NHL Cup Watch: Haula making a playoff impact for surging Devils
The former Minnesota Gophers standout scored twice as New Jersey took control of their first-round series with the Rangers. Also: Kessel gets a rare view from the pressbox, and Pavelski may return.
Note: With several Big Ten, NCHC and CCHA players, among others, on NHL playoff rosters, The Rink Live will be bringing fans periodic notebooks on these former collegians as we progress toward a Stanley Cup champion.
At a summer 2022 golf event for Minnesota Gophers alumni, forward Erik Haula gave a tepid thank you when he was congratulated on signing with the New Jersey Devils. While he was excited about joining a team most figured was on the rise, the 32-year-old joked that the novelty of finding a new NHL home had kind of worn off after stints with the Wild, Golden Knights, Hurricanes, Panthers, Predators, Bruins and now the Devils — all since 2017.
Eight months later, Haula has fully adjusted to life in the swamps of Jersey, and Devils fans are clearly getting to like having the feisty Finn on their roster. Things looked bleak a week ago for the Devils, after they were beaten 5-1 and 5-1 at home in the first two games of their playoff series with the New York Rangers. Since then, New Jersey has won the last three games to take control of the best-of-seven.
On Thursday, Haula scored twice (including an empty-net goal) and Akira Schmid posted his first playoff shutout in a 4-0 Devils win in Game 5. New Jersey will have a chance to advance to round two on Saturday night when the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
"SCHMID-O the torpedo" - Erik Haula pic.twitter.com/5sP9VCxdr6— x - Devils on MSG (@DevilsMSGN) April 28, 2023
“As the series goes on, the hardest win is always the fourth one,’’ said Haula in a scrum following Thursday’s game. “This is the first time this series is on the line. We know we’re going to get their best. We’ll get everything they’ve got.”
Haula is averaging a point per game for the Devils in the playoffs after a regular season where he played 80 games with 14 goals and 27 assists. He played four years for the Gophers, finishing with the team’s 2014 run to the NCAA title game.
Very rare healthy scratch for Kessel
As the Vegas Golden Knights were dispatching the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 on Thursday night to become the first NHL team to advance to the second round of the playoffs, former Gophers standout Phil Kessel had a very rare vantage point.
Kessel was a healthy scratch by Vegas, marking the first time since Halloween night 2009 that he had been available to play but left out of a NHL lineup. Kessel had appeared in a NHL-record 1,064 consecutive games prior to Thursday, when he was replaced in the Golden Knights lineup by William Carrier for the series clincher versus the Jets.
Although, since ironman streaks only apply to the regular season, Kessel’s consecutive games run has a chance to live on next October.
Kessel, 35, joined the Gophers as the nation’s most sought-after recruit in 2005 and was named WCHA rookie of the year after 18 goals and 33 assists in his lone season with the maroon and gold. He played all 82 regular season games for the Golden Knights – which is his fifth stop in the NHL – posting 14 goals and 22 assists. Kessel is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pavelski may return
Former Wisconsin Badgers standout Joe Pavelski has returned to the ice for the Dallas Stars, traveling to Minnesota on Thursday with a chance he will play versus the Wild in game six of their series on Friday night.
Pavelski, 38, was injured in the series opener after a collision with Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba where the forward from Plover, Wis., suffered a concussion. He did not travel to games 3 and 4 of the series in Minnesota, but according to Stars coach Peter DeBoer, is showing improvement.
DeBoer indicated that Pavelski’s availability will be a game-time decision on Friday night. A member of Wisconsin’s most recent NCAA title team in 2006, He played in all 82 regular season games for the Stars, with 28 goals and 49 assists.