Well, that just plain sucked.
I suppose I could have just left it at that. But I should give more of an effort in this recap than Jamie Langenbrunner's entire 2010 playoff performance. The New Jersey Devils lost Game 5, and by extension, the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0. Here's a link to the NHL.com recap; and if you're somehow interested in how the fellows at Broad Street Hockey feel about the win, well, here's this gloating recap from them.
I have plenty written after the jump. If you need a synopsis, here it is: the Devils players failed, the Devils coaches failed, and like many of the Devils supporters at the Rock, I'm not even angry, just disappointed by how awful this game was to witness.
After witnessing 2008, a similar playoffs failure where the Devils lost to a rival team in 5 games (the Rangers in 2008) where the Devils never had the steely resolve or never-say-die attitude to properly fight back against the Rangers, I'm not even angry at this point, I'm just bewildered and despondent at the deja vu of it all. I can't help but think of the following lyrics from the NoMeansNo song, "The Day Everything Became Nothing:"
The day everything became nothing, you couldn't put your finger on
what had gone wrong. The alleys were still dirty; the garbage still
smelled; there was no panic in the streets; just a lot of grief--in
people's faces, in their eyes--a mixture of horror and total surprise.
This was no apocalypse. No one heard a voice from the sky, there were
no miracles at the 7-Eleven, no one screamed, no one even asked why.
It was just like everything had somehow, quietly died. So let it die!
The song title alone nearly applies to the results of the Devils' horrendous performance tonight.
As much as we, as Devils fans, hate the Flyers and have brand new reasons to hate them (e.g. Captain Honorless Mike Richards, The Actor Dan Carcillo), we must give them credit. They played this series well. Tons of penalties - 37 in total, 32 times shorthanded - aside, the Flyers adjusted to the flow of each game. Their defense was excellent, their penalty killing was generally aggressive without crossing the line which worked magnificently well for them, and due to their defense playing so well, the offense was able to push forward and get the goals they needed, like the laser from Claude Giroux for the Flyers' first insurance goal. Their power play was quite timely - Briere's goal and Giroux's second off a loose puck - exploiting the Devils' holes in their coverage. It's questionable as to whether Brian Boucher was truly tested but it's not up to the goaltender how good the shots are - just that he stops them and he did just that.
If there was such an award for playoff series MVPs, it deserves to go to Chris Pronger. He was a force that the Devils ultimately couldn't figure out. When he stepped on the ice, he rarely made a mistake, he was physical, and most of all, he was totally composed when it came to cleaning up pucks or clearing the zone. The defense as a whole by Philadelphia was great in limiting many of the Devils' 28 shots on net from being quality scoring chances, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. Pronger led the effort with another 28:49 tonight, capping up a brilliant series for him.
This above paragraph does not just apply to Game 5, but the series as a whole. The Flyers earned and deserved this victory, both tonight and in the series, much to my chagrin in typing that.
Going back to the team we support and love, well, they totally earned and deserved this terrible loss. I don't know about you, but I was pumped up for this game. I loved that Ilya Kovalchuk was so bold about tonight's game, among the other quotes. After reading about the jam incident, I figured that if that didn't work - nothing else will.
Well, it didn't happen. Not even close. Maybe Lou needed a harder material, like bricks?
The fault for this game and the series lies entirely with the Devils players and coaches. Even with all of the opportunites the Flyers' seemingly handed the Devils tonight, once again, they couldn't put it together. Once again, the team showed a lack of resolve, guts, and intensity on the ice overall. At times it was worse than that, the Devils showed a lack of brains at times.
In retrospect, I don't know what was the bigger turning point. The moment Danny Briere scored on that backhanded one-timer (or re-directed off his skates, whatever) when he was wide open the slot on Martin Brodeur's flank? A power play goal that put the Flyers up early in the game only to never look back? Or Jamie Langenbrunner tripping a Flyer during the Devils' first power play, one that was gifted to them within the first minute of the game by The Actor, Dan Carcillo? Either way, when both happened, my internal monologue just groaned, "Oh, no, this is going to be ugly."
And it was ugly. I'm sure the big complaint about Jacques Lemaire will be that he changed the lines so much. I feel that was the least of their concerns, especially tonight. Frankly, he and the Devils coaching staff were more than just outcoached. They had no answers for the Flyers' tactics and their own adjustments.
The Flyers forechecked hard early as they had done all series - nothing changed outside of a player dropping back as a "safety valve." Only when the Flyers went up by 3 did they relent. Was the honestly the plan, hope that the Flyers would let up - in the playoffs?
The Flyers' kept the Devils offense largely on the perimeter tonight, as they had done in 3 out of the 4 previous games. Where were the adjustments to get space in the slot and in the circles?
When the Flyers' penalty killers are rushing up on the Devils puck carrier for the umpteenth time, at what point where you planning on thinking telling the power play to set up differently? In fact, if the team isn't able to set up good shots at close range, then why wasn't a change should have been suggested for one of the eight power plays the Devils had tonight?
Given how this was a must-win and how absolutely flat and incredibly stupid the Devils played in the first period - a real big feat given how the crowd was roaring early - where was the motivation to be provided in subsequent periods? I'm not just talking about Mr. Lemaire, here. These are all questions applicable to Mario Tremblay, Scott Stevens, and Tommy Albelin. All of this happened in Game 5, but they were also issues in Games 3 and 4.
So that takes care of the coaches. Let's look at the players. We cannot honestly look at this game without finding fault with the players.
