The New Jersey Devils started off on the wrong foot in Sunrise. Their response was tepid at best and they were dug in a deeper hole by the end of the second period. The Devils were energized by two quick goals in the third period and several strong offensive shifts. Alas, the Florida Panthers held on to their lead and tacked on empty net goal to win Game 2 by a 4-2 score. The series is now tied at one game. The headline really sums up the Devils' performance: the great work in the third period couldn't make up for the poor play in the first two periods.
The first period wasn't awful, but it wasn't good either. The Devils had a disastrous first minute where Andy Greene tripped Marcel Goc 11 seconds into the game. On the resulting power play, a rebound just went right to an open Stephen Weiss for the easy put-back just 12 seconds later. The Devils settled down but the game was just a slog for both sides. The Devils out-shot the Panthers 4-3 (and in posts 1-0). Part of it was blocks and misses, but both teams just did a lot of work for little gain. It was like the third period of Game 1 but with less offense. It ended with the Devils getting two minor penalties on one shift leading to a full 5-on-3 for Florida for two minutes.
Down two men, the Devils tried to kill it off early. Alas, another bounce - this time off Goc's body - sent a puck into space and Weiss had another easy shot to score on. Down 2-0, the Devils decided to respond by being as ineffective as possible. They got a power play of their own and did nothing with it. They struggled to get passes into Florida's end both at 5-on-4 and 5-on-5. Credit Florida for making life difficult for the forwards. It wasn't just the Zajac line who struggled; but the Elias and Henrique lines were simply non-factors. Eventually, Goc gets a screen in front on the attack, he fires a shot, and Brodeur mishandles it to make it 3-0. The second period ended with only 12 shots for the Devils and they looked like they needed a miracle just to get a goal, much less back in the game.
Perhaps the word "miracle" was too strong? Perhaps it was a miracle? The only major change Peter DeBoer made after the second period, outside of one heck of a pep talk, was switching Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique. The move immediately paid off. Zajac got down low and hammered a shot through Jose Theodore to get the Devils on the board. A little more than a minute later, some offensive pressure leads Henrique to see Kovalchuk crashing the net. Henrique fires it his way and Kovalchuk re-directs it to make it 3-2. Down a goal with a little under 18 minutes left to play, many Devils fans started to believe an equalizer would come.
The Devils did have several shifts where they just pinned the Panthers back. It certainly felt like a goal was imminent on a few occasions. All they needed was one bounce, one deflection, one clear chance at the puck among the fracas down low, or something. They worked to get it; the Devils definitely put in the effort. Florida didn't just sit back, they put up 9 shots on Brodeur after all; but it was the Devils that were doing more with the puck. In fact, they put up as many shots in the third period alone as they did in the first two. Alas, it just didn't happen. Chances at the net went astray. Pucks would bounce over sticks. The Panthers had more than their share of blocks going their way. It seemed like that's what bailed them out in addition to some unfortunate misses by the Devils. With 7 seconds left and Brodeur pulled, the Devils won an offensive zone faceoff. Kovalchuk fired a very hard shot right off the loose puck. Only it was blocked out, Tomas Fleischmann retrieved it, and he skated it down to stash in a late empty net goal to make it a 4-2 loss. A valiant comeback effort in the third was not rewarded with the equalizer.
In retrospect, it may be for the best that it wasn't. I know the playoffs are a "win by any means necessary" situation and I largely agree with it. At the same time, this loss sends the message that the Devils cannot just show up for one period on offense and expect that it's enough to win. I thought they were fine in the third period in Game 1, but the offense really came about (and in a big, unrepeatable way) in the first period. Tonight, it was only in the third period. As exciting it was to see it all happen and as comforting to know that the Devils can make good adjustments against Florida, it was a classic case of too little, too late.
