The New Jersey Devils got burned on a fortunate bounce for Carolina at the end of the first period and got worked within 3 minutes in overtime to end up losing Game 2 to Carolina. The score ended 2-1, Carolina tied up the series, and it all left a very sour taste in the mouth of the Devils fans at the Rock. I don't know what the Carolina fans did, but I didn't really care.
Let me be frank: Carolina definitely played better than they did in Game 1, but they were not the better team in regulation.
Unlike Game 1, Carolina came out to play rather physical which, in retrospect, wasn't a smart idea. The Devils not only hit them back, but the referees - who let a lot go (including a massively obvious hook on Zajac while he was going forward with about 1:50 left in the game) - handed Carolina 6 penalties. And these weren't cheap calls, we're talking high sticks, Tuomo Ruutu jumping up in the air to throw a check, and Joni Pitkanen cold-clocking Brian Gionta after the puck sailed into the corner.
The Devils power play did the odd thing and actually scored on one of them, a Paul Martin shot made beautiful by a deflection from Zach Parise:
Alas, despite all the shots on net (34-27) and power plays and long shifts pinning back a Carolina defense that looked sloppy (multiple times by the John Madden line) and all the puck battles won and all scoring chances that they generated that would be the only time they scored. And this doomed the Devils tonight.
Part of why the Devils only beat Cam Ward was due to some awful luck at the final, finishing shot. Passes would be made to set up a great shot but it doesn't hit the target or it gets blocked at the last moment or (most of all) a rebound is there but the Devils just couldn't put it home. But the larger reason was Ward himself. Ward's glove hand denied the Devils of at least 3 goals. He was great and he kept the Canes in it all night long.
The Devils forwards just couldn't find an answer that would have not only given them the lead but quite possibly the win. Jamie Langenbrunner left the game in the second period with an "undisclosed lower body injury" according to Gulitti (he is unknown for Game 3). It was bizarre to watch on the power play, all of the sudden, Langenbrunner limps to the bench. I didn't catch what caused it, but he was on the point, and suddenly he passes the puck to his partner and he goes to the bench and doesn't return. Definitely not a good sign as Langenbrunner has been quite productive for the Devils - not to mention he's the captain of the team. What's worse is that Parise, Zajac, Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, and Brian Rolston (collectively, the big players on the power play too - only 8 shots on 6 PP chances? Come on.) couldn't find the net. They tried, they made the effort, they made chances happen, but the finish wasn't there.
On Carolina's end, before the end of a physical first period - Carolina went on the power play due to a really obvious hooking of the hand by Zajac. Ray Whitney unloaded a slapshot at the point which missed the net, but the puck bounces right to Eric Staal. Brodeur's diving, Martin was caught ahead of Staal, and it was easy for the sniper. From then on, they played a lot more conservatively. While they got more shots on net in Game 1 and had a few shifts where they not only managed to keep the puck for more than 30 seconds but they really applied some pressure on the Devils. Only, they didn't really do much with the pressure or the other two power plays they had in the game. The Devils defense was content in picking off passes and cleaning up the rebounds from the easy shots Brodeur faced.
So we had the Devils not being able to beat Ward a second time and the Canes playing more evenly, but not really threatening. For two periods, you could say that while neither team scored, they didn't concede. This thought process benefited Carolina more than the Devils. Given that the Canes lost Game 1 in a big way, that notion just gave them more and more confidence. They had no reason to fret over not being able to take the game over - they were in no position to do so, therefore they just stayed calm. Even if they lost in overtime, they would have to feel they have proven they can stand up to New Jersey and have a better chance at home.
They are feeling much better based on the result, which ultimately what matters most. In overtime, Carolina just turned up the pressure and came at the Devils. The defense was caught behind. The Pandolfo-Madden-Shanahan line that did well in regulation was worked over. And all the work by Carolina resulted in 5 shots in less than 3 minutes, the last one by Tim Gleason beating Brodeur through a screen by, guess who, Eric Staal (see picture, oh, and possibly Niclas Havelid) and that was that. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
After all the work the Devils did in regulation, they came out flat in sudden death. Blame it on the players for losing focus temporarily. Blame it on Brent Sutter for who he put out there first. Blame it on Eric Staal who made the difference tonight - twice (much to the appreciation of Bubba, I'm sure). Blame it on the Devils offense who was unable to put the game away despite the opportunities they had and created. Blame it on Paul Maurice, Cam Ward, and the Canes for getting the opportunity to steal one in New Jersey. Either way, it's a tied series now.
While I'm disappointed about the loss, I don't think it's time to be seriously concerned about the Devils' chances in this series. The Devils weren't beaten in regulation and they were the better team overall on the ice. Carolina essentially nicked the game off the Devils in overtime - the only time where the Devils got pounded. And they should keep that in mind going into the RBC Center for Games 3 and 4.
It would have been great going into those games up 2-0, but they aren't and based on how each team played - I don't see why the Devils won't be able to win one of those games on the road. Carolina isn't slumping anymore, but they have yet to play as the dominant team for more than a few minutes in this series. If they can't do that, especially at home, I still like New Jersey's chances.