Travis Zajac scored! Zach Parise and Steve Bernier scored earlier! Ilya Kovalchuk scored later! Martin Brodeur stopped all 26 shots! It's on! (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils needed to win Game 4 to keep a reasonable amount of hope alive in this series against the Florida Panthers. The Panthers took Game 3 in a heartbreaking way and the Devils' response to the four straight goals by Florida was not enough. They didn't just need a win to tie up the series, they needed to win to get their confidence back. I needed to see a win to feel confident about this team again. Tonight, the Devils won by the definitive score of 4-0 over the Panthers.
With this win, the series is now tied at two games apiece. It is now a best-of-three series. Game 5 will be played on Saturday in Sunrise. There will be a Game 6 back at the Rock. There could be a Game 7. Winning three straight games to come from a 3-1 deficit in games is very difficult. Winning two out of three isn't as difficult. It's not ideal, but it's the better scenario. Therefore, tonight was a Big Game at the Rock. Tonight, the Devils won a Big Game by a 4-0 score to secure the better scenario.
The Devils didn't really dominate the Panthers as the score may indicate. The shot count was 27-26 in favor of New Jersey. That suggests an even game played. At even strength, the shots were 19-18 New Jersey, so it wasn't like the Devils just blew away the Panthers and slammed four goals through Scott Clemmensen along with the proverbial storm. The Devils did have the advantage in shooting attempts with a +8 Corsi and a +3 Fenwick. While that's good considering the Devils were leading; it means they also annoying had a few blocks which suggests it wasn't all that. We can say the Devils were the better team, but they didn't steamroll the Panthers for 60 minutes.
What really helped make the difference in this game were special teams. The Devils went two for four on their power play. Zach Parise opened up the game's scoring when he re-directed a Travis Zajac-deflected shot originally taken by Marek Zidlicky right in front of the net. The Devils tacked on an insurance goal when Ilya Kovalchuk teed up a wrist shot that sailed over Clemmensen's should and into the net. Given the other games in this playoff series, three goals leads haven't exactly been safe so it was a relief to see the Devils get #4. On the other end, the Devils killed off all six of Florida's power plays. OK, one of them was right at the end of the game and a few of a Devils' minors were a bit silly (e.g. David Clarkson's "charge"). Nevertheless, the PK units were out in full force. They got most of their clearances out of their zone, Florida wasn't as lucky, and Martin Brodeur made some nice stops. After getting lit up in the first three games, it was fantastic to see the Devils' PK perform and succeed as they did all season long. It also ensured that Florida would stay out of the game.
Of course, I cannot say enough about how well Martin Brodeur was in net tonight. He made the easy stops. He made the tough stops. He made the flashy stops with his glove. He made the post-to-post stops to rob Florida of an easy look. He even had some luck when Florida tried some shots at odd angles to see if they could get a bounce. Brodeur got them all. He didn't get too cute with the puck. If there was pressure coming, then he'd freeze it instead of keeping play alive. If he could stickhandle it, then he was able to get the puck to his teammates or spaces where he wouldn't be in danger. Brodeur's performance was worth a A+ grade tonight and he fully earned this shutout. He also fully earned the right to continue to be the Devils' starter. One more thing: this victory is his 24th playoff shutout. Brodeur now has more playoff shutouts than Patrick Roy. To quote Fulham goal scoring machine Clint Dempsey, that's what's up.
