On Wednesday, the Devils basically rolled over a flat Carolina Hurricanes team. The Hurricanes struggled keeping the puck in New Jersey's zone for even more than 30 seconds. Carolina couldn't get their flowing offense and their agile forwards going due to the fact their passes often went to the wrong target, the wrong place, and with the wrong speed. New Jersey owned the neutral zone it just forced them to stay back.
So what's the angle for Game 2? It may sound lame, but I think the winner of tomorrow's game will be the team that does better at staying calm.
If I were Paul Maurice (and Bubba and Cory are probably glad I'm not since I keep talking about Carolina slumping), I'm telling my team to remain calm. They lost in a convincing fashion and they are feeling the pressure to respond. Another loss like this and the hole will start becoming deeper and deeper for the Canes to climb themselves out from.
I'm certain the Canes will look to play with more aggression, but they shouldn't feel like they are in a mode of desperation. I would propose that they build up some badly-needed confidence first. That means slowing down. Not to come out flat, but the forwards should only to look to dash up ice when there's a ton of space available (or, well, an odd-man rush). By doing this, they can make simpler, less dangerous passes, and possibly lull the Devils into a false sense of security. Once they can hold onto the puck and have more successful in moving the puck, then they can ramp up the aggression. Then they can take it to the Devils and make Martin Brodeur face more than 20 shots.
The same logic would apply to their defense. I feel that the Hurricanes had found great success in collapsing in their zone against New Jersey in the past. Rather than attempting to chase Zach Parise or Jay Pandolfo all around the zone, they need to be stalwart in their positioning. Make the Devils work for the shot instead of having the Devils make Cam Ward work for the shot.
A panicky or over-eager Carolina team could only make the problems worse if they still can't maintain the puck in their possession. A repeat of Game 1 would only be more possible.
The flipside is that calmness would benefit the Devils greatly for Game 2. They won Game 1, a big win at the Rock. According to Gulitti's report today (aside: he was on fire today!), they say that they need to remain focused:
"Game 2 is a new game, but we have to use the things we did well and use that in a good way and move forward with that," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "Yet, there's still things that we need to continue to work on and continue to improve. But I think the biggest thing is making sure we're focused and we're prepared the right way and there's no excuse to not be at this time of year. This group is a focused group."
This is exactly the right attitude. The Devils only won one game and getting overconfident will only slow them down. They should go into tomorrow's game with the assumption that Carolina will play faster, harder, and bigger than they did in Game 1. To that end, remaining calm is in the Devils' best interests. I'm not saying the Devils need to play without emotion or fire. This means keeping cool when there is eventually a Cane trying to start a little something. This means when the refs do eventually call a penalty against the Devils, the penalty kill shouldn't panic. So on and so forth.
Most of all, should Carolina score first or on the power play or come out flying, a calm Devils' team will be better equipped to keep playing the way that got them the wins on their 82nd game of the season and in Game 1. Most likely, the Devils won't see anything that they haven't seen before - and the Devils have proven that they can crack Ward and the Carolina defense. Staying calm, I think, will keep these facts in the player's minds and keep their confidence up.
Basically, whichever team can keep their heads straight, their thoughts clear, and their skates on the ice (this was a literally an issue for Carolina in Game 1) will have the advantage. Both teams have to fight off the understandable (in a way) feeling of overconfidence (NJ) and massive concern that they are slumping (Carolina). If either team can overcome that, they can approach the game as necessary and have a far better chance of success than if they get too emotional or too arrogant on the ice.
This also applies to the fans as well. There's no parade to come from winning Game 1 or even Games 1 and 2. Just like the Devils and Hurricanes can only worry about one game at a time, so should we. The worst case scenario is that the Devils get owned at the Rock tomorrow. All that would mean is that there will be some concern going into Game 3 - it won't guarantee the series or anything else. When in doubt, stay calm (P.S. Don't act like Ranger/Flyers fans either, but you should know that as well).