NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The surprising New Jersey Devils aren’t just winning games anymore. They have learned to how finish off struggling opponents, including the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Travis Zajac capped a three-goal first period with a goal and an assist in a 26-second span, and the Devils embarrassed the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2 on Friday night.
“I think we are coming to expect that we want to beat every team,” goaltender Cory Schneider said after the Devils won for the seventh time in nine games. “You can’t just feel good or get up for certain games. You have to get up for all of them and we are developing that mentality right now.”
The Blackhawks’ poor performance came a day after an upstate New York prosecutor decided not to bring rape charges against Chicago star forward Patrick Kane because of a lack of credible evidence following a three-month investigation.
Kane extended his goal-scoring streak to three games and his points streak to nine (6 goals, 7 assists) with a tally late in the second period that deflected off the back of Devils defenseman Damon Severson past Schneider.
The Devils dominated in sending the Blackhawks to their second straight loss and ending a four-game losing streak against them.
Lee Stempniak and Kyle Palmieri had a goal and an assist, Severson added two assists and Mike Cammalleri tallied a goal as New Jersey took a 4-0 lead in the opening 27:28. Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson was on the ice for all four goals.
“We talked throughout the day that we had to have a good start and not tiptoe into this game,” Zajac said. “I thought we did that. I thought every line pushed and contributed. I thought we did a pretty good job playing with the lead.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville pulled his goaltender with 6:41 to play and his team down three goals. It worked as Tanner Kero scored his first NHL goal with 1:26 left.
“You could tell prior to them scoring that we had holes everywhere,” Quenneville said. “We were sleepy in the first period. Down 3-0 created a gigantic hole and we tried to get back into it.”
Stempniak jump-started the Devils early. He anticipated a cross-ice pass by Hjalmarsson, stole it in the right circle and skated in and beat Corey Crawford with his forehand 3:48 after the opening faceoff.
“We didn’t give ourselves a chance from the start,” Hjalmarsson said. “A big mistake by me there. We have to start playing better.”
New Jersey blew things open late in the period. Zajac beat Andrew Shaw on a faceoff in the left circle and Palmieri stepped into the loose puck and ripped a shot past Crawford for his fourth goal at 17:48.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews tried to wake up his team six seconds later getting into a fight at center ice with the Devils’ Adam Henrique. Toews seemingly won the fight with his height advantage, but New Jersey responded.
Zajac took a pass from Severson between the circles and had his backhander blocked by Hjalmarsson. The puck came back to the Devils center and he beat Crawford for a 3-0 lead at 18:14.
“You have to put your foot down against a team like that,” said Schneider, who had 27 saves. “You can’t get one and let them hang around. They are going to get theirs most nights. For us to have that killer mentality, and to keep the pressure on, I don’t know if they were prepared for that, but against good team you have to take advantage when you can.”
Crawford, who faced 13 shots, was replaced by Scott Darling at the start of the second period. That didn’t wake up Chicago, either. Cammalleri beat the backup goaltender with a shot from the left circle after taking a cross-ice pass from Severson.
NOTES: Devils coach John Hynes challenged the referees’ decision to wave off a second-period goal by Palmieri because Sergey Kalinin bumped Darling. The call stood. … Quenneville believes RW Marian Hossa will play Sunday against Edmonton. He missed his third straight with a lower-body injury. … Blackhawks D Michael Rozsival, who has not played this season because of a lower-body injury, is getting close to returning, Quenneville said. … Devils F Jiri Tlusty returned after missing two games with a shoulder injury. … Chicago is 0-5 when giving up the first goal. … The Devils had their first sellout crowd in seven home games.
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