By Steve Lichtenstein
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Does John Hynes moonlight as a magician?
The Devils coach sure can make something out of nothing. And with New Jersey reeling due to injuries and inconsistencies, he may have resurrected his team from the dead.
Hynes will soon have to resort to a juggling act when certain players — center Vern Fiddler and defensemen Andy Greene and John Moore — start to return to health because Hynes has been getting wonderful performances from his young players filling in. Sometimes that sort of enchantment flames out rather quickly (remember Joseph Blandisi and Nick Lappin?), but for now, Devils fans are enjoying the show.
Playing five rookies among its 18 skaters, New Jersey escaped from a grueling Northwest road trip with seven out of a possible eight points after Tuesday’s remarkable 4-3 upset at red-hot Minnesota.
Outshot 35-26 and outplayed for much of the night, the Devils rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to beat the Western Conference’s top team, which had gone 17-1-1 in its previous 19 games and was 19-0-2 when leading after two periods.
Credit for their most impressive victory of the season goes up and down the lineup, but the game-winner was set up by two first-year players who did not make the Devils’ roster on Opening Night.
Rookie left wing Miles Wood used his speed and hustle to keep a play alive along the right-wing boards in the Wild zone, backhanding a pass into the corner. Center Blake Coleman, who was called up from Albany along with defenseman Karl Stollery prior to the road trip, made two nifty moves to free himself. As he was falling to the ice, Coleman found Beau Bennett in the slot. Bennett beat Wild goalie Devon Dubnyk high to the glove side with a wrist shot with just 2:17 remaining in the third period.
Stollery, a 29-year-old who had 12 total games of NHL experience prior to this season, picked up a secondary assist on rookie Pavel Zacha’s second-period power-play goal that ignited the comeback. It was Stollery’s second power-play point in four games.
The fifth rookie, 21-year-old defenseman Steven Santini, continued to impress with his steadiness in his own zone. Santini is plus-5 in nine games, no small feat on a team that has scored just 16 even-strength goals since his call-up after New Year’s.
The Devils are 5-2-2 in that stretch and are back to playing Hynes-ian hockey. Certainly having goaltender Cory Schneider back in All-Star form (1.91 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage in his last eight games) has been helpful, but his teammates are also playing a simpler game in front of him.
And when they don’t, like when star left wing Taylor Hall gave the puck away at the Wild blue line, leading to the goal that put the Devils in a 2-0 hole midway through the second period, they are held accountable. Hynes glued Hall to the bench for the remainder of the frame.
Hall, whose overtime goal (after a marvelous backcheck/lead pass by center Travis Zajac) gave New Jersey a thrilling 2-1 win at Vancouver on Sunday, responded by threading a cross-ice pass to a streaking Adam Henrique for the goal that tied the game in the third period.
Hall had deemed this a “make-or-break” road trip, since the Devils were inches from the Eastern Conference basement when they took off from Newark. Though it’s too soon to put the Devils back in play for a wild-card berth (they are only three points out, but they have four teams to jump and eighth-place Ottawa has four games in hand) they aren’t yet out of it.
With 12 of their next 16 games at the Prudential Center, starting Friday versus Montreal, they have an opportunity to build on this unexpected twist of fate.
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