The first period was even, with stretches of both teams working to accomplish something but not to actually succeed. The second period was filled with both teams making errors and the other team following it up with errors. Parise's power play goal did give them an edge. In retrospect, that the Devils didn't rack up the goals immediately may be a good thing. It was good to have a lead but it didn't give them the feeling that the game was in the bag like, say, a 3-0 lead would provide. In the third period, the Devils kept playing their game and were rewarded early. Steve Bernier scored on a wonder-shot that hit the back cross-bar in the net to make it 2-0. A little over a minute later, David Clarkson threaded a backhand pass that Travis Zajac piledriven into the back of the net. Later still, Kovalchuk got his power play goal to make it 4-0 and the Devils just kept rolling on. Florida never stormed forward, they were the ones getting frustrated, chippy, and frustrated again. The Panthers knew they had a chance to take a decisive lead in this series; but they ended up on the wrong end of a decisive loss. The Devils tied up the series, turned into a best-of-three, and sent a message to Florida:
For the opposition's point of view, please check out Ryan Meier's recap at Litter Box Cats. For a few more thoughts on tonight's game 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 Game Highlights: Check out this highlight video from NHL.com to see all four goals by the Devils and several cool saves by Martin Brodeur:
Marty's Better: Brodeur was far and away the best player on the ice tonight. He was also the most beloved. The fans at the Rock were loud and proud about the goaltender tonight. They applauded his saves, they chanted "Mar-ty" for the big stops (even the big screen joined in), and there was just a lot of love for #30 in Newark. He deserved it all tonight. He was simply sensational.
Balance in Production: Going into tonight's game, fans wanted various skaters to do more on the ice. I can speak for myself: I wanted more out of Ilya Kovalchuk, I wanted more out of the third line, and I just wanted more offense in general. 27 shots on net isn't exactly a lot; but what's interesting was that the shots came from the various players. I felt Kovalchuk was deferring too much, attempting difficult passes instead of trying to shoot. Now that I have the event summary in front of me, I see he led the Devils with four shots on net and six attempts. More interestingly than that, there were five other Devils who had three shots on net. They were: Parise out of five attempts, Zidlicky out of five attempts, Clarkson out of five attempts, Patrik Elias out of four attempts, and Bernier out of three attempts. Yes, Steve Bernier went three-for-three on shooting attempts in addition to firing a perfect shot over Clemmensen in the third period.
The only forwards who didn't get a shot on net tonight were Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta, who received a perfect pass in a 2-on-1 in the second and put a shot wide on a mostly empty net. Mostly everyone did something to contribute and that was good to see instead of one player or one line carry the offense. The goals came from the first line, albeit two came on power plays (which were mostly good except for the second one) and a "golazo" from the fourth line. But the shots that keep a team going forward came from all over.
Balance in Possession: A quick look at the Corsi charts show that only the fourth line and Zidlicky ended up negative in net shooting attempts. It wasn't by much, no more than -3. It also means everyone else was a net positive, which is good to see going forward. While no one line or player was a possession dynamo out there (though, Peter Harrold's +7 stands out), no one was really stinking it up.
The third line did come out ahead for a change; the top two lines did their job against Florida's top two lines; and the defense was mostly good. Only the fourth line didn't win their match-up, but I have no real complaints since they didn't get pinned back too much. They generated actual energy with three shots, a missed scoring opportunity, and a goal. Imagine if the Devils had Gionta, Bernier, and Carter as their fourth line all season. As far as Zidlicky's -2, he did the team in even strength ice time at 18:31 and did against Florida's best line at evens in this series: the Goc line. With that into account, that's not bad at all.
Mostly Balance in Minutes: Since a significant portion of this game was at special teams, the ice time for several players was influenced by the situation at hand. Peter DeBoer did a very good job with those situations as to not heavily lean on anyone. The leading forward in ice time was Kovalchuk. That's not a surprise. The surprise is that he only played 21:51, which is lower than usual for the winger. The team leader in ice time tonight was Bryce Salvador at 25:33 and he was the only Devil we could say that put in a heavy workload. He also did really well in his own end while picking up two assists. Salvador had a very good game and when things go so well, the extra minutes don't matter so much. Still, the rest of the defensemen were kept at more reasonable ranges; Salvador's usual partner of Zidlicky wasn't asked to play as much - and didn't need to tonight. This utilization, I think, is a positive as it should lessen some fatigue as the series goes on.
