Clayton Stoner's first career goal perfectly embodied the New Jersey Devils' terrible season.
The Minnesota Wild rookie, carrying the puck through center ice, went to dump the puck into the Devils' zone. His attempt deflected off the stick of Ilya Kovalchuk and off the glass in the Devils zone. The puck, suddenly changing directions, caught Johan Hedberg behind the net. As it bounced toward the open net, all Hedberg could do was dive in vain as the puck slid into the open net.
That goal would prove decisive as the Wild defeated the Devils, 2-1, tonight at the Prudential Center.
With the win, Minnesota broke a four-game winless streak in New Jersey (0-4-3). It's the franchise's first win in the Garden State.
During the first period, it seemed the Wild would run away with the game. They came out the better team, beating the Devils to loose pucks and using their forecheck to pin New Jersey in their defensive zone.
That opportunistic play paid off, as Cal Clutterbuck put the Wild ahead, 1-0, at 11:48 of the first period. The play started when Ilya Kovalchuk fell along his own blue line, leaving a loose puck in the neutral zone. Clutterbuck corralled the puck and sped around Anssi Salmela, who also fell on the play. The Wild right-winger drove into the right circle and beat Hedberg high for his 11th goal of the season.
Minnesota's offensive pressure wouldn't end there. The Wild outshot the Devils, 8-1, during the first period. The lone shot on goal was the lowest output for Devils in one period this season.
Devils' head coach Jacques Lemaire was displeased with his team's play, telling the media "I'm just (ticked)." He refused to elaborate on the quote.
New Jersey turned things around in the second period. The Devils came out firing, using an early powerplay to gain momentum. That play helped turn the tide and tie the game.
Kovalchuk atoned for his early mistake by tying the game, 1-1, at 3:07 of the middle period. Travis Zajac set up Kovalchuk for a shot from the left circle. The Devils left-winger placed his shot past the jumping screen of Nick Palmieri and the pad of Jose Theodore for his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
Palmieri, who assisted on the play, recorded his first point this season. He has two career NHL points, both assists.
But then came the unlucky bounce to sink the Devils. After that goal, the Devils wouldn't respond, failing to put much pressure on Theodore and the Wild defense.
Theodore finished with 21 saves for the win. Hedberg stopped 16 saves in the loss.
Lemaire wouldn't blame the bad bounce for the Devils' loss.
"It's not the bounce," Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. "You can say they were lucky in a way to win because of the bounce. That's not how I look at it."
"We have to score more. We can't play a first period like that. One shot," Kovalchuk said to Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. "You're not going to win a lot of games when you score one goal."
Hedberg took blame for misplaying the puck.
"My instinct is to go and get it on the rim. I probably have to be more selective whether I go or not," he told Chere. "It's hurt me. When it hit the (upright near the bench) I lost track of it. When I see it it's on its way to the empty net. When I got back there I dived for it and it took another bounce over me."
The loss leaves the Devils winless in 2010. They've now lost 13 of their last 15 games. At 10-27-2, the Devils have matched their losses from last season. New Jersey is also only three games ahead of their worst team in franchise history. That team, the 1983-84 team, was 7-30-2 at this point.
The team also fell to 1-5-0 under interim head coach Jacques Lemaire.
Brian Rolston played his first game after clearing re-entry waivers tonight. He missed the Devils past two games...After missing 34 games with a broken hand, Mark Fraser returned to the Devils lineup...Theodore won two consecutive games for the first time this season...With tonight's loss on home ice, the Devils ran their pitiful home record to 6-12-2.
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