On Friday night, the New Jersey Devils faced off against a team they rarely see in the Chicago Blackhawks, but it felt like a rivalry game almost from the start. Both teams played with the physicality of teams in the playoffs who want to win not just the game but each puck battle, and it was fantastic to watch all 60 minutes. In the end, the Devils managed to pull off the win and get a valuable pair of points, which finally put them into a Wild Card spot. That said, let's look at some of the good and the bad on the night.
Nathan Bastian hasn't found himself on this list yet this season, but he finally showed up in a big way and looked like last year's version of himself. He was physical the entire night, was chirping the other team, and had a big fight in only seven minutes of ice time. This is how he needs to play every night and what made him one of the league's best fourth-liners last season.
Mike McLeod continued his hot streak with another goal, which happened to be the game winner. That puts him at 10 goals in under half a season, which is a career-high already. Right now, it is not unrealistic to think he could get to 20 despite never hitting double digits before, but most importantly, he played the super strong defensive game he always does, and his puck control in the offensive end is reaching new heights. On top of that, he is sitting at an NHL record faceoff win percentage still and was 81% on the night. He is making himself invaluable to this team.
Jack Hughes had 0 points and was -1, but he was shockingly a big positive on the night. He didn't shy away from anything, and his fire and passion on the ice were palpable. The guy wants the puck, wants to win, and when people hit him Friday night, he gave it right back and even knocked a guy down, which was great to see from the smaller player. On top of that, when his brother stumbled and fell on the powerplay, Jack Hughes hustled back and stopped a breakaway, resulting in a shot on the net with some great stick work.
Hughes did, however, leave the game with an injury. It appears he hurt his wrist or his shoulder, and there was no update after the game.
Vitek Vanecek had himself a .920 on the night. He looked more calm than normal and did not let out the rebounds he has been this season. The second goal he should have had, but letting in one alright one a night is not an issue, and he cut back on the bad ones on top of not letting a few in only a few minutes, which has been a big issue this season.
Big Kevin Bahl was noticeable all night, and he looked like he woke up angry. This guy hit everyone and everything during the play and after the whistle, looking like the toughest guy on either team. This team, usually being soft, is much different when Bahl is playing like this.