Without head coach Lindy Ruff, the New Jersey Devils prevailed over the Edmonton Oilers in overtime, 6-5, on Friday afternoon at Prudential Center.
Ruff was put into COVID-19 protocols before the game. Assistant coach Alain Nasreddine took the reigns for the game. Ruff communicated with the team through a headset while he was away from the team.
The first six minutes of play featured four goals and 14 shots on goal (seven for each side). The Devils started the onslaught of goals as Jack Hughes blasted a one-timer for his seventh goal of the season on the power play. Connor McDavid answered just 1:10 later with his 18th goal of the season to knot the game up at one.
The high-scoring first period continued with a goal from a Nico Hischier goal that he banked off the back of Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith to give New Jersey a 2-1 advantage. Once again, Edmonton answered as Kailer Yamamoto scored to tie the game at two. Dawson Mercer rounded out the scoring in the first period with his ninth goal of the season to give the Devils a 3-2 advantage after one period. Both teams had opportunities for more throughout the first 20 minutes as both teams had 13 shots on goal.
The second period started defensive as both teams did not want to repeat period one. That ended when McDavid found himself on a breakaway after a stellar outlet pass from Duncan Keith that led to McDavid's second goal of the game to tie the game at three.
The period continued with numerous opportunities for the Devils, but Smith, who struggled in the first period, stopped all 11 shots from New Jersey in the second period. New Jersey also found themselves on the power play during the period but could not capitalize on the Darnell Nurse roughing penalty.
The Devils had three great chances at the start of the third period but could not find the back of the net. Mackenzie Blackwood made a great save at the 17:45 mark of the period on a point-blank shot from Ryan McLeod to keep the score tied early in the third.
Janne Kuokkanen put the Devils ahead on his fifth goal after his slap shot beat Smith at the 5:14 mark of the third period. The lead was short-lived as Edmonton quickly answered once as Devin Shore scored to tie the game at four with his second goal of the season.
The Oilers stayed on the attack as Yamamoto scored his second goal of the game, or so it seemed. The Devils challenged the goal based on a possible missed game stoppage. After a review that took nine minutes, the goal stood, and the Oilers held a 5-4 lead.
"They came back to the bench and said this is challenge-able if you want to challenge," Nasreddine said. "Dougie Hamilton had the puck on his stick and whacked at it, which was pretty clear. It should have been blown, but they didn't.
"I think that's why it took so much time. They had to review the rule. They came back and said it was their mistake and we couldn't challenge it. That's the end of it."
The comprehensive review seemed to have shut down much of the Devils' momentum in the period. A questionable delay of game penalty against Yegor Sharangovich gave the Oilers a power-play which New Jersey ultimately killed off as they played to tie the game.
New Jersey pulled Blackwood with 90 seconds left in regulation, leading to a Sharangovich deflection of a Dougie Hamilton shot to tie the game with 32 seconds left and send it into overtime.
In the 3-on-3 overtime period, Jack Hughes scored the game-winner as Smith initially stopped a slap shot, but the goalie could not hold on to the puck as it went into the net for a 6-5 Devils win to end 2021.
THIS >>>>>>> pic.twitter.com/5gjuKSwnQj
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) December 31, 2021
"I don't even know if it snuck in blocker or seven-hole. I'm just trying to shoot the puck more. The more you shoot it, the more pucks will go in the net," said Hughes. "I shot it through the screen and McDavid's legs. Once I got around him, I saw the puck trickled in, and we were pretty pumped up."
Even without Ruff behind the bench, the Devils treated Friday like business as usual in their final game of 2021.
"He (Nasreddine) did a great job. For us players, stuff like that happens and we shouldn't change anything," Hischier said. "That's what we did. We were talking about that before the game. It doesn't matter who is behind the bench. We are playing the same system. We want to play the same way with Lindy or Nas."
Three Stars of the Game
- Jack Hughes: Two Goals, One Assist
- Connor McDavid: Two Goals
- Dawson Mercer: One Goal, One Assist
What's Next For The Devils
New Jersey starts a quick two-game road trip as they travel to Washington to face the Capitals on Sunday. Puck drop is set for 3:08 p.m.