Almost three weeks into the season, consistency remains elusive for both the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild, even if both teams came closer to striking the right balance on Friday night.
The Devils and Wild are slated to begin a home-and-home set Sunday afternoon, when New Jersey hosts Minnesota in Newark, N.J. The teams will complete the season series at Xcel Energy Arena on Thursday night.
Both teams were off after eventful games Friday. The Devils overcame a pair of early one-goal deficits, as well as the loss of captain Nico Hischier, to edge the visiting Buffalo Sabres 5-4. The Wild squandered a first-period lead and fell to the host Washington Capitals, 3-2 in the shootout.
The Devils have trailed in each of their four wins and were coming off a 6-4 loss to the Capitals on Wednesday in which they fell behind 3-0 in the first and scored four unanswered goals in the second before allowing three goals in the third.
The Devils needed an impressive effort by goalie Vitek Vanecek to avoid falling into a similarly sized hole in the first half of the second period Friday, when Vanecek preserved a 2-2 tie by stopping eight straight shots over a nearly eight-minute stretch.
The Sabres scored twice in the final 30 minutes, a span in which they had just seven shots.
“There was about a six-minute window in the second period where at the TV timeout I addressed the way we were playing,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “If there wasn’t a TV timeout, I probably would have used a timeout. We just finished giving up a 2-on-0, gave up another odd-numbered rush. That’s not good hockey.”
Hischier sat out the third period and will miss Sunday’s game with an upper body injury suffered when he absorbed an illegal check to the head from Sabres defenseman Connor Clifton with four minutes left in the first period. Clifton was suspended for two games by the NHL on Saturday.
The Wild suffered their second straight loss Friday but found encouragement that was lacking in a 6-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. Minnesota surrendered three goals in a span of just under 16 minutes bridging the first and second periods against the Flyers and then gave up three more unanswered goals after pulling within 3-2 early in the third.
The loss was the third in regulation for the Wild, whose 60-minute defeats have all been by at least three goals.
On Friday, center Marco Rossi scored 2:17 into the first for the Wild, which hadn’t scored first since a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 17. Minnesota out-shot the Capitals 41-33 and peppered Darcy Kuemper with 20 shots in the third period and overtime.
“It would have been nice to get rewarded for that, for the guys to feel good,” Wild head coach Dean Evason said. “But having said that, I think in the third period we caught some swagger.”
Kuemper and Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury each stopped the first six shots they saw in the shootout before John Carlson finally won it for Washington.
“It would have been nice to have two points out of that,” Fleury said. “It’s a long season, we got a big point there. I think we’ve learned from this.”