He Wasn't Terrible!: Anton Volchenkov has been miserable in the first three games of this series and it's hurt the team. It has been so bad, I focused a post all about him and his fall in New Jersey after Game 3. Tonight, Volchenkov wasn't so miserable. Oh, he had some bad moments. He had a heinous giveaway in the second period that somehow wasn't counted by the scorer and somehow didn't lead to anything dangerous. His positioning wasn't perfect and was caught away from where he was a few times. He also took a penalty in the third period, which is usually not good.
However, he was solid overall on the penalty kill and ended up a +5 in Corsi against Florida's fourth line. The former is particularly heartening since he played about five minutes shorthanded tonight. That's an improvement over Game 3. He still has some ways to go to get back to the level he should be playing at, though. After all, Volchenkov only got 11:01 tonight at evens. He's got to earn the coaches' trust back. Nevertheless, I can say Volchenkov wasn't terrible tonight.
Unweiss Play: Florida's line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, and Kris Versteeg have been a point of concern among Devils fans going into this series. Versteeg scored several goals against New Jersey, Weiss set most of them up, and the trio just did as they wished against the Devils. The playoffs have been another story. Tonight, they were limited yet again. Weiss, Fleischmann, and Versteeg struggled against Andy Greene and Mark Fayne yet again. Kevin Dineen didn't stick with a particular match-up for them. Rather, DeBoer just threw out anyone against them and the Devils usually did OK as all three players were negative in Corsi. Fleischmann had two shots on net in the first period and nothing else, Versteeg only had one shot on net in the second period, and Weiss had one shot on net and two penalties, with the second one abruptly ending a Florida power play while down 4-0. If nothing else, the Devils have to be commended for keeping these three at bay since it looked like they were the main threats.
Missing One Defenseman with a Low, Heavy Shot: Jason Garrison was a late scratch for Florida tonight. As per George Richards of the Miami Herald, he has the dreaded "undisclosed lower body injury." I think his absence hurt the Panthers a lot. While they're not lacking offensive-minded defensemen, Garrison looked to be most missed during Florida's power plays. Instead of having him bomb away from the point, the Panthers seemed to pass it around the perimeter more. I'm not saying it's the big reason why their power play stopped being hot and successful, I'm saying it hurt to a degree. Not having him on defense to make stops and play 20 or so minutes also hurt. Since it hurt Florida, it helped New Jersey. It also didn't help that his replacement, Keaton Ellerby, got hurt during the game and left in the second period per Richards' post.
Short of Garrison having something serious, I think he'll be back in Game 5 and probably help the Panthers' attack be that more dangerous - at least from distance.
About Leads: I really like how the Devils kept battling for pucks and didn't just eat up clock when they had a lead. I would have liked to have seen more attempts on net and more shots overall; but I must say, I really like how the Devils played with a lead tonight. That's what they need to do when they're up by more than just one or two goals: keep working along the boards, keep looking for shooting opportunities, and keep up the pressure.
About Discipline: I can't say I like that the Devils took nine penalties tonight. Granted, three were right at the end of the game for stupid beef. And Florida did have one of their power plays undercut by Weiss' second call of the night. Not to mention that the penalty for Alexei Ponikarovsky's late and unnecessary hit on Jerred Smithson was wiped out because Smithson decided to crash into Ponikarovsky from behind in retalitation, in open ice, and behind the play. Still: the Devils took their share of avoidable calls. In prior games, this burned them. Tonight, the PK, Brodeur, and some good fortune bailed them out. Even so, the Panthers had some their best offensive plays while up a man tonight. I still think the Devils need to be more mindful of how they use their sticks and bodies going forward. I doubt everything will go so swell for the Devils.
Happy for #19: It was very good to see Parise hustle his socks off, get at least one shot on net in each period, score a power play goal, and draw Weiss' second penalty. It was good to see Kovalchuk get shots on net, score a sweet power play goal, make a diving defensive play on a PK in the third period, and draw Weiss' first penalty by going hard to the net. However, I left the Rock feeling the happiest for Travis Zajac. Zajac wasn't so good on draws tonight by going 4-for-9 (Aside: Elias was the best at 13-for-21). He also had an awful miss in the first period. Florida gave away the puck right to him just outside of the slot with nobody around him. Zajac aims, fires, and misses the net like he was Brian Rolston. It was a bad attempt, to say the least.
