NEW YORK, N.Y. - After a two week pause, the Devils won their first game back against the New York Rangers, 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.
Mikhail Maltsev scored his first NHL goal in the final 20 seconds of the game to seal the win on an empty net. In his season debut and first game in a year, defenseman Will Butcher scored his first goal of the 2020-21 campaign. Pavel Zacha, Yegor Sharangovich and Nick Merkley each scored one as well.
"Everyone knew coming in it was gonna be tough to get the legs under us and get our minds right but I thought we did a pretty good job, came out hard," said Merkley on his team's performance in their first game back. "Throughout the game [we] got better and I think by the end of it we were feeling pretty good about ourselves."
New Jersey heads to Boston to face the Bruins Thursday. You can watch on MSG+ 2 and listen on the Devils Hockey Network, including right here at NewJerseyDevils.com. Puck drop is 7:08 p.m. ET.
Janne Kuokkanen had his first career multi-point game after he had assists on the first, third and fifth Devils goals.
"He's a smart player, he makes good plays," said Devils Head Coach Lindy Ruff on Kuokkanen's performance. "He made some nice plays inside the game tonight that led to our win. He's getting comfortable with the way we play. He likes the way we play and tonight he got rewarded for it."
Mackenzie Blackwood played his first game in almost a month as his last start was January 19th, also against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The win was Blackwood's third straight win and he stopped 37 of the 39 shots he faced.
"It was a tough game, it was the first one back and you know I battled my energy a little bit," said Blackwood on his return. "It's a part of playing a lot so I was happy with it."
Only 29 seconds into the game, Michael McLeod and the Rangers' Chris Kreider were sent to the box five minutes for fighting.
"Mikey plays with a lot of heart and it shows there," said Merkley on McLeod's fight. "It's nice to get the guys into the game like that and kind of get the energy going on the bench."
The Devils took momentum for the fight and had several solid chances in the first five minutes of the game. One of note was Andreas Johnsson's shot with 17:33 on the clock. However, Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin stopped the Devils winger.
Just over halfway through the first period, the Devils held a slight shots lead, outshooting the Rangers 10-6 through twelve minutes. During that time, Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood had several key saves against the home team, keeping them off the board.
New Jersey had its first power play of the night in the final 44 seconds of the first period when the Rangers were called for a delay of game penalty. The Devils were unable to score on the man advantage during the end of the first period and the start of the second. The Rangers had three shorthanded shots in the final seconds of the Devils man advantage.
Two minutes in to the second period, the Rangers score but the goal is called off after a Rangers player bat down the puck and slipped it past Blackwood. Blackwood came up with a huge save and P.K. Subban's pressure had the Rangers shoot the rebound high above the net.
With 13:23 on the clock, the Devils had their second power play of the night. Unlike the first man-advantage, New Jersey found the back of the net with Pavel Zacha's first goal of the period. Damon Severson found Zacha at the top of the right face off circle. Zacha fired a wrister top shelf and gave the visitors a 1-0 advantage.
Four minutes later the Rangers tied the game when Colin Blackwell scored. However, Will Butcher would give the Devils a lead once again in the final three minutes of the period. Butcher threw a shot on net which hit off a Rangers player on its way in. Pavel Zacha was creating traffic in front of the Rangers goaltender. Nick Merkley and Janne Kuokkanen were credited with assists.
With just over 30 seconds left in the second period, Pavel Buchnevich scored his fourth of the season to tie the game once again. Both teams head into the third period tied at 2. The Rangers outshot the Devils 16-9 in the second frame, and the shots were tied at 25 after 40.
After trading goals in the second period, both teams struggled to get a go ahead goal at the start of the third period. However, Yegor Sharangovich scored his second ever NHL goal to make it 3-2 Devils. P.K. Subban sent a shot on goal that was tipped by a Rangers defenseman and then redirected by Sharangovich.
Nick Merkley would make it 4-2 Devils with just under six minutes left in the third period. Merkley's goal was his second point of the night and Kuokkanen's assist was his third of the night. Exactly one year ago Merkley scored his first NHL goal, also for New Jersey.
Mikhail Maltsev scored his first NHL goal with 20 seconds left in the game to make it 5-2 and secure the win for the Devils. The Devils picked up their second straight win and second win over their rivals this season. The win also gives the Devils their third straight win at Madison Square Garden in franchise history.
The Devils scored on one of their two power play opportunities and maintained a clean sheet throughout the game. This was the first game all season where the team's penalty kill did not see any action.
"That was huge for us, the fact that we didn't get in the box at all tonight. That's really important for a game like this coming back," said Blackwood. "It's beneficial for getting your game and finding your legs."
"I thought our discipline with our sticks, with our hands was excellent," said Ruff after the game." We didn't give the Rangers that opportunity to build some momentum off their powerplay...It's just a way that you can prevent from beating yourselves and I thought our guys did a great job of handling that in a tough situation after being off the amount of time we were off."
New Jersey heads to Boston to face the Bruins Thursday, before returning home for Saturday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.