FSN SOUTH (TV)—Through the first half of the season, the New Jersey Devils were one of the worst teams in hockey. Right now, though, they are among the best.
Even without Martin Brodeur in net, the Devils wrested a 3-2 overtime win from the Carolina Hurricanes in New Jersey Tuesday night. Rookies accounted for all the scoring. Nick Palmieri tied the game late and Mattias Tedenby had the sudden-death winner as well as a goal in regulation for the home team. Jeff Skinner tallied twice for the Canes, giving him 20 goals on the season.
Cam Ward saved 31 shots, including all but one of the 19 shots he faced in the frantic third period of an otherwise subdued game. John Hedberg got the win in relief of Brodeur, notching 20 saves.
Two games do not necessarily make a trend, but the Canes could not hold a late lead for the second straight contest. Palmieri capped a third-period rally with 2:54 remaining to send the game to overtime. Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian knotted Saturday’s game with just 1:24 left and his goalie pulled for the extra attacker.
These extra points mean a lot—if Carolina holds those two leads to win in regulation, they’re up three points on the Thrashers rather than one.
A more pressing concern than the standings, however, might be the health of Joni Pitkanen. Early in the third period, he took a hard shot off the inside of the right knee and limped off. Although he returned for a shift later to test the knee, he did not finish the game.
Pitkanen leads the Canes in ice time—and is sixth overall in the NHL—averaging a shift less than 26 minutes each night. Seven minutes had to be redistributed among the five remaining Carolina defenders on Tuesday.
“I did think it caused a problem,” said coach Paul Maurice. “It caused a snowball. Because you get two guys now caught out, and we had a couple shifts where we had two defensemen caught out for a long time. And you come back with the other two, and one guy’s not ready.”
The loss aside, the Canes have to take some satisfaction from opening their five-game road trip with a point in a tough rink. Both teams simplified their games, leading to a lot of neutral-ice play, and a lot of shifts without scoring chances.
The Hurricanes played basic dump-and-chase hockey for long stretches, almost as if they were just running down the clock. If they couldn’t generate a play off the forecheck, they would change players and try it again. New Jersey tried to carry the puck a few strides into the Carolina zone, fling it back to a trailing defender at the point for a shot, and then attack the crease for rebounds.
Jeff Skinner broke through on the man-advantage in the second, firing a a wrist shot from the low circle that went under Hedberg’s arm. Tedenby answered two minutes later as Colin White banked a point shot off the back boards, Jason Arnott backhanded the carom into the slot, and Tedenby tucked the puck home on the far side of Ward.
Skinner puts the Canes back ahead with another power play goal midway through the third. Eric Staal won the initial faceoff to Ian White, who walked the puck to the middle of the ice and backhanded it to Staal, who had moved to the point. Staal swiped the puck to the crease and Skinner kicked the rebound to his stick in tight quarters for the goal.
That set up Palmieri’s heroics. Ilya Kovalchuk rocketed up center ice, veering to a dot and firing a shot off Ward. Ward swung his stick like a racket to bat the puck to the corner but missed. He couldn’t get his stick back to his side to defend Palmieri’s shot.
The 4-on-4 overtime was wide open. After Ian White ventured down low to fire a good shot off Hedberg, the Devils took advantage to win the game. Travis Zajac carried the puck into the Carolina zone, dropped it to Tedenby, and charged the defenders to give Tedenby space to shoot. The rookie didn’t miss.
The Canes probably wish they could have this one back to do a couple of things over again. They’ll get that chance, as they see the Devils twice more in the next ten days.