New Jersey Devils, Luke Hughes
Photo by Mark Fischgrund

Devils fall to Ducks in crushing fashion in Anaheim

When it seemed like this season couldn't get any worse, it just did.

The New Jersey Devils, desperate for wins and points to stay alive in the playoff race, lost to the Anaheim Ducks by a score of 4-3. The Devils have a tough schedule ahead of them, so this was a game they had to win against a Ducks team that ranks 30th in the NHL.

The game started with the Devils doing what they do best: Giving up the game's first goal. Devils' defenseman Kevin Bahl lost a puck battle in the corner, which left Ducks forward Frank Vatrano wide open in front of the net for the goal.

The Devils responded with a Timo Meier goal in front of the net to even the score. The tied game would only last for 51 seconds as the Devils lost another puck battle behind the net, where Luke Hughes got smothered by multiple Ducks. That led former Devil Adam Henrique to corral the puck and put it past Devils' goalie Nico Daws.

That was the theme of this game. Every time the Devils could score, the Ducks had an immediate answer.

The Ducks extended their lead to 3-1 in the second period after a ricochet tap-in by forward Max Jones. Again, as Jones was his man, Luke Hughes was responsible for this goal. Hughes couldn't make a play on the puck and got out-battled by Jones.

The Devils tallied a power play goal off of a snipe by Jack Hughes to cut the Ducks' lead to 3-2. But once again, the hope the Devils seemed to get back was ripped away shortly after.

Frank Vatrano got behind the Devils' defense and scored on a breakaway to extend the Ducks' lead. That was the Ducks' fourth goal of the game on just 14 shots on goal, which led to Nico Daws getting replaced by Akira Schmid for the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the Devils had 33 shots on goal with only two goals to show for it at the end of the second period.

The Devils entered the third period down 4-2, feeling like their season was on the line. The Devils gave it their best shot, putting a whopping 22 shots on goal in their attempt for a third-period comeback. They just couldn't figure out Ducks rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal.

The Devils tightened the Ducks lead on a power play goal from Tyler Toffoli to make it a 4-3 game with just under three minutes left to play.

The Devils went on to pull the goalie to make it a 6-on-5-man advantage. The clock was ticking fast as the Devils were running out of time in this game and on their season. They gave it their best shot and got the puck to the front of the net, which created a huge scramble with just under 10 seconds left. Despite Jersey's best efforts, they still couldn't get it past Dostal.

But, with just 2 seconds remaining in the game, Frank Vatrano intentionally pushed the net to stop play to avoid the Devils from tying the game up. Because of Vatrano's illegal actions, the Devils were rewarded a penalty shot.

The Devils had a fantastic chance to tie this game up with the feeling that their season was on the line. Jack Hughes, who was buzzing all night, was their choice to go 1-on-1 with Dostal.

Hughes approached Dostal slowly and tried to make too many moves, and Dostal poked the puck away from the Devils' superstar. Hughes looked devastated as he couldn't come through for the Devils in a must-win game. It was a frustrating game for Jersey's team that ended heart-breakingly.

The Devils can't find a way to string wins together, even against the Ducks. There's always something that holds them back. On Friday night, the Devils got out-battled in multiple situations and were out of position often, which led to them giving up four goals. It doesn't help that the Devils couldn't get a big save out of Nico Daws in one of those situations.

The Devils also were not able to get the puck past Dostal. The Devils outshot the Ducks 55-23 and still couldn't find a way to win. The Devils dominated play a significant portion of this game, but it still wasn't enough. The 55 shots on goal the Devils put up was the second most in a game in franchise history. But the Devils were only able to finish three of their opportunities.

When it seems like the Devils will turn their season around, something changes that. The Devils continuously find different ways to lose games, and now they have a brutal schedule ahead of them. They can't afford to lose many more games if they want to keep their playoff aspirations alive.