Comeback Kids | FEATURE – New Jersey Devils

Comeback Kids | FEATURE – New Jersey Devils

The Devils have proven throughout the course of the 2022-23 season that they can never be counted out of a game. And that has never been more relevant than in the past week.
The last four games for New Jersey have all gone into overtime, with New Jersey scoring in the final 80 seconds of three of those contests just to force the extra session. And in those four games, the Devils are 3-0-1 for seven of eight possible points. Without those late scores, New Jersey could have been 1-3-0 for two points. That’s how fine of a line success is in the National Hockey League.
Repetition breeds success breeds confidence. And there’s no doubt that the Devils believe they can come back and win any game, regardless of score, time or situation. That’s because they’ve repeatedly had success.
“When you’re winning the belief grows. You believe that you can come back even when you’re down a goal, you can get back,” head coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’ve been down plenty of games where we’ve been able to fight back.”
Jan. 16: Devils 4, Sharks 3 SO
New Jersey trailed San Jose, 3-2, as the game entered the final minute of regulation with the extra attacker on the ice. That’s when center Jack Hughes snapped a shot from above the left circle toward the goal. The puck ricocheted off the stick of Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson and into the goal with just 8.6 seconds remaining. Tomas Tatar converted the only shootout tally as goaltender Vitek Vanecek blanked the opposition. In a game the Devils could have lost, they escaped victories and with two points.
Video: [email protected]: Hughes knots the game 3-3 in the 3rd
Jan. 19: Kraken 4, Devils 3 OT
New Jersey found itself in a similar circumstance just three days later in Seattle. They trailed the Kraken in the final minutes and once again pulled Vanecek to work the 6-on-5. And in similar fashion Hughes threw a shot on net from above the left circle. This time the goaltender – Martin Jones – made the save. But right in front of the net was captain Nico Hischier to clean up the rebound and tied the game with 1:14 left in regulation. Though Andre Burakovsky would win the game in overtime for Seattle, the Devils stole a point.
Video: [email protected]: Hischier puts home a rebound in front
Jan. 22: Devils 2, Penguins 1 OT
No late-game heroics were needed when Pittsburgh visited the Prudential Center. However, some overtime heroics were required. The Devils initially believed they had lost the game when Penguins defenseman Marcus Petterson scored. But the referees alertly realized that Petterson was that wide open on the play because he hopped off the Pittsburgh bench early and so the Penguins were assessed a too-many-men on the ice penalty. Devils defenseman Dougie Hamilton finished the contest with a power-play blast to earn New Jersey the second point in the contest.
Jan. 24: Devils 3, Golden Knights 2 OT
It would take another miracle for the Devils to force a fourth consecutive overtime while trailing Vegas 2-1 in the waning minutes of the game. But just as they had in the initial two games above, the Devils delivered. It was Hamilton once again coming up big with Vanecek on the bench. His shot from the above the right circle hit Vegas defenseman Brayden McNabb and eluded goaltender Logan Thompson for the tally. And just as history continued to repeat itself, the Devils would earn a power play in over and Hamilton would finish that power play and the game.
Video: [email protected]: Hamilton fires a shot that bounces in
New Jersey needed a miracle in three of their previous four games, and they got it. The Devils’ comebacks are becoming much less miraculous and more so the expectation. Even if it did require some assistance from the hockey gods.
“It’s a lucky bounce today. We’ve done well lately, getting pucks to the net,” Hamilton said following the Vegas game Tuesday night. “The last couple of games that we’ve tied it up have been the same way, get pucks to the net and get some bounces. Good job by us to do that.”
The bounces have been helpful. But winning puck battles to maintain possession and creating net-front traffic have also been a major reason for New Jersey’s late-game success.
“Last couple games we’ve had some looks and capitalized on it,” forward Jesper Bratt said. “It all comes from hard work and details and staying on pucks and winning pucks back and taking a lot of pucks to the net with heavy guys at the front.”
The return of forward Ondrej Palat cannot be underemphasized on that front. He’s been a big factor in winning those offensive zone wall battles and screening goaltenders (see Hughes’ tying goals).
“‘Pally’ has contributed a lot too with that with a net-front presence and winning some pucks back,” Bratt said. “The (6-on-5) unit that’s out there is working right now, and we’re going to continue that.
“All of us are on the ice for those situations. We take pride at getting the opportunity to be on the ice for those situations. We’re all extremely competitive guys that want to win. We take pride in that. We feel we can make a difference.”
While the Devils’ comebacks have been highlighted lately, the team’s ability to overcome has been a season-long endeavor.
The Devils are one of only three teams to win five games this season when trailing entering the third period (Anaheim, Vancouver). And the Devils haven’t trailed nearly as much as those other two teams after two periods or else they would easily lead the league.
More comparatively is the Devils winning percentage when trailing after two periods. They are 5-10-2 for a .294 winning percentage. That ranks third in the National Hockey League behind only Tampa Bay (4-9-0, .308) and Boston (3-4-3, .300).
And the normally all-important opening goal doesn’t matter to the Devils either. They’ve allowed the first goal in 21 games this year, but still have a winning record of 12-6-3 in those contests. In fact, only Boston (14-5-2) has more wins. And the Devils .571 winning percentage when surrendering the first goal is second only to Boston’s .667.
Bottom line, the Devils are never out of any game. Even if there is only 8.6 seconds left.
“Don’t quit and keep trying right to the end,” Hamilton said of the team’s attitude when playing from behind. “Just get pucks on net and you never really know what’s going to happen if that’s the case. (Against Vegas) it was a lucky bounce and that’s just what you’ve got to get sometimes.”
While the Devils would prefer to win games much more comfortably or play with a lead – something they’ve done the majority of the time this season – there is something to be gained from stealing points and victories.
“We’d like to have easier games. We haven’t had a lot of easy games,” Ruff said. “We’ve had a lot of tight games. At the same time, tight games help you grow.”
And they help you grow into a good team.
“All the good teams will try to find a way to win those close games,” Palat said. “We didn’t play our best but we’re getting points. That’s all that matters.”

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