New Jersey Devils squared off at home against the visiting Florida Panthers, who have a legitimate chance of winning the President's Trophy going down the stretch. Devils come into this one after an embarrassing road loss to the Boston Bruins in which they lost 8-1, hoping to bounce back with the next two games being back to back at home.
Yegor Sharangovich opened up the scoring for the home team in this contest as he scored his 17th goal of the season at the 3:25 mark of the first period. Dougie Hamilton gathered the loose puck at the blue line and threw it towards the net, trying to make a play. Sharangovich attempted to re-direct it but stopped the momentum of the shot. However, he stole the puck in front of the net from Radko Gudas. He turned the takeaway into the unassisted marker on the doorstep of the crease for the early lead.
Florida found themselves with their backs against the wall early as just seventeen seconds later. The Devils would double their lead with a Jack Hughes goal. P.K. Subban sent the frozen rubber off Hughes' skate and into the offensive zone to start the forecheck, leading Gustav Forsling to turn the puck over. Jack was the beneficiary of the miscue and capitalized on the high-quality scoring chance with a five-hole shot past Sergei Bobrovsky for his 26th of the year to make it a 2-0 game.
Panthers would counterpunch, however, to quiet the home crowd a bit as they answered at the 9:02 mark with a goal by defenseman Ben Chiarot. Ben's goal came after a Ryan Graves turnover turned into multiple Florida chances before Chiarot snapped a wrister past Andrew Hammond. Hammond did what he could off the turnover; however, Chiarot's shot with three people screening him was too much to overcome, and Ben's eighth goal of the season cut the Devils' lead to just one.
Action wouldn't take long to unfold in the second period as just two minutes exactly as Sharangovich scored again with his second of the night and 18th of the season to extend the lead back to two. Bobrovsky got a piece of Yegor's turnaround shot from the low slot, yet it wasn't enough and bounced off his left shoulder in the net.
The flood gates would begin to open on Florida as just forty-five seconds later, Janne Kuokkanen turned a Panthers turnover into his sixth goal of the season to make it a three-goal lead early in the period. Again the Panthers would counterpunch through and answer with a goal, but the Devils would get two more goals before the end of the period.
Andreas Johnsson got his 12th goal of the season to make the game 6-2 as the second period came to a close. Before that, the fifth Devils goal was scored by Sharangovich on a breakaway opportunity while shorthanded to record his first NHL hat-trick. The home crowd took great appreciation as they showered the ice with hats.
Florida switched goalies hoping to light a fire in their offense to start the third period. You would think that a four-goal lead to start the third period would be a safe enough lead to a win despite how good the Florida Panthers are (1st in NHL for scoring) at creating offense. Florida would get the task started with a goal by Brandon Montour for his ninth on the year to get the lead down to three. Gustav Forsling got his name on the score sheet a minute and a half after that, with his fourth goal this season bringing the lead to just two and making the building noticeably quieter.
Just when New Jersey might have stopped the bleeding, Aleksander Barkov scored his 32nd goal with just over four and a half left in the game to make this a game late. Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff called a timeout to try and get his team to re-group, but the ice was tilted. The inevitable would happen when Florida pulled their goalie for the extra attacker and made good on it with Barkov's second goal of the night, sending this into overtime.
Points don't matter for the Devils at this point of the season, so they desperately needed to find a way to dig down deep and get the tough victory at home. Unfortunately, that wouldn't happen as Gustav Forsling scored his second of the night just one minute and forty-five seconds into the overtime and sent the Prudential Center crowd home angry as the Devils fell 7-6.
What's left to say about this one? If the New Jersey Devils are going to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference next year, they can't do things like this. They talk about building towards the future, but they get embarrassed in a game they were never in against Boston. Then they blow this game as they were up four goals. The last team to lose a game like this in the NHL is the New Jersey Devils. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Devils hope to rebound against the rival Islanders at the Prudential Center on Sunday at 4 p.m.