The New Jersey Devils were up 3-2 with about 2 minutes left to play.
The New Jersey Devils, after skating around in their own end - the five Devils on the ice couldn't clear the puck or get a whistle somehow (this would have been a time to legitimately penalize a Cane, really), conceded an equalizer with about 1:20 left to play. Joni Pitkanen ended up down low, put a cross-crease pass to Jussi Jokinen, who easily put it in.
The New Jersey Devils conceded the go ahead goal from Eric Staal with less than a minute, whilst the whole team - and the Rock - were struck dumb by the Jokinen equalizer. The game ended 4-3, the series ended 4-3, and both in favor of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The New Jersey Devils literally blew it Game 7. They shined up the game real nice, got a nice plate, and served it right to the Carolina Hurricanes, who were more than willing to take it. Two poor shifts by the Devils at the end; and the Hurricanes took advantage and got the game.
This loss hurts. Even more than last year's first round loss to the Rangers.
Up until then, the Devils were the better team. The Hurricanes did score first on a Tuomo Ruutu shot that Brodeur should have had. But the Devils took it in stride and immediately responded when Jamie Langenbrunner tapped in a Zach Parise pass on Cam Ward's flank. The Devils would continue when Jay Pandolfo rushed the net and tapped John Madden's pass in later in the first period. The Devils went on with momentum; earning more shots on net, better scoring chances, and better puck possession.
Ray Whitney tied the game up in the second with an inadvertant deflection off his skate, but did the Devils wilter? No. On a later penalty, Brian Gionta threw the puck cross-ice and off the boards. Brian Rolston got there first and unloaded a slapshot that Ward clearly wasn't prepared for. It was a real piledriver of a goal, Rolston's first of the series, and a power play goal as well. Pandolfo scoring, Rolston scoring off a slapshot - there was plenty to feel good about.
Most of all, the Devils penalty killers did an awesome job tonight - even killing a 5-on-3 for a minute. Even with some, well, let's say, iffy calls that the Canes
dived drew; the Devils would not be denied. Martin Brodeur was definitely on his game after the Ruutu goal and he came up big. Elsewhere, Paul Martin was just snatching the puck and sending it up ice with aplomb. The Devils were rolling, the Canes struggled to get a shot on net. Cam Ward was almost singlehandedly keeping it a one-goal game, enduring a 4 minute power play that carried over into the third and a Devils team looking for that fourth goal. Carolina couldn't break through as Brodeur made one confident save after another. We were feeling good, the crowd was hot all night long, and the Devils just looked to be the stronger team.
So much was done right, done well, and done as expected of winning hockey teams. Somehow, someway, it all just fell apart at the end.
This wasn't just heartbreaking. Being at the game, I can tell you what the feelings were after the game: anger, shock, more anger, more shock, and all eventually leading to a general feeling of heavy disappointment. What I wrote yesterday regarding the potential sentiment after a Game 7 loss, based on what I heard walking back to Newark-Penn and in leaving the Rock, came true. Everything about the 2008-09 season means nothing now, given how the Devils lost tonight. I know that's not true; and time will heal this wound, but right now, the wound is winning big time.
We cannot even laugh at the Flyers' failure or the Rangers' choking away a 3-1 series lead. All three teams lost in the first round. It's really just nitpicking to "one-up" the rivals in this case.
I cannot put this game or this series on the fault of any one player (and don't even suggest to me that Martin Brodeur lost this game given all that he did) or the coaching staff or the organization or a level of talent. We can go on and on all day about what the Devils should have done in Game 7; who should have done better; what should have happened; but it doesn't matter. They didn't happen. The sad reality is that they lost the focus that made them the better team tonight at the end to give up the equalizer; and the Devils were caught shocked after the equalizer.
I don't care how bitter this sounds, but I think the Devils were the better team - but that clearly doesn't matter. It's about results and the Devils didn't get them. Congratulations to the Hurricanes (and, by extension, their supporters) for seeing opportunity and taking it. You are moving on.
For us, it's over. The offseason has now begun for the Devils. What will happen here? I truly don't know. A general thank you post tomorrow, Devil of the Month after that, and, well, who knows. Now?
I love you Devils, but frankly, this loss hurts and I'm deeply disappointed. Death or Glory - so close to Glory, yet you seemingly chose Death. It didn't - it shouldn't - have ended this way, but it did. I hope everyone in the Devils organization feel as bothered by this turn of events as we all do.