The New Jersey Devils have a chance to re-take the lead in the series against Carolina. To do that, they'll have to do something they haven't done since 2001: win a playoff game in Carolina. Given the circumstances going into Game 3, as I remarked yesterday, it will be a test with or without captain Jamie Langenbrunner.
Alas, tonight, they will be without captain Jamie Langenbrunner and it appears Brent Sutter this lineup set according to Gulitti's report today:
Forwards: Parise-Zajac-Rolston; Elias-Zubrus-Gionta; Pandolfo-Madden-Shanahan; Rupp-Holik-Clarkson.
Defensemen: Oduya-Martin; White-Mottau; Salvador-Havelid.
Gulitti did find out from Lou yesterday that Langenbrunner's injury is not a re-aggrevation of something he had in the past or a recurrence of a prior injury. Still, he's not playing in Game 3 or Game 4. It's time for the "Rolstons" (literally) to step up. If you can't step playing with the dynamic Zach Parise and the steady Travis Zajac, then I don't know what to tell you. If Rolston doesn't fit in well, then expect the Sutter standby manuever of juggling players until something works. Don't write those forward lines in pen just yet. In fact, Gulitti just recently reported that Sutter isn't comitting to Parise-Zajac-Rolston; though I think that's so Carolina doesn't read the news and figure out the Devils' gameplan in advance.
Since Langenbrunner is out and Sutter has no use for PLLL or Rod Pelley, Bobby Holik is back in the lineup and I expect him to play quite well. Jay Pandolfo was benched for a while this season, but when he got a chance for minutes, he took it and forced Sutter to give him a regular spot on the roster again. Since then, Pandolfo has played smarter and with more energy than he has all season. He played well in Games 1 and 2 and he's been a benefit to the penalty kill again. So I'm hoping (and I'm sure all the Devils are hoping) Holik has the same response now that he has a chance to see the ice again. Unfortunately, Holik gave this response to Gulitti just now about his recent play:
Holik said that Devils coach Brent Sutter never told him why he did not play in the first two games.
When I asked him if he has to do anything differently, he said, "No, because I do not know what I was not doing correctly,"
Sutter made it clear today that Holik needs to play without taking penalties. He mentioned it twice.
That sound you hear is a young man in central NJ sighing really loudly. OK, I know you are being terse on purpose and that's fine; but let me spell it out you: For the love of all that is good and New Jersey, use your head, Bobby! The penalties you take are by and large moronic and they hurt the team - especially when the other team has been hot on the power play against the Devils! To be fair, Sutter was clear to Gulitti (and others) about the need for discipline; so I'm hoping Holik was really trying not to give anything away publicly. That message was taylor made for him!
It is a directive that all the Devils should follow, but Holik needs to especially careful around the Canes. They were quite physical (and dirty at times) in Game 2 and the Devils will be very wise not to retalitate (because refs tend to see that) and to not do anything stupid because Carolina is being stupid (like, say, running the goalie. Again, I'm specifically referring to you, Holik).
Anyway, I expect Carolina to clean up it's act a little bit. They were really fortunate that the Devils only got one power play goal out of the 6 they handed them (in a big, obvious fashion on most of those calls) in Game 2. It'll be up to the same players though: Gulitti reported today that the Canes aren't making any lineup changes. They have no need to do so. Given that they are now more confident and they are at home, which is the focal point of the Game 3 preview at Canes Country. With 12 home wins out of their last 13, the Devils should expect Carolina to be especially pumped tonight, for that little fact alone.
Whether or not that will actually have Carolina out play the Devils for a period or actually win battles in the neutral one for pucks is another matter. The Canes essentially won Game 2 on a fortunate bounce near the end of the first period and two great shifts in overtime wherein they applied heavy pressure, set up the screen, and Tim Gleason's shot got through. Carolina has yet to be the better team in the run of play for a considerably long amount of time in this series. Now that they are home again, they might just do that tonight. It's still something that the Devils have on the Canes.
If New Jersey still owns the battles in the neutral zone and the boards for puck possession, then Carolina fans should hope Cam Ward continues to be excellent - he will get shelled again otherwise (39 shots against in Game 1, 34 in Game 2). So I still like the Devils' chances in the series and think they can pull off their first road win tonight, but it's still a large challenge to overcome. We will see this later tonight.