Rookie Luke Hughes delivers 'a great night,' Devils win Game 3

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Monday, May 8, 2023

NEWARK, N.J. -- Luke Hughes is 19 years old. His third game as a National Hockey League defenseman was Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoff series between the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes, with his club attempting to climb out of a 2-0 hole.

Yet if there was pressure, he didn't feel it. If there were worries, he didn't have them.

"I don't really get nervous playing. I got a lot more nervous watching from up top," said Hughes, who had two assists in 12:55 of ice time, helping to energize the Devils in their 8-4 triumph at home Sunday.

"I thought the fans were great," he said. "Loved the 'Luuuuuu' chants. But no nerves today."

Hughes was drafted fourth overall in 2021 and signed with the Devils to join his brother Jack Hughes after his season with the University of Michigan ended. He had a goal and an assist in two regular-season games but hadn't seen the ice in the playoffs. With defenseman Ryan Graves injured, and his team needing an offensive spark after generating two goals in two games in Raleigh, coach Lindy Ruff made Hughes one of the seven defensemen he dressed against the Hurricanes.

"I thought Luke had a great night," Ruff said. "From the first shift to the end of the game, for the young man to step in the way he did and play the way he did ... you expect maybe you get a good game. He gave us a great game."

Defenseman Brendan Smith said Luke is a "magnificent" skater.

"He skates like his brother. It's elite already," Smith said. "Obviously the more he plays the better he's going to be with decisions. But he can skate himself out of trouble and there only a few players that can do that in this league."

Luke factored in on two Devils goals. His strong forechecking led to a chance that defenseman Damon Severson put behind Carolina goalie Pyotr Kochetkov for a 5-1 lead. Later, he picked up a secondary assist on Ondrej Palat's game-clinching goal to make it 8-4, which was the Devils' first power-play goal against the Hurricanes this season in 22 attempts.

But it wasn't all smooth sailing for Luke. He had a brutal turnover on a Devils' power play, sending a pedestrian pass across the blue line that was intercepted by the Hurricanes who earned a penalty shot on the play. Jordan Martinook beat goalie Vitek Vanecek to make it 5-2 at the time.

"It wasn't a great play by me. I just put that one in deep," he said. "But mistakes happen and you learn from it. And it's kind of next-play-up mentality so happen."

Smith said that he occasionally offered advice to Luke during the game.

"When I was a young guy, I was lucky to have great mentors," said Smith, a former Detroit Red Wings defenseman. "I can share some of things I was taught from guys like Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom, I'm going to tell him how I see the game and hopefully I can help his game."

While Luke was energizing the Devils with his skating and puck movement, his brother Jack was electrifying the crowd in other ways.

"I mean, he got into a fight today. That was new," Luke said. Jack then shook his head. "That's not a fight," he replied.

In the second period, Jack absorbed repeated cross-checks in the back from Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho. Eventually Jack grabbed him and wrestled the Carolina star to the ice as the crowd cheered.

"Listen, he's a really good player," Jack said. "I think both our teams would like us to be on the ice and helping us out there, but that was just him kind of cross-checking me and giving it to me and I had enough of that. So, it's the playoffs, it's competitive, it's intense. I don't know if you can expect that again, but that's just hockey right there."

His teammates appreciated the effort.

"You can kiss the Lady Byng [Trophy] away," joked Smith, in reference to the NHL award for "gentlemanly play" for which Jack is a finalist. "Aho is a tough customer, and he kind of pile-drived him. He stood up for himself."

Jack and Aho were given minor penalties for roughing, while Aho got an extra penalty for cross-checking.

When he wasn't engaging in an on-ice wrestling match, Jack had two goals and two assists, becoming the 12th player in Devils franchise history to have four points in a playoff game.

One of those assists was an incredible between-the-legs pass from behind the net to set up winger Timo Meier for the Devils' first goal just 5:58 into Game 3. Meier whacked the puck through Hurricanes goalie Freddie Andersen, who was pulled after the Devils made it 4-0 in the second period, for his first point of the playoffs.

It was Meier's first shot and shot attempt of the game. Coming into Game 3, Meier had 61 shot attempts and 32 shots on goal in eight games. His averages per 60 minutes in both categories ranked third among all players with at last 100 minutes played.

Meier admitted that the goal lifted a bit of weight off his mind.

"A little bit, but if you're scoring or not, you just try to make a difference every shift," he said. "It's playoff time. Every play matters, and sometimes if you don't score goals you've got to do other things, and those things will lead the goals."

As the score would indicate, Game 3 was a wild ride. Meier's first point. The Devils' power play finally scoring. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, became the first team in 35 postseasons to score three shorthanded goals in a game: Martinook's penalty shot, plus shorthanded goals by Jordan Staal and Seth Jarvis to cut the advantage to 7-4 in the third period. Since the NHL started tracking power play and penalty kill opportunities in 1933-34, this was only the fourth time a team had scored three times shorthanded in a game.

But that achievement was little solace to coach Rod Brind'Amour after the loss.

"We were horrible," he said. "That's probably putting it mild. Because of what they were doing. They were the better team, no doubt."

The Devils are trying to rally from a 0-2 series deficit for the second straight round, having won Games 3 and 4 against the New York Rangers before winning in seven games. Jack said that experience helps the Devils, but only so much.

"Completely different teams, different styles," he said. "You guys throw around 'inexperience.' We've been in this situation before where we've been down 2-0. You don't want to say you're comfortable there. You know it's still a long series to go. But we're back in this thing now."

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