They were up by one goal with just one period to play at the Prudential Center tonight, just 20 minutes away from defeating the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and extending their winning streak to four games.
Nathan Horton tipped home a pass for the game-winner shortly afterwards, Gregory Campbell knocked home a rebound to make it a two-goal game, and Chris Kelly hit an empty net in the final minute to ice it for the visitors.
It was still a better effort by the Devils than the last time they played the Bruins, back on Jan. 4 when Boston skated away with a 6-1 victory. The Devils fired 31 shots on Tim Thomas tonight, and Steve Zalewski hit a post that could have put New Jersey up by a 2-0 count. They played physical, with Bryce Salvador and Cam Janssen especially doling out some punishing hits.
Martin Brodeur made 21 stops, including a terrific glove save on Rich Peverley off a rebound in the third period that kept the Devils ahead—until that span of 4:44, when they surrendered three goals that effectively put matters to rest.
Brodeur was screened by his own defenseman on the Ference goal, there was too much traffic in front on the Horton goal, and Campbell shed his check to push a loose puck past Brodeur. With Brodeur off for an extra attacker, Ilya Kovalchuk double-tapped a bouncing puck at the left point that Kelly raced away with to deposit into a empty Devils cage. Little things, but they added up to a loss that dropped the Devils to 26-18-2 on the campaign.
The Bruins themselves now have 30 wins on the year, and after a rocky start in October have shown reasons why they're the defending champs—not the least of which is that they've only surrendered 87 goals in their first 43 games. The Devils used to be in that same position a decade or so ago. Now they're learning all over again, with a mostly new cast and a new coach (again).
The Devils still have some learning to do, but three wins in their last five games isn't bad. They need more consistency, but at least it's not like last season when they had a valiant stretch run, but couldn't overcome a horrid beginning to make the playoffs.
Now they've got to shake this one off and get ready for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon. The schedule isn't going to stop for a game that unfortunately got away in the end.