BOSTON — In his team’s lone trip of the season to his home state, the night started out promising for Cory Schneider.
But it ended painfully — and much sooner — than the New Jersey Devils goaltender had anticipated.
Schneider was forced to leave Tuesday’s contest against the Boston Bruins after due two periods with what the team termed a lower body injury. It’s believed the Marblehead native suffered a groin injury at some point during the second period, perhaps trying to slide across his crease in an attempt to stop Patrice Bergeron's power play goal.
He stayed in the game long enough to give up stop Brad Marchand’s go-ahead goal with 32.9 seconds remaining in the middle stanza, which proved to be the game-winning tally in Boston’s 3-2 victory.
Devils head coach John Hynes said he had no update on Schneider's condition postgame, and the goaltender was unavailable to the media.
Now in his fifth season with the Devils (and fourth as the team’s No. 1 keeper), Schneider — who turns 32 the day before St. Patrick’s Day — stopped 17 of the 20 shots he saw against Boston.
All three goals he surrendered came in that second period: a fluky bounce off of Riley Nash’s stick that hit a Devils’ defenseman and bounced over the goalie’s shoulder; a Bergeron one-timer from the slot on a 5-on-3 power play that Schneider had no chance at; and a tantalizing Marchand deke and backhand tucked under his left arm.
The Devils haven’t been to the playoffs since their improbable run to the Stanley Cup final in 2012, but came out of the gates strong this season and have put themselves squarely in the postseason mix.
Not that there’s any wiggle room in hockey’s most difficult division, the ultra-competitive Metropolitan Division. First place Washington (61 points) holds a five-point lead over second place New Jersey and Philadelphia — with the other four teams in this branch of the NHL, Columbus (55), two-time defending Cup champion Pittsburgh (55), the Rangers (53), the Islanders (53) and even Carolina (50) all within clear striking distance.
There is no margin for error. The Devils know this and realize that having a proficient workhorse between the pipes like Schneider will help them, pardon the pun, get off their playoff schneid.
“He’s our guy,” said Devils assistant captain Brian Boyle, Schneider’s teammate during their days at Boston College. “We’ve had success this season, and a lot of the time he’s been the main reason why.”
Having missed three games (two due to sickness) last week, Schneider returned to action Monday night in Detroit. The former Marblehead High, Phillips Andover and Boston College star stopped 27 shots as the Devils were blanked by the Red Wings, 3-0.
Acknowledging there are bound to be breakdowns during certain points of particular games, Boyle said Schneider is often there to pick up the slack when everything else has veered off script.
“He’s our most important player, as goalies tend to be,” said the centerman. “Cory’s really taken some of our not-so-great efforts and turned them into wins for us. We want to continue to learn and grow as a team in front of him, because he’s always huge for us.”
As the Devils began the season by winning their first three games, taking six of their first seven and nine of their opening 11 contests, Schneider led the way by winning seven of his first eight starts. He got hot again in December, going 8-1-1 with a 1.33 GAA and .933 save percentage as New Jersey remained atop the Metropolitan Division standings.
But after taking the loss Tuesday against the Bruins, Schneider fell to 0-5-3 in his last eight starts. He hasn’t won a game since a 3-1 win over Detroit two days after Christmas.
With his injury situation up in the air, however, there’s no timetable for when Schneider will return to the Devils’ crease. That’s not good news for a Jersey club that needs every point it can gather between now and the end of the regular season.