Devils head coach John Hynes needed a leader who would step up on a back-to-back night after a tough 2-1 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Thursday night.
He was referring to Devils goaltender Cory Schneider to lead the way against the Dallas Stars Friday night. He was playing him on a back-to-back night for the first time since March. He understood the importance of that game with the Devils starting a six-game homestand.
Schneider was happy to handle the challenge. It’s what he relishes as the team’s No. 1 goaltender with the responsibility that comes with that, He came through by making so many great saves in the third period to give the Devils a 5-2 victory over the Stars at the Prudential Center.
With the Stars trailing 3-2 in the second intermission, they started the third period with a power play. With the Devils goaltender giving up couple of cheap goals early on, they felt they could tie it up to create momentum heading to the final period.
This is where Schneider went to work. He started by making a save of Tyler Seguin’s shot. Then, he made a save by denying Esa Lindell to score. He stoned Martin Hanzel, who scored in the first period to tie the game at 1. He did all that in a span of a minute to start the period as the Stars were fast and furious in peppering many shots at his direction.
It got harder for him when the Stars were on a 5-on-3 power-play after John Moore was sent to the bench for high-sticking Hanzel. Alexander Radulov had couple of good shots to score, but he couldn’t get the puck past the Devils goaltender. Then, he made the save of the game when he made a glove save to deny Jamie Benn from tying the game. That was it for the Stars as their power play expired.
Schneider’s third period play was a game-changer. He had his team hanging around with a slim lead, and he held the fort until Nick Lappin scored with 7:43 to go in regulation, giving the Devils a 4-2 lead. Brian Boyle scored one of his two goals, giving the Devils a 5-2 lead with two minutes to go into the game.
He finished the game with 28 saves after facing 30 shots.
The Devils goaltender was voted the No. 2 star of the game by the Devils beat writers. I would have gone with him as the No.1 star of the game because if he did not get it done in the third period, the Stars not only would have tied it, but they could have won it. He gave the Devils a chance to win in the third period with his stellar performance.
It was the type of play Hynes was looking for. It was the leadership he was referring from his goaltender.
Schneider has been good for the Devils since he was acquired several years ago, but he has not led the Devils to the playoffs, either, though not his own fault for that. Still, the Devils need him to steal games and be a difference maker if they are going to be a playoff team this year. This season, it has been more of the offense that has carried the team than the goaltending.
No one expects Schneider to be Martin Brodeur, who is once-in-a-lifetime future Hall of Fame goaltender. Still, he can’t just be the passenger in the ride. He has to be a driver in leading the team to wins. He has to be the guy that will hold the fort.
The Devils acquired him for games like Friday night. He is going to have to be the guy in March and April if they are going to play in the postseason.
He knows if the team misses the playoffs, he will get the blame. That’s the way it goes with goaltenders. He has gotten a pass by Devils fans mainly because he never had good defense to work with and he never had goal support.
Now, there’s no excuse for him. He has to be better than average. He has had a fine season, but now the pressure is on him.
If Schneider thinks his head coach needs him on Friday, wait until March and April when the Devils need him to be their best player.
That third period on Friday night should serve as a practice for the Devils goaltender, who is still trying to make his mark on the team.