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Feeling back on track, Devils hit road to face Ducks

Jan 10, 2023; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA;  New Jersey Devils center Dawson Mercer (91) is congratulated after a goal against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Feeling at least somewhat encouraged after earning consecutive victories for the first time in more than a month, the New Jersey Devils will begin their road trip to the West Coast in a meeting with the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

The Devils earned a 5-3 road victory over the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday thanks to a four-goal onslaught that began with less than a minute remaining in the second period. Dawson Mercer delivered his first two-goal game midway through his second season.

With the Devils trailing 3-1, Mercer scored with 52 seconds remaining in the second period before Jesper Boqvist tied the game 18 seconds later. Mercer scored the go-ahead goal near the midway point of the third period.

“That’s a big win for us, to be down in the game and make a comeback against a good defensive team like (the Hurricanes),” Mercer said. “Those points are massive for us right now.”

On Dec. 6, New Jersey was a commanding 21-4-1 and seemingly in charge of its own destiny. But a six-game losing streak followed, starting the Devils on a 5-8-2 stretch leading into the first of three games in California.

“We’re a group that just stays with it, believes we can get back in it, create some opportunities,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said.

Ruff was talking about the victory over the Hurricanes but the words could also serve as a motto for the rest of the season. Despite a month’s worth of struggles, the Devils (55 points) are just two points behind the first-place Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference heading into play Thursday.

Jack Hughes is leading the way for New Jersey with a team-leading 26 goals and 49 points. Nico Hischier has 19 goals and 40 points, while Dougie Hamilton has a team-best 26 assists. Vitek Vanecek had 25 saves against Carolina and is 16-5-2 with a 2.37 goals-against average, seventh best in the NHL.

The Ducks aren’t seeing goaltending or defending anywhere near that level. Anaheim has allowed an NHL-worst 175 goals this season after giving up 13 across back-to-back defeats.

Ducks goaltender John Gibson gave up all 13 of those in a span of five periods, sitting out the third period of a 6-2 defeat to the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday. Anaheim actually had a 1-0 advantage in the third period, when Anthony Stolarz made 16 saves in place of Gibson.

“It shouldn’t take that,” Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said. “It shouldn’t take a big meeting in between periods to get you going in this league. You’ve got to be a self-starter. And you have to be competitive. Working hard is not enough. You have to compete.”

Sam Carrick and Simon Benoit each scored goals against the Oilers, with All-Star Troy Terry now without a goal in 11 consecutive games. He has five assists during that stretch.

Terry’s 12 goals on the season are tied for the team lead with Adam Henrique and Trevor Zegras, who ended his own 11-game goal drought last week against the San Jose Sharks.

The Ducks are 3-5-1 on a franchise-record-10-game homestand that ends Friday.

–Field Level Media