Once again, in Game 5, the refs were calling a tight game right from the very first minute, the Devils players combined for 9 penalties and giving 6 power plays for the Flyers. That's on the players, not the coach.
Once again, the Devils attempted 55 shots and only 28 actually hit Brian Boucher. Some of these were very good shots; but a lot of them weren't. 15 were blocked and 12 missed the net. Most of those blocks and misses were just dumb, where a Flyer would drop down to the ice or move towards the puckcarrier, and the puck carrier decides to shoot anyway. As if he could get lucky. I almost want to say that's not even shooting, it's just throwing crap at a wall and hoping it sticks. Regardless, shooting efficiency is on the players, not the coach.
Once again, the Devils couldn't muster enough to challenge Boucher much at even strength with 16 shots on net. 12 power play shots isn't bad on it's own. But again, were they largely challenging? No. That's largely on the players, not the coach.
Once again, the Devils' inconsistent offense led to the Devils' defense getting caught in some situations where Brodeur either had to make a stop or a defenseman had to make an important intervention. They were more exposed on the PK and I'm almost willing to say that the defense wasn't all that bad tonight. But given the final result and the finality of the result, I really can't credit the Devils with a positive.
Once again, I can count the number of Devils forwards who gave a semblance of a care tonight on one hand: Dainius Zubrus, Ilya Kovalchuk (say what you want, but he got 7 shots on net - that's not nothing), and Rod Pelley (who threw hits tonight). As much as we can discuss how a coach is supposed to fire up the team and how the captain is supposed to fire up the team, motivation ultimately comes from within. Did the Devils look like a team leaving it all out on the ice? Absolutely not. That's on the players. Partially on the coach, but mostly on the players.
Once again, the Rock was, well, rocking, with all kinds of chants and support and an awesome sign about how Carcillo dives like Christano Ronaldo. Most of the players felt that energy and did nothing with it in the first period. They weren't just out of sync, they were just making stupid decisions at times with passes, dumps, defensive positioning, shooting, and so forth. Forget just a lack of heart and soul, but brains! The Flyers sometimes took advantage of that, but if you can't get energized in a must-win game in your own building, that's totally on the players themselves.
As an aside, yes, the Devils fans got a lot quieter during the second period. Yes, many left during the third period. Yes, the hundreds of Flyers fans became more audible. All totally understandable given the garbage effort the home team put out tonight. Sure, some were angry after the loss but I'd say the majority was a mixture of frustration and disappointment for those who stayed until the bitter end at the Rock as well as those on the train coming home. Not surprise. Not shocked. Just dejection. Such was how bad the Devils did in Game 5 and in the series as a whole.
Once again, Martin Brodeur gets to shoulder criticism from the media and ignoramuses alike for allowing three goals tonight when not only he got zero goal support but you could count the Devils who just stood around as Briere scored his goal and Giroux potted in his easy second goal. Picking up an open player isn't a coaching issue, that's on the player at hand. When the Flyers did score, there was no sense of the Devils wanting to rise to the challenge. No indication that they want to respond by scoring themselves. That's just sad. Letting down the goaltender in this sense - a goaltender who's done his part in this series, this season, and quite frankly, his whole career - that's on the players.
I must stress, yes, the coaches do deserve blame for tonight and this playoff loss. But so do the players - do not forget how they faltered as well.
I have to call out the captain for tonight's game. Jamie Langenbrunner was more than just invisible. I think his game devolved in front of the horrified and/or frustrated eyes of the Devils faithful in this game alone. His first period featured a penalty that killed his own team's power play upon which the Flyers scored later on; more missed passes; being a step behind his linemates; and generally doing little when on the ice. He managed 3 shots on net in total but they were so nondescript that they might as well have been footnotes. In addition to stripping him of the "C," his future as a top 6 forward should be in serious doubt.
Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias didn't have the big games they needed to; so ultimately the efforts of Zubrus and Kovalchuk were wasted. When a Devil finally had a big open shot on Boucher, Boucher came up with the save - except for Briere's stick robbing Zajac of what would have been a big goal. The bottom two lines saw some hits and some flashes of good work (David Clarkson contributed one great shot in the slot on the power play but that's all), but mostly had yet a nondescript night. Just as they have had all series.
I don't want to use this recap to talk about what the Devils should do now or what needs to be changed. Thanks to the collectively rubbish performance by New Jersey tonight, there's a lot of time to discuss it. Besides, making arguments about crucial decisions going forward isn't best done after a horrible game. While I'm disappointed by the loss, I'm only really surprised that it ended this poorly. Talk without action really is meaningless, and the Devils succeeded in proving that tonight.
We saw that like the Devils from 1997 through 1999 and from 2008 through 2010, they know what it takes to succeed in the regular season despite a lot of factors working against them. Yet, in the playoffs against a team they struggled against during the regular season, they never got their heads where they needed to be and the bad hockey decisions just flowed on down. And such 2009-10 ended not even with a whimper but with a quiet death. The Devils let it die.
That's the reality. That's embarrassing. That's failure.
Thanks for reading, thanks to the commenters in the GameThread, thanks to the people who've seen this site recently and since the beginning, and big thanks to Space Weed for moderating tonight's GameThread. I've included the highlight video from NHL.com in case you want to be reminded of this game somehow below.
Please leave your thoughts about tonight's game and the first round as a whole in the comments. Again, the game. Not "The Devils need to fire/hire/sign/trade/etc." whatever. Game. Everyone will get a chance to discuss the future in the, er, future. The sun will, indeed, rise again. In terms of what to expect in the near future, you'll see an April in Review and we'll go from there in terms of content.