The series is now essentially a best of 3. The first to two wins, well, wins and moves on. The Devils now have home ice, with home games tonight and in a potential Game 7 on Tuesday on April 28.
There's many ways you can describe this first round series between the Canes and Devils. You can say the series has been a series of trading wins - New Jersey, Carolina, New Jersey, Carolina. Should the pattern continue, New Jersey takes this in 7 (and, of course, they win tonight). You can say the series has been a tight battle, with all games past Game 1 being decided by one goal - twice in overtime and the last one literally right before overtime would have started.
You can say the series has been defined by Carolina's rise in performance. In Game 1, they were awful. In Game 2, they played a little better, got some breaks, and stole a win. In Game 3, they were more physical and energetic, but the Devils denied them in overtime. And Game 4 was their best performance yet: out-hitting the Devils, out-shooting the Devils, dominating the faceoff dot, dominating puck possession, and exhuding much more confidence and energy on the ice. In the first two periods, the Hurricanes was pounding the Devils and really could have been up 6-0 if it weren't Martin Brodeur holding down the fort as best he could. Still, it was a 3-0 lead for Carolina before the second period ended and the Canes fans were feeling good. Still, it was the first time Carolina led a game in regulation in this series and they could have really kept it that way.
That's the rub, though. Could have put the game away. Could have kept the lead. They didn't and it came back to haunt them!
Because the series can also been defined by how strong New Jersey has been in some way or form, and they were massive in the third period. The Devils have caught the Canes in a lull after a sparkling shout of a goal by Brian Gionta to close the second period. The next thing you know, it's halfway through the third period, and the Devils came back from 3-0 to tie it up and Mike Rupp of all players just came close to getting that fourth goal! It took a lucky bounce off a controversial play with 0.2 seconds left to give Carolina the win. Deserved or not, it was ultimately a fluke off of Jussi Jokinen's skate and given how well Carolina played in the first two periods. It's not a real confidence-inspiring way to win, especially after choking away what should be a decisive lead. Canes fans would do well to avoid getting too arrogant and proud - especially about Brodeur, a goaltender well reknowned for not letting games get to him.
If you're at home and you're up 3-0, allowing any team to equalize is simply unacceptable! If that was the best Carolina could bring to the ice, and it was their best game all series, then the Devils have shown it's not quite enough! That's a more uncomfortable fact that the Carolina faithful may care to admit!
Therefore, the Brent Sutter came out of last night's game and into the press conference highlighting the positives - namely the comeback effort. The post-game quotes from Gulitti are telling and it's good that no one threw Brodeur under the bus or focused too much on it. Who knows if that's what they feel, but their words - like from Brodeur and particularly Brent Sutter's (via Gulitti) - seem to indicate that they are moving on. Here's the important one from Sutter:
"But, our sense of urgency, I have no question that it's going to be where it needs to be tomorrow (for Game 5). It's a proud group and they've played hard all year and we had a tough night last night. There was some adversity that we went through during the game right up until the final buzzer. But, it's how you handle it. Not everything is going to be always perfect, but it's how you deal with it. This group has dealt with it all year very well and we'll deal with it again tomorrow."
I completely agree that the sense of urgency will be back - especially on defense, where the coverage was like a bad deposition - filled with holes and paper. 46 shots got through to Brodeur and three of them could have been prevented with better defending. According to Gulitti, they'll likely have to do it without Bryce Salvador - the man caught frozen as Chad LaRose got the rebound and did his move to score - as he left Game 4 with an injury to his leg. He grasped his knee to elevate the leg on the ice and left the ice without putting pressure on his left leg. I think it may be an ankle injury, but since it's the playoffs, we won't know just yet. In the meantime, Andy Greene will come back in to fill in that third pairing.
Regardless, Paul Martin and company didn't have a good night and I would expect them to be more pointed in their positioning, more focused to the slot area where Carolina just owned the space, and more accurate in their clearances. I felt they were deficient in all three of those areas and it just combined for an overall poor game from the blueline. Since I'm sure the team will be so motivated, I don't believe Carolina will get anywhere near 40 shots on net.
The Devils lost Game 4 in a pretty poor way, and so just for the cause of sending a message that the Devils won't comeout so flat. Just for revenge, the Devils will be expected to come out flying, to return the game to being battle after battle along the boards, to make every effort to keep Carolina pinned back, and to run up that score. Given that a ref and a lucky bounce decided Game 4, a lead of at least two goals would prevent the unfortunate deciding Game 5 again.
Incidentally, I hope Cam Ward feels like playing big (and upright) in Game 5. Even in Game 4 with only 29 shots allowed, the defense let down Ward in allowing Brendan Shanahan and David Clarkson to get position and goals off the rebound. All series, the Carolina defense has made some kinds of noticible errors in each game: physical (penalties), mental (e.g. Joe Corvo giving the puck away to Gionta in Game 3), and/or tactical (e.g. the defense ignoring David Clarkson in the slot in Game 4). If Carolina really would like to make the series their own, those mistakes have to end. But given recent history, that's not likely - despite the return of Dennis Seidenberg.
It's Game 1 of 3 now, and it's a could-win, should-win, and must-win for New Jersey. If only to regain momentum in the series and to get Carolina feeling down in Game 6. The series back at The Rock, and everyone in red will be looking for the big win. Given the recent events of Game 4, the quote from Sutter today, as well as this whole series, I don't see why the Devils won't go for the throat early. Either way, please make Game 5 yours, Devils. We will be cheering you all on both at the Rock and from abroad.