Now the series is at 1-1. Florida's in the series, and I'm sure they're pumped up by it. They should be, it's the franchise's first playoff win since 1997. But they don't have the home ice advantage in the whole series now and they won't have it for the next two games. Should the Devils put together a more complete effort on offense than just one period in those next two games, they could be fine going forward. That requires realizing that tonight's effort wasn't enough.
For the opposition's point of view, please check out Ryan Meier's recap over at Litter Box Cats. For more of my thoughts on tonight's loss, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Video: If you missed the game or if you want to see the goals and big saves again, here's tonight's highlight video from NHL.com:
They Struck on the PP, Not ES: Tonight, the Weiss line was more active. Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss scored three of Florida's four goals, Kris Versteeg had four shots on net, and his linemates had two shots each. Yet, I don't think they really had that good of a game. Allow me to explain.
Fleischmann's goal was an empty net goal in the dying seconds of the game. Outside of that, he had one other shot on net and it was on a power play. Second, Weiss' shots both ended up in the net but they were simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time. The Devils didn't forget about him; they just didn't have enough guys on the ice to cover him. The puck bounces to where he was on the ice twice and so Brodeur had little chance on each shot. Outside of that, Weiss wasn't doing much of anything. Versteeg was more active but Brodeur stopped all of his shots.
Most of all, this line got wrecked by the Devils' top line in terms of attempts. It didn't really happen early on, but Kevin Dineen's decision to go power-for-power just failed in the third. All three members of the Weiss line got pounded down to a Corsi value of -15 each. They were just unable to get much going. In retrospect, I'm surprised Dineen went with them when the Devils pulled Brodeur for a desperate attempt for an equalizer. Why put out the one line who's been beaten on defense more than the rest? Of course, one block bounced the puck to a favorable spot for an easy score by one of the members - for the third time all game.
The bounces aren't likely to repeat. If the Devils can continue to keep a lid on them further, then that helps their cause overall in this series.
I Repeat - The Bounces Aren't Likely to Repeat Again: This is why I wouldn't worry about the penalty kill despite two power play goals by Florida. There was no breakdown in coverage or a bad play made. The puck just bounced twice to a spot no one could cover. It happens.
Three Real Calls & One Kind of Weak Call: If you want to point fingers about the two power play goals allowed, then why not point at the penalties themselves? Greene tripping Goc was really silly and the team paid the price for it. Greene would go on to have a good game, but that early error was costly. Ryan Carter hooking Mike Weaver wasn't much but it was right in front of a ref and it was right after a Steve Bernier breakaway was denied. That was just silly.
Then there's the two separate minor penalties on one shift. Alexei Ponikarovsky definitely clipped Erik Gudbranson high with his stick. I'm not doubting that one. I'm skeptical of the charging call on David Clarkson shortly after Ponikarovsky high-sticked him. Clarkson was adjudged to leave his feet on his check. The replay showed that he did a little bit, but it's no different from a lot of other checks thrown in the NHL. Alex Ovechkin does that little jump on almost every other check he throws. It was a ticky-tack call made from behind and it put the Devils in a bad situation. And Florida, to their credit, capitalized on it with another favorable bounce. Of course, it wouldn't have been a 5-on-3 if Ponikarovsky wasn't controlled his own stick better. It's that and the other two calls that the Devils need to avoid in the future. The weak ones, well, that's on the refereeing.
The Goc Goal Hurt: It did turn out to be the game winner and it wasn't a good goal at all to give up by Brodeur. It didn't help that Goc was able to move as he wanted down in the left corner. Zajac could have done a better job at engaging him. It also didn't help that Anton Volchenkov and Mikael Samuelsson - who was behind Volchenkov - were in the way of the shot. Still, Brodeur unwisely got a little bit away from the post and he did get some of the puck. When you get some of the puck, it usually means you should have had all of it and Brodeur didn't. It dropped into the goal and so it was 3-0 Florida. That was a soft goal and, unfortunately, it stands as the game winner.
