Good thing the Devils had this Game 7 to win this series, because they clearly didn't want to put it away tonight. The Carolina Hurricanes just did everything better tonight. They out-shot the Devils 37-28, the Carolina defense played hard and played very well, they kept drawing calls, and the Carolina forwards kept up the intensity and the hustle for all 60 minutes of the game. Simply put, they were the better team tonight by far and they deserved their 4-0 win. A win that forces Game 7 in this series.
While the Devils looked OK for the first 5 minutes or so, it all went awry after Mike Rupp took a holding call. On the ensuing power play, the Canes just pounded the net. Martin Brodeur had a lot of work to do and he had to be amazing from then on. While the Canes didn't score on the power play, they got the next best thing: momentum. From then on, the Canes just kept rolling into the Devils' zone over and over with more and more shots on Brodeur. That last sentence could describe the game, really. Even when Carolina ended the second up 3-0, the Canes made sure a repeat of Game 4 would not happen.
Carolina got it's first goal in the first period on a bit of a fluke as Ray Whitney hit a puck in mid-air in the slot right past Brodeur. A break for Carolina, sure. But the two by Eric Staal in the second period was just bad coverage. Paul Martin misplays the puck and not one, not two, but three Canes are already rushing ahead. Staal is the trailing player and unloads a big shot. Later on, Whitney and Staal hit them on a 2-on-1 and Staal just buries it on Brodeur's flank.
Needless to say, Paul Maurice's move to put Whitney and Staal together worked. I credit Maurice for making the adjustment, as well as Whitney and Staal for making it work on the ice.
Defense by the Devils was just atrocious. Where was the backchecking? Did the Devils have any checking forwards play this game? If so, who, where, and when? Where was the calm and collected Paul Martin? Where was Colin White cleaning up the mess? Did Johnny Oduya do much of anything good in his own zone? I've seen entire games where the Devils don't give up an odd man rush, and they get burned by two of them in this game alone!
The only positive you can take out of this one other than that Brodeur showed up to play is that the penalty killers did a decent enough job. Yet, Carolina finally, finally, finally got a power play goal. Shortly after a Travis Zajac hooking call (proof he was in this game, really), John Madden throws a cross-check after a clear. Dumb move by Madden, and the Canes made the Devils pay for it. Whitney found Jussi Jokinen on Brodeur's flank along the crease for the 5-on-3 goal. The response to this last goal? More penalties! Oh, and Brendan Shanahan and Brian Gionta trying to do something.
While the Devils had a positive takeaway from Game 4 - coming back from 3 goals down to tie it - what is the positive takeaway from this game? If there is one, it's definitely not on offense. The offense was a joke. The Devils had stretches where they would just give the puck away. 15 minutes left in the second period and the Devils were being outshot 22-5, the Devils could not put shots through to Ward. And Ward didn't need to work too hard to stop them! Where was the Patrik Elias I saw in Game 5? Where was ZZ Pops line that I saw in Games 1 through 3? Rather, where was Parise? Where was anyone else up front?
The team as a whole wasn't aggressive as Carolina. The Canes almost literally competed for every puck, especially along with the boards, and they came out with it. In the post game press conference, Sutter was clearly not happy with the effort of the team. I agree, the effort definitely wasn't there from New Jersey. So why didn't Sutter, you know, do anything about it in-game?
Carolina was smart, intense, and stronger with the puck and they stayed strong. New Jersey sank after the flurry from that first power play and never got up. I guess I should take solace is that Devils - except for Brodeur - had a bad game and they got it out of their system now than they did in Game 7. But it was still hard to watch. As I said in the comments, I blame everyone on the Devils save for Brodeur, who had to come up big to prevent Carolina from making it 4-0 in the first period alone!
Carolina needed this game and they played their hearts out, dominating a Devils team that didn't fight back hard enough for 60 minutes. Now they have all this momentum from tonight going into Game 7. As I type this, MSG+ is doing their postgame with Chico Resch, Ken Daneyko, and Steve Cangelosi and the two former Devils agree that the Devils will do much better on Tuesday. The Devils have to do much better, or this season goes down the drain.
It truly is a must-win for both teams on Tuesday night at the Rock. It didn't have to happen, but Carolina's domination tonight ensured it.