Entering Tuesday’s matchup with the Rangers, the Devils hadn’t played a game in more than two weeks due to a team-wide coronavirus outbreak. Thirteen players in the Devils’ lineup had recently come off the COVD-19 protocol list.
Their goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, one of the first Devils’ players to ignite the COVID-19 domino effect, made his first start in nearly a month.
But it was the Blueshirts who came out flatfooted, winded and were ultimately outplayed in the third period to drop their fourth straight game in a 5-2 loss at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
The Rangers should’ve been the team that was loose, the team that was sharp. However, the Devils proved to be all of those things through the full 60 minutes despite having just one practice to prepare since their last game on Jan. 31.
Entering the third period knotted at 2-2 — without Jacob Trouba who sustained an upper-body injury in the second — the Rangers watched as the should’ve-been-tired Devils refused to falter as they made the most of their chances.
A deflection from Yegor Sharangovich proved to be the game-winner, before Nicholas Merkley batted the puck out of midair for the insurance tally. Mikhail Maltsev’s empty-netter poured some salt in the Rangers’ open wound.
Rookie netminder Igor Shesterkin kept the Rangers alive in the first period, stopping all 16 shots he faced to keep the game scoreless. He turned aside breakaways from Kyle Palmieri and Andreas Johnsson, including a slew of five straight shots at the 12-minute mark, before finishing the night with 32 saves on 36 shots.
Opening the middle frame on the penalty kill, the Rangers woke up after stringing together a handful of shorthanded chances and pouring on six unanswered shots on goal to start the period.
With Zibanejad in the box after he elbowed Nathan Bastian, Pavel Zacha gave the Devils the 1-0 lead at 7:37. It was the first power-play goal the Rangers allowed in seven games and ended a 22-for-22 streak on the penalty kill.
Colin Blackwell ended the Rangers scoring drought that spanned four periods, dating back to the shutout loss to the Bruins on Saturday, when he sniped one past Blackwood from the right circle at 11:32 for his fourth point in his first six games as a Ranger.
The Devils took the lead once again at 17:14 off a shot from Will Butcher that appeared to deflect in off Trouba. But Pavel Buchnevich tied it up again just over two minutes later with a snipe from the left circle.