This isn't to say Brodeur had a bad game. There was nothing he could have done on either goal by Weiss. He was more than fine in denying Versteeg and one excellent chance by former Flyer and sometimes diver Scottie Upshall. Still, the Goc goal hurt and I have to say that.
Split Them Up, Someone Says: Zach Parise was the only Devil to have more than one shot on net in the first two periods with 3. Ilya Kovalchuk hit a post had one shot and not much more. Usually when they're not doing well, the calls for splitting them up rekindle. The third period further proved why they aren't. They were mauling their match-ups at evens in the third period. Parise got three more shots of his own, leading him to six out of ten attempts. Kovalchuk went from only three or so attempts to ten (still only two shots on net). They jumped to +13 and +15 in Corsi, respectively. They even each had a scoring opportunity in front of the net late in the third that they wish they had back. Still, the duo proved yet again why DeBoer keeps them together and I hope it leads to more offense more often in the coming games.
The real question will be whether it'll be with Henrique, whom helped them energize the offense in the third period, or Zajac, who's been with them more recently and can win faceoffs. (Note: He went 13-for-17. Rest of Devils: 11-for-36).
Wait, He Played Tonight?: Patrik Elias had a really good game in Game 1. Did he play in this game? His lack of noticeable contributions helped the Goc line perform as Florida's best line at evens tonight.
Zone Entry Remains An Issue: At even strength, the Devils struggled to get into Florida's end of the rink and get something together on offense. This continued in the second period; but the Devils thankfully were able to get through the neutral zone and get into Florida's end with possession in the third period.
On the power play, however, the Devils were just terrible at keeping the puck when trying to head over the blueline. First passes were blocked, pucks were lost in traffic, and the Panthers had easy chances to clear. In fact, they could have had a few shorthanded opportunities if they were bolder about it. Even so, the Florida faithful should be pleased with how their PK did tonight. They frustrated the Devils and held them to one little shot on net on their two power plays. The frustration further mounts given that the first was while it was 1-0 Florida and the second was when it was 2-0 Florida. They were during times where the Devils should have been playing like they were down a score or two and instead just squandered a situation that could have helped them get back into the game earlier. The Panthers may have gotten away with a call or two in the third period, but I'm glad there was no call as it would have meant the Devils power play would have to appear late.
Should the Devils want to improve their overall performance in games, then they need to work on getting set up with a man advantage. They need to be able to get into the other team's end while maintaining possession. Only then can they get shots on net. Only then can they be a threat to possibly score - and actually score. The Devils have one extra skater on a power play by definition; but there were times tonight where it was like the Devils forgot that obvious fact. This facet of the game needs to improve and fast.
One Final Thought: The Panthers should be getting more respect than I think they actually are getting. They held the line defensively against the Devils and they cashed in on some glorious opportunities. They made Game 1 an actual game despite a terrible first period; and they held on to win Game 2 after a rough start to the third period tonight. The Goc line has been causing some problems, and their third line is about even with the Devils' thirds. Their top four on defense has been mostly solid and they did a good job collapsing around their crease, particularly in the third period tonight. They definitely kept the Devils in check for the first forty minutes tonight. Jose Theodore hasn't been too bad either. Forget the regular season record, forget the goal differential, forget that 26-shot first period against Florida in Game 1 (the Panthers definitely aren't coming out that badly again in this series), and forget the stigma that comes from being based out of Florida. The Panthers have shown in two playoff games that they can be difficult to play against. Now that the series is tied, hopefully more people can recognize the reality instead of the perception. The Devils players know it all too well. If they didn't after Game 1, they better now.
That's my take on tonight's game, now I want to know yours. Why do you think the Devils struggled so much to get their offense going in the first two periods? Why do you think they came out so strong in the third period? How much did you believe they were going to get that equalizer? What would you want the Devils to do to start the game better? What would you want the Devils to do on the power play to get into the other team's end more often? Will the Devils get it together in Game 3? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's 4-2 loss in the comments. Thanks to those who followed along in the gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.