If the assumption is that the Devils, 8-11-3 in 22 games, are more likely than not to be spectators to playoff-implicating games and the postseason itself, then Tuesday’s point was more so a learned and lived experience that anything else. Given the season-long struggles with the Capitals, some might say they’re finding a way to stay with the elite within the most competitive division. Even if it’s been brick-by-brick.
And Tuesday sure had some reminders of where the Devils and Caps are in the divisional standings, the latter ahead by 15 points with three additional games played. Entering the evening without a win–without a point in three tries, it was another look at the varied options of a potent offense, its biggest names shut down in five of six periods in two games in Newark.
T.J. Oshie’s deflection on the power play 17:22 in, a Jakub Vrana add off a feed from John Carlson 7:24 into the second before minutes later, Daniel Sprong shot while on a two-on-one with Alex Ovechkin, to make it 3-0 and add a bit of a familiar feeling to this game.
Even Scott Wedgewood, who stopped 21 shots in the first two periods in his second-straight start following a 1-0 shutout over the Bruins at TD Garden on Sunday.
Janne Kuokkanen’s goal 12:44 into the second was followed by a Dmitry Orlov blast to return the three-goal lead to put the Caps on track for a fourth regulation win in as many games versus the Devils.
And if Miles Wood’s eighth of the season off a streaking Jesper Bratt to cut it to 4-2, felt subdued of any real meaning, Yegor Sharangovich getting a step in front of the Capitals defenders to rip a shot past Vitek Vanecek was inspiring for a club void much third period excitement this season, Damon Severson’s equalizer that beat traffic to get in the back of the net was something else.
You might call it: unfamiliar.
Vrana, who came off the bench on a change to get past two of the three Devils left on the ice after a zone-clear, tallied the game-winner 1:30 into overtime. The Caps fourth win over the Devils, who even in what might have been their best third period to date this season, couldn’t close the game out with a win.
Whether the Caps will be a similar thorn in the side in the next four remains to be seen, but for this season and for the what’s ahead on a largely young club, there’s plenty to take away from living through Tuesday’s contest.
“It was a really good effort by us to come back in the third,” Travis Zajac said. “It showed a lot of this group to be able to do that against a team like that.
“Hopefully it gives us confidence. We have to play the right way to be successful. You can’t do it by yourself. We have to support each other, support the puck, execute. I think we did that in the third and because of that, we had a lot of good looks and were able to come back.”
In the team’s first meeting of the season on Feb. 21, a game that saw the Caps trail in the third period, the Caps fired 15 of 41 shots in the final 20, getting three in the back of the net and winning the opening tilt between the two, 4-3.
Call it reversal but on Tuesday it was New Jersey putting up 16 of 31 on net to get the comeback and earn a point for post-regulation play. A certain lack of desperation has been a noticeably missing component, particularly since the return to play following COVID protocol. The lesson learned is apparent, so too is the Lindy Ruff’s feelings toward a desperate, hungrier third.
“I loved our fight,” Ruff said. “One heck of a point. If you look at the chances in the third, even when we made it 4-4–I think (Dmitry) Kulikov hit the post, we had another great opportunity to control the puck through overtime.
“It’s been a tough run for us when it comes to scoring goals. Some of the plays we made, some of the goals we scored, I think that should help boost the level of confidence for some of our guys.”
Of course, this isn’t to say a random Tuesday in early March is to be the defining moment for what could be special careers for the likes of Jack Hughes and Ty Smith or Sharangovich and Mikhail Maltsev. But, as we’ve come to witness this brick-by-brick approach, it just might be the start of some desperate hockey with the reward of playing that way on display.