It cannot be understated how much when a goal that should be saved isn’t, it can deflate a team so easily. After the Devils tied the game at one following the Holtz and Nemec beauty, Vanecek allowed Katchouk to score on what was very clearly a saveable goal and Chicago regained the lead.
Boris Katchouk scores a shorthanded goal and then holds his ear up to the New Jersey crowd.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) January 6, 2024
Putting Katchouk’s celebration aside, this is a shot that Vanecek sees all the way. In fact, Luke Hughes actively moved out of the way of the shot and it still beat Vanecek cleanly.
Whenever the Devils limit the opposition to about 25 shots or less, it seems they’re able to secure the win. Thankfully, they were able to overcome the goaltending obstacle on Friday, especially the 31st-ranked Blackhawks.
Regardless, Vanecek finished the contest with 0.33 goals saved above expected.
- The Devils lost Jack Hughes in the closing moments of the third period. Lindy Ruff said there was no update on the star forward.
- Jesper Bratt finished Friday night’s contest with nine shots on goal.
- Michael McLeod won 13/16 faceoffs (81.3%), and Nico Hischier won 12/16 (75%).