Joseph Blandisi's OT goal pushes New Jersey Devils past New York Rangers

By Dave Lozo, The Sports Xchange  |  March 22, 2017 at 7:20 AM
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NEWARK, N.J. -- With their playoff hopes all but dashed, the New Jersey Devils are playing for the future. If Tuesday night is any indication, the future looks pretty good.

Rookie John Quenneville had a goal and assisted on the overtime game-winner by second-year player Joseph Blandisi as the Devils avoided a season sweep at the hands of their rivals with a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers at Prudential Center.

Cory Schneider is hardly a rookie, but he was brilliant in stopping 38 shots, including three dangerous chances in overtime.

Quenneville and Blandisi, who were described as "best buddies" by Quenneville after the game, connected for a beautiful two-on-one goal with 54.6 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Devils their second win more than a month.

"Tonight, is nice because we found a way to win it," Devils coach John Hynes said. "If you look at the last couple weeks, we've played a much faster game, a more aggressive game. Our shot totals have gone up. Our offensive zone time has gone up. Our execution with the puck hasn't been great but it's better than it was earlier in the year.

"Those are the things that we're looking for."

Blandisi and Quenneville developed their chemistry at the AHL level this season and showed it on the winning goal, as Quenneville moved from left to right as he crossed the blue line, then fed the puck across to Blandisi, who dangled around goaltender Antti Raanta to end the game.

"We're such close friends. Anyone around here will tell you that," Quenneville said. "I can't believe we ended up out there together in overtime. The way that happened was pretty crazy."

While the Devils (27-33-12) are headed toward the draft lottery for a fifth straight season, the Rangers (45-24-4) appear locked into the first wild card spot in the East. They trail the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have played two fewer games than the Rangers, by six points for third place in the Metropolitan.

"We had so many good scoring chances in overtime," said Raanta, who made 26 saves. "The overtime loss is almost tougher to take when it's over right away when they score, so you just want to be the guy who's not letting the goal in. But today, they used their chances and got two points. We still got one point, so there's no need to do too much research into what we did wrong."

The one thing the Rangers did wrong was catch Schneider at perhaps his best this season.

Quenneville broke a scoreless tie late in the second period with a power-play goal -- the first goal of his career -- but the Rangers answered less than two minutes later when Oscar Lindberg's deflected shot slipped through Schneider. But Taylor Hall put the Devils ahead 2-1 going to the intermission with his 18th goal of the season.

A six-man melee instigated by Devils left winger Miles Wood at the end of the second period gave the Rangers a power play at the start of the third period, and Rick Nash converted from just outside the crease to tie the game at 2.

The Rangers continued to attack over the final 20 minutes, but Schneider was there to stop 16 of 17 in the third period and all three shots he faced in overtime.

"He was great tonight," Quenneville said of Schneider. "That last little flurry in front of the net (in overtime). He's an All-Star goaltender. He saves games for our team."

"It was a hard-fought game," Rangers left winger J.T. Miller. "Three-on-three is pretty wide-open. We got a good one that almost went and they capitalized on theirs."

Blandisi and Quenneville capitalized on their moment in a rivalry game and are hoping this sends a message that they'll be ready to be part of a turnaround next season.

"It's something special," Blandisi said. "The chemistry off the ice, you can see it. And on the ice, it's undeniable. Just to be able to play in the best hockey league in the world with one of your best friends, it's something you dream about your whole life. We were talking about it all season in Albany (of the AHL) and we definitely want to be a duo out there.

"I think tonight shows what we can do together and we're just excited to be running with this opportunity."

NOTES:

-- Rangers G Henrik Lundqvist, out since March 7 with a hip injury, practiced Tuesday. His original timetable to return was 2-3 weeks and there's a chance he could return against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.

-- Rangers D Steve Kampfer was a healthy scratch.

-- Devils LW Miles Wood was back in the lineup after a one-game absence with an upper-body injury.

-- Devils LW Michael Cammalleri (upper body) missed his ninth straight game.

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