Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.
“It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”
New Jersey could have clinched its first post-season berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.
“I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.
“It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”
Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.
Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.
Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.
Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.
The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.
“We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”
Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenceman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.