When he got a second chance at an open shot in the middle of the ice in the third period, he made the most of it. Clarkson was excellent on his move to gain entry into the zone, draw the attention of multiple Panthers as he curled around the net, and made a backhand pass to Zajac high in the slot. All of that was very good by Clarkson, but the shot made it memorable. Zajac one-timed it and it was like a laser into the net. It was a powerful goal from a guy who doesn't always get shots on net, much less big ones that end up in the net. Plus, I had full confidence the Devils would take Game 4 after his strike. Yes, the Devils and 3-0 leads haven't been solid in this series; but this was different. It was later in the game, it wasn't because Florida failed on the play or failed to play, and the Devils established how this game would go. Zajac's great goal was an exclamation point, not a question mark - though Kovalchuk's goal ensured it.
I'm Just Saying: Scott Clemmensen didn't give up any soft goals tonight, but he did allow four goals on 27 shots. Anyone want to tell me that the Devils still struggle against backups or Clemmensen in particular?
A Note: It surprised me to learn that Petr Sykora had five attempts on net tonight. This may surprise you. Five is quite a bit, particularly for someone who didn't even play 12 minutes in Game 4. You probably don't remember them since four of them missed the net.
The Crowd: The crowd at the Rock didn't just pour on the love for Marty, but they were encouraging all night long. The announcements from the PA weren't as prolific - I didn't mind them until the end of Game 3 - and the fans did a lot on their own. It also helped that the Devils got some people to play drums in various parts of the arena. It helped make the beats louder and more people got involved. I liked them and I hope to hear them in full in Game 6. In any case, the crowd was hot and it made the 4-0 win even more fun. Sure, any crowd is going to be more electrified with a big lead; but they were already bringing the noise even when it was 0-0. If the organization wanted a sold out crowd bringing atmosphere, then they got it tonight.
Also, someone remind me to find the Devils' pre-game video and put it in a FanShot because it is simply an excellent video. The use of highlights, the Warriors-esque score, and the General George S. Patton quotes mixed in was just sublime. If you haven't seen it, then I'll try to find it so you can.
One Final Thought: It's on. That means I need to be Captain Bringdown and state that as decisive and fun and lovely the 4-0 win was tonight, it's just one single win. The Devils should be confident and pleased, but they can't get too confident and pleased when they go back to Sunrise. Even in this game, Florida just about matched them shot for shot at evens and overall. The Florida power play must still be treated with caution; the Marcel Goc line can still do damage should the Weiss line continue to be cold; and the Panthers' defense has battled hard with the Devils' offense to make things difficult for them. The Devils need to keep putting in good team efforts just like they did tonight. They may not win 4-0, but the score doesn't matter as long as they win. It's now a best-of-three series, so the margin for error is small. However, that also applies to Florida, who needs to keep up what their doing to keep it close and hope special teams carry them to victory. It's on.
That's my take on tonight's game. Now it's your turn and as usual, here's a list of questions you can answer: What do you make of the Devils' big win in Game 4? Would you agree that the Devils won a Big Game at the Rock? Would you agree that it was a decisive, but not dominating win over Florida? Who on the Devils impressed you the most? Who on the Devils disappointed you with their performance tonight? How did you react when Bernier fired a perfect shot past Clemmensen in the third? How did you react at the other goals? What do you think of Martin Brodeur now? Do you think the Devils can win a best-of-three series with Florida coming off this win? Please leave your answers to any of these as well as other comments about tonight's 4-0 win over Florida.
Thanks to those who followed and commented in the Gamethread as well as those who follow along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. I'm sorry for not commenting and tweeting as much as normal but I had a battery to conserve, a connection that wasn't good, and way too much fun cheering on the Devils to provide anything resembling insight. Thanks to Darren (I think it was Darren, if not, I'm sorry) and Chris for saying hello at the game; and thank you for reading.