Photo Credit: Mark Fischgrund

Devils Stars Shine in 8-4 Victory Over Canes

“What bothers me the most is that we just got out-battled. It’s the playoffs, we should be really pissed off right now.” - Nico Hischier at the end of Game Two


The players heeded the wish of their Captain and played with an edge that has been lacking against the Hurricanes throughout the series. The Devils scored early and often and showed the Hurricanes their trademark resilience in exploding for an 8-4 victory in Game Three led by two goals from center Jack Hughes.


All season long the Devils have shown a penchant for drama and comebacks, and yesterday’s victory has now put them on the precipice of evening a series they seemed non-competitive in at times during the first two games.



The Devils were able to vanquish the Rangers in seven without goals from Nico Hischier or Timo Meier, and only an empty net goal from Jesper Bratt. To regain a foothold in the Canes series, the Devils knew they needed to count on their stars to contribute on the scoresheet. The wait ended on Sunday as the team’s stars exploded.


Meier opened the scoring early on, beating goalie Frederik Andersen to the post and jamming in a slick feed from Hughes to put the Devils up for the first time in the series. The notable thing about the goal was that it was set up by Hughes going below the goal line and winning a battle for the puck then passing it, one-handed blindly backwards to Meier who quickly stuffed it in. The willingness of Hughes to get into a “dirty” area and outwork the Canes was a harbinger of things to come for the Devils.




Five minutes later, Hughes would earn his second point of the night on a one timer he launched past Andersen off diagonal feed from Brendan Smith.  The Devils would then cap off the scoring in the first period with another shorthanded goal for center Michael McLeod. McLeod stole the puck at the blue line, raced down the ice, fought off a defender and slid the puck through the five hole to put the Devils up three and bring the crowd to a deafening roar. From that point on, Carolina would never get closer than three goals. 


Less than a minute into the second period it would be 4-0 as Hischier ended his playoff drought by shoveling the puck into an empty net after a cross-ice feed from Bratt. Hughes and Damon Severson would each later score a highlight reel goal, starting with a spin away from the defense and finishing with a snipe to the back of the net. The Severson goal was even more notable as the Hughes brothers both were credited with an assist



The Devils' other two goals came from Miles Wood who took a John Marino stretch pass around a Nate Bastian pick and swooped in to beat the Canes netminder. The final Devils goal broke the seven-game scoreless streak this season without a power play goal against Carolina’s high-powered penalty kill when Ondrej Palat scored off a feed from Bratt. 





Despite a game where they never trailed, the Devils played far from a perfect game. Concerns remain regarding goaltending. Vitek Vanecek certainly made several important and timely saves but did allow 4 goals. It appears that Lindy Ruff will return to Vanecek, but even he conceded that it is not a simple choice. 

“I think Vitek gave us some saves. I think there’s a couple you look at and you hope your goaltender can be better on, ” Ruff said.


The Devils have a disturbing trend of giving up short handed goals to Carolina. They allowed three in Game Three which makes seven total in seven games this season. Until the late Palat goal, the Canes were +7 on the Devils power play through the regular season and post season. The Devils cannot continue this trend if they want to win the series. 


The Devils are looking to counter this by recalibrating their power play units. On the top unit, they have placed Luke Hughes as a second defenseman and will deploy Dougie Hamilton as more of a shooter than walking the blue line. They have also added a second right handed shot with Dawson Mercer. The second unit is now more formidable with the addition of Meier and Bratt to the unit that already had Severson, Palat and  Erik Haula. 



Ruff was quick to praise the play of rookie Luke Hughes playing in his first every playoff game. It was the play of oft benched veteran Brendan Smith who may have had more of an impact. Smith, a 12-year veteran who has played in over 50 playoff games over the course of his career was inserted to provide a defensive presence and augment the penalty kill in the wake of the Ryan Graves injury.

Smith played over 17 minutes and the second most penalty kill minutes of any of the defensemen. He also contributed offensively getting the primary assist on the first Jack Hughes goal. Smith was able to add his characteristic toughness to the game without taking any penalties.

Ruff described Smith’s value to the team, “[h]e’s been awesome in the room, awesome on the ice, fearless…I thought he gave us a great game.” 


Brendan Smith became emotional discussing his return to the lineup, “This is where I want to be. It was hard for me to watch. So to get back in, I’m trying to not get emotional, but there’s not much of it for me left and try to cherish it.”



Hughes has continued to expand his game as the year has progressed. While known for his exceptional skating, vision and play-making, he has added a dimension of toughness to his playoff performance. His hits early in the Rangers series set the tone and were noticed by his teammates who recognized him as ultra competitive and willing to do whatever it takes to win. 


Just last week Hughes was named as one of the three finalists for the Lady Bing Trophy that recognizes sportsmanship and often goes to players at the lower end of the penalty minute spectrum.  In Game Three, a few days after losing a tooth to a high stick Hughes appeared transformed and after absorbing several cross-checks from Sebastian Aho, grabbed Aho and planted him on the ground and began raining (gloved) punches upon him. 


The “fight” was a hot topic in the post game. Jack’s brother Luke was asked whether he saw anything different playing with Jack in a post season game, he responded, “Well, he got into a fight tonight!”

Without missing a beat Jack retorted with a toothless smile, “That wasn’t a fight.”

Should one consider it a fight then Jack would qualify for a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (goal, assist, & fight) however, the referees only called roughing. 



Shortly after the Hughes brothers left the podium, Ruff was asked to comment on Jack, and retorted, "I think that kills his chance at the Lady Bing." 



  • Scoring first is paramount. The Devils have recognized that Carolina is a much different team playing with a lead vs chasing one. Jack Hughes spoke at length after Game Three about how important it was to play from ahead because it gets Carolina out of their structure and their ability to play on top of the puck and defend with structure. The Canes take very few chances when they have a lead which makes capitalizing in transition and off turnovers, the Devils bread and butter, difficult
  • The Devils adjustments worked and now the ball is in Carolina’s court to find ways to regain favorable matchups without the benefit of last change.  
  • Deja Vu? - Last season Carolina took a 2-0 lead in two home wins over the Rangers. The Rangers won the next two at MSG then the teams traded home wins until the Rangers stole Game Seven in Carolina, could that be in the minds of the Hurricanes should the Devils even the series?
  • Both teams have choices at goaltender. It is likely Ruff will stick with Vanecek, as he has not been apt to switch coming off of a victory.  The Canes have a difficult choice as well. Andersen looked overwhelmed and has been injured for large portions of the series, Kochetkov did not shine in relief and Anti Raanta who playaed well against the Islanders in round one is coming off an undisclosed illness. If all three are healthy I would expect Raanta to get a shot. 
  • Lindy Ruff has indicated he does not like playing 11/7. There are reasons why he did it in Luke Hughes’s playoff debut but he is unlikely to continue. It appears that Kevin Bahl and Ryan Graves will be the odd men out on defense with Smith and Hughes remaining in the lineup, while Curtis Lazar appears set to center the fourth line. 


Game Four Puck Drop is 7 p.m. at The Prudential Center