MONTREAL — The New Jersey Devils were swift to score on Saturday and played their cards right to record back-to-back wins on a two-game road trip.
After defeating the Washington Capitals 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday, Nathan Bastian and Nico Hischier bagged first-period goals and held on to a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Devils conceded once to Denis Gurianov, who scored Montreal’s lone goal in the second period, but the visitors kept their cool and collected two points.
"You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Devils coach Lindy Ruff. “When a game gets to 2-1, there's some uncomfortable moments. The other team's gonna have a push, they have some good players. (Jonathan Drouin) rang one off the post in the third.
“You have to be able to win a game 2-1 sometimes and wait for your opportunities.”
Tomas Tatar added an empty-net goal against his former team.
Dawson Mercer extended his point streak to 12 games, a franchise record for skaters under the age of 22.
“I don't really look at statistics, more importantly, what I'm noticing from Dawson is he's playing a great 200-foot game right now,” Tatar said of his teammate. He's very good in every zone on the ice and it's fun to watch.”
Akira Schmid made 23 saves as New Jersey (43-16-6) capped off its season series with a 2-2 tie.
Jake Allen made 34 saves. The Canadiens (26-34-6) helped their netminder by blocking 25 shots but slipped to a six-game winless skid.
“I think we played a good game, we had a lot of turnovers in the first period and we needed to defend ourselves, but we did that well,” said Habs coach Martin St. Louis. “We didn’t give them much so I was happy about that.
“We improved in the second period on that side, playing behind them a little more. This is a good team, credit to them. They are really fast, they don’t give a lot of space but I think we’ve managed that well.”
Montreal has a difficult stretch of games ahead, including back-to-back games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche at home and Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. Nevertheless, Allen is confident his team will snap its winless skid.
“There’s going to be a win coming sooner rather than later,” said Allen. “We deserve one, it’s gonna come on our side but you’ve just got to keep chipping away at it. It might be the next game, it might be the game after, you never know when it’s going to come but that feeling is going to come back.”
The Devils opened the scoring at 8:24 of the opening frame when Bastian stole the puck away from Kaiden Guhle behind the net and surprised Allen to bag his sixth goal of the season.
New Jersey doubled the lead with just over one minute left in the first period. Damon Severson sent a centring pass for Hischier and the captain tapped in the Devils’ second of the night.
Gurianov scored his first goal as a Hab at the Bell Centre to cut Montreal’s deficit by one goal at 18:23 of the second period. Alone in the slot, the Russian accepted a pass from Rem Pitlick behind the net to notch his fourth of the campaign on a one-timer.
With under two minutes remaining, Montreal pulled their goalie. Drouin almost gave his team the equalizer when his wrister rang off the post.
On the next sequence, former Hab Tatar bagged the empty-netter to give the Devils their 20th win since the turn of the year.
“I think we're doing a lot of good stuff right now,” Tatar said. “Obviously, in some games you get certain puck luck when we bring the points home, but I think overall we’re very happy with where the game is.”
The Devils will make the overnight trip back home to take on the Carolina Hurricanes. An important game for both teams, the Canes are two points ahead of the Devils atop the Metropolitan Division.
“It's gonna be a good game,” Tatar said. “They have a great team, a lot of experience as well. We have to buckle down and if we play the way we are able to I think we can beat them.”
FRANCHISE RECORD STREAK
With a secondary assist on the Devils’ second goal of the night, forward Dawson Mercer extended his point streak to 12 games. At 21 years, 133 days old, Mercer broke the franchise record for longest point streak for a skater under the age of 22.
Brendan Shanahan held the record for 23 years. The Hockey Hall of Famer was 21 years and 65 days old when he set the franchise record between March 8-29, 1990. Only four Devils players have longer point streaks: Taylor Hall (19 in 2017-18),Brian Gionta (15 in 2005-06), Patrik Elias (15 in 1999-00 & 13 GP in 2000-01) and Petr Sykora (13 in 2000-01).
The Devils return to New Jersey to host the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.
The Canadiens play host to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2023.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press