Tuesday night, the Devils jumped on top of the Blue Jackets and refused to let up, taking over the top of the Metropolitan division with a humbling 4-1 victory before flying back to Jersey for the second game of the home and home series.
Tonight was a chance to turn the tables.
Things did not start well for Columbus, who seemed sluggish and out of sync, while the Devils took every opportunity they could get to press Sergei Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets defense, waiting for a mistake.
Brian Boyle would capitalize on one of those mistakes, left undefended when Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson went to chase the puck behind the net, putting him in position to grab the puck in the slot and snap it past Bobrovsky for the goal.
Things went from bad to worse when Marcus Johnasson picked up the puck on a wraparound attempt and tucked it past Bob’s leg, putting the Devils ahead 2-0 on just 7 shots.
The team went into the locker room with their tails between their legs, and a rather displeased coaching staff waiting to read them the riot act.
What was said will be a mystery, but we know one thing:
The team that came out of the tunnel was a completely different Columbus Blue Jackets, pressuring Cory Schneider and finally outworking the Devils forecheck. The work was rewarded in the opening minutes of the period when Artemi Panarin forced a turnover deep into the Devils zone before hitting Pierre-Luc Dubois in stride, and PLD deked clear of his coverage before firing a quick wrister to cut the Devils lead in half.
That goal energized the Columbus bench, and a few shifts later Panarin would create another goal off a turnover, this time taking the puck in the neutral zone and breaking in before setting up Lukas Sedlak, who fired from the top of the circle to tie things back up.
The Devils would try to get some momentum going, particularly after Brandon Dubinsky was whistled for putting the puck over the glass, but the PK stifled the New Jersey power play, and the bread man would go out for another delivery, this time pulling three defenders with him before setting up Scott Harrington for his first goal of the year and giving Columbus their first lead of the game.
The Devils would manage to tie things back up in the final seconds of the period on a shot from Blake Coleman, but the ice had clearly tipped in Columbus’ favor, and there was a sense that the team had finally found their footing.
The third period would start on a good note for the Jackets, with Dubois drawing a hooking penalty in the opening seconds of the period, and fans tuning in would be treated to the most remarkable sight: A power play goal.
Once again it was Panarin driving the play, working with Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand to keep the puck moving until he was able to set Wennberg up with a nifty backhand pass to give the Jackets the lead, and they would not look back.
There would be some nervous moments - particularly when Markus Hannikainen took a double minor for high sticking midway through the period, but the PK dominated the attempts by New Jersey to make headway, and insult would be added to injury for New Jersey when they were called for a penalty of their own for too many men on the ice with about thirty seconds left in their power play - and Zach Werenski would score with a shot from the point during the 4 on 4 to seal the game.
(And the player who set him up for that goal with a gorgeous pass from the half wall? Why, Panarin, of course.)
A huge victory, coming from behind over a divisional opponent who had embarrassed them on home ice in their last meeting, underlined by a historic night for one of their best players?
That’s one hell of a game.
Was it perfect? Oh, god, no. Bob still needs to be better - though his performance during the double minor was a welcome return to form - and the team needs guys like Jenner and Dubinsky to get themselves going (though credit where due - Dubi had a pretty decent night in the faceoff circle and seemed to be getting a step back as the game went on).
But it was a win.
Sometimes that’s enough.