The first loss was inevitable, but the Skipjacks said they didn't want it to be quite like this.
Holding a 3-2 lead with a little more than eight minutes remaining in what had been a painfully sloppy game on both sides, the Jacks folded miserably.
For the Utica Devils, perseverance paid off as Kevin Madill put the puck between goalie Jim Hrivnak's pads with 11:47 remaining to tie the game and Kevin Todd repeated the act four minutes later to defeat the Jacks, 4-3, before 1,897 at the Arena.
"You never like to lose, but this is one we should have won," said defenseman Kent Paynter, who had a pair of assists. "They say they are all learning experiences so I guess we learned something from this one."
After the game, coach Robbie Laird appeared a little flustered with his team's play but gave the Devils (3-4) credit for being so aggressive in the third period when it looked like they didn't have a chance. The Devils outshot the Jacks 13-8 in the final 20 minutes.
"We had some great chances to score early in the third period and put the game away," Laird said. "We began pressing when the puck didn't go in and they came back hard."
One place the Jacks (3-1) sure needed help was on the power play. Without defenseman Chris Felix quarterbacking the unit (he is with the Washington Capitals), the Jacks were 1-for-6 with the extra man and often looked out of sync.
"There's no question you're going to miss a player of his caliber," said John Purves, who added to his team-leading eight points with a second-period goal. "But myself and several other guys are struggling with the power play. We practice the plays in practice and they work but then in the game we throw out the playbook and we suffer."
After grabbing the first goal on a crafty effort from rookie Todd Hlushko, the Jacks allowed Mike Bodnarchuk and Madill to give the Devils a 2-1 lead.
The Jacks answered with goals from Purves and Tyler Larter in the second period before faltering in the third.
Devils goalie Mark Romaine wasn't pretty to watch, flopping about in the goal crease, but he was enough to take the even sloppier Jacks.
"He would leave the puck right out there for you to take but their defensemen were so strong that you just couldn't get to it," said center Vic Gervais.
Paynter said it best:
"He cleared the puck just out of the way so you couldn't get to it but you thought you could. In other words, he made us look pretty bad."
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
* WHEN: Tonight, 7:45.
* WHERE: Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.
* TV & RADIO: Ch. 20; WCAO-AM 600.
* OUTLOOK: Once again the Capitals are struggling offensively, scoring 18 times in six games and often outshooting opponents. Don Beaupre faced just 17 shots in Montreal Monday night but lost 3-1. The Caps, tied for last place with the Islanders in the Patrick Division with four points, are winless (0-3) vs. division opponents. New Jersey, which is in third place with seven points, is 3-0-1 at home. The Devils, with 24 goals in six games, have added more offense with the addition of Claude Lemieux from Montreal and Laurie Boschman from Winnipeg during the offseason.