LAS VEGAS (AP) - The New Jersey Devils are fighting for their playoff lives.
And they’re certainly playing like it.
Blake Coleman scored twice, Michael Grabner and Nico Hischier each had a goal and an assist, and New Jersey routed the Vegas Golden Knights 8-3 on Wednesday night.
After opening a six-game road trip with a victory over Western Conference-leading Nashville on Saturday, the Devils handed Vegas, the second-best team in the West, its worst home loss of the season.
“It’s great for our team. You score eight goals, guys start finding confidence, finding some good touch,” said Taylor Hall, who notched his team-high 31st goal of the season. “You get to game 60, 70, it’s really the best players on the team have to come out and play their best, and that’s what we’re looking to have. It’s huge for our team, especially on a road trip like this.”
Travis Zajac, Stefan Noesen and Kyle Palmieri also scored for the Devils, who improved to 9-6-0 in their last 15 and moved one point ahead of idle Columbus for the top wild card in the Eastern Conference. Keith Kinkaid stopped 39 shots.
“We need points here, we need wins,” said Kincaid, who improved to 18-9-2 this season. “We came out with a purpose. We wanted to get to our game and try to take away their speed. I knew I had to be strong there for the guys and just give them a chance to win.”
Erik Haula had two goals and Colin Miller also scored for Vegas, which just completed a 4-1 road trip. The Golden Knights gave up eight goals for just the second time this season. They have dropped three straight games in regulation at home for the first time.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who earned his 400th career victory against Philadelphia on Monday, gave up four goals on 11 shots before being pulled early in the second period. Backup goalie Maxime Lagace came on and also allowed four goals on 17 shots.
Fleury was making his seventh straight start, and 18th in 19 games. Since returning from a concussion in mid-December, the 14-year veteran has made 31 starts and sat out a mere seven games.
But Vegas coach Gerard Gallant deflected any notion Fleury might have been fatigued after a long road trip and his milestone win two days prior.
“The team struggled tonight,” Gallant said. “It was a tough night. It was tough start. We played real well at times, and then we played real bad at times. … I still thought we were going to win the game after two periods, I felt we were playing good, we were playing strong, we had lots of chances to score, hit a bunch of goal posts and it ends up 8-3 and it’s sort of a weird game.”
The Devils opened the scoring by taking advantage of a turnover at the blue line by Vegas’ Nate Schmidt, as Coleman swatted at Brian Gibbons’ pass with shot that slipped past Fleury through the five-hole.
Less than two minutes later, while streaking down the right side, Hischier’s attempt at centering a pass to the crease deflected off Vegas’ Tomas Tatar and past Fleury to make it 2-0.
Two goals 36 seconds apart extended New Jersey’s lead to 4-0 just 2:31 into the second period. First it was Zajac beating Fleury stick side, then it was Noesen slipping behind the defense for a breakaway and shimmying the puck through the five-hole, ending Fleury’s night.
Vegas got two back when Haula punched a rebound at the top of the crease in for a power-play goal at 11:08, and Miller fired a wrist shot from the point that sailed through a screen and past Kinkaid with 1:05 left in the middle period.
Coleman got his second of the game early in the third, followed by goals from Grabner, Palmieri and Hall to put the game out of reach.
Haula’s second goal came with 28 seconds left.
“I think it was nice to find the back of the net as much as we did tonight,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “In the last couple of weeks, we played some really good hockey but didn’t get rewarded in the score sheet or the win column.
“There’s a lot of emotion this time of year, so there’s surges. It’s understanding how to handle those situations and not lose yourself but regather yourself and push yourself. I thought we handled it fairly well at times, but there are definitely some things in this game, and the Nashville game we can continue to work on with our guys.”
NOTES: The attendance was a season-high 18,420 at T Mobile. … Fleury remains one victory away from moving into a tie for 12th all-time amongst goaltenders at 401. … David Perron’s assist on Haula’s second goal set a record for most assists by a player in an expansion team’s inaugural season. … Coleman registered his first multi-goal game of the season.
New Jersey: At Los Angeles on Saturday.
Vegas: Hosts Minnesota on Friday night.
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