Players on the New Jersey Devils said they recognized the importance of Game 5. Players on the New Jersey Devils said they were ready for Game 5. And they weren't nobodies or anonymous players. Those players were captain Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, two key forwards for the Devils. Given that Parise is the captain, if he's describing the team's mood, then it's likely to be true. In Game 5, we learned once again that talk was cheap. The Devils were second rate to the Florida Panthers and lost 3-0. Those players were proven wrong - by themselves.
With this loss, the Devils are now on the brink of elimination from the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were the favorites going into the series. They were arguably a better in the regular season. They went into the postseason hot with six straight wins. All of that means nothing now. If you honestly thought this would be an easy series, then I don't think you were paying attention to any of these games. Even in the 4-0 win in Game 4, Florida kept it tight until the goals came fast in the third period. Spare me the criticisms about Florida, both real and in perception, because they're getting the job done. This is a results-oriented tournament and they're getting them. They absolutely deserve to be up in this series 3-2 given what happened tonight.
The Devils simply didn't want this game. After a first period that resembled the first period in Game 4, the series-old issue of discipline came up again. Marek Zidlicky interfered with Sean Bergenheim, and Florida converted on the resulting power play on a one-timer from Kris Versteeg. The Devils responded with very little and then another penalty happened. Parise held Dmitry Kulikov in battling for a puck on offense. The Devils killed that but it's two minutes off the clock for an equalizer. Minutes later, Dainius Zubrus high-sticked Erik Gudbranson in the offensive zone and the stick drew blood. Zubrus sat for four minutes and the Devils killed that off - which was impressive, but still more time off the clock. Late in the period, Marco Sturm got whistled for holding, giving the Devils a late power play. That man advantage was squandered not just with poor puck movement but also by a high stick from Adam Henrique on Scottie Upshall. Florida would hold steady at 4-on-4 and begin the third period with a lead, the edge in shots and possession, and a power play.
The Devils would kill that off and then get right back to work at not doing enough on offense. They would get into Florida's zone consistently, but keeping the puck in their end was a challenge. The Devils sustained little offensive pressure; most of their 30 total shots on net were one-and-done. As the game went on, Jose Theodore saw some more rubber (it took the Devils long enough) and the Zajac line actually had a strong offensive shift. And then we see Shawn Mattias softly dump the puck into New Jersey's end which kept Martin Brodeur out of his net. As the puck got to Brodeur, Versteeg knocks the puck away and Scottie Upshall took the loose puck and put it into the empty net. Brodeur made all kinds of great saves but that error was simply terrible. Up 2-0, Florida kept doing what they've been doing all game with respect to pressure on the Devils' puck carrier and their frustration mounted. While the Devils got a late power play, Tomas Kopecky iced the game when he blocked an attempt from Ilya Kovalchuk, raced down the ice with the puck, and got hooked by Kovalchuk. Since the net was empty, the goal was automatic. If reading all that sounded disappointing, then you got the spirit of the thing. The Devils were simply a disappointment tonight.
There's a lot of anger among the fans as well they should be. The Devils were only down 1-0 for a significant part of this game and couldn't get their offense in order. They got 30 shots on net, but again, there wasn't a lot of sustained offense. On the other hand, Florida got 32, the Devils' Fenwick was -7 and Corsi was -1, and it wouldn't surprise me if Florida earned more chances than New Jersey. The Devils knew the Florida power play would be a serious threat and yet they handed them six power plays. Sure, they killed five of them; but even with a 5-for-6 success, that's 9:40 without being able to attack properly. The Devils not only knew the importance of this game, they said it to the media. On the ice, they told a different story. As Zach Parise somberly said in this post-game video from MSG, they didn't compete. He wa right, the Devils didn't compete in a pivotal Game 5 in the playoffs. They stunk. The anger is justified.
I can understand if you believe this season is now over. I can't say I blame you for thinking that. As for me, I'd like to hold onto what little hope remains. It's bleak, but it's not technically over for New Jersey. With performances like tonight's, it will be soon.
For a happier take, you can only get one from a Panthers fan or someone who didn't watch this game. Chris S Roberts at Litter Box Cats is in that first category and he has a recap here. For more thoughts and more effort than most of the team tonight, 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: This video from NHL.com is really a lowlight video for Devils fans except for some pretty big saves by Brodeur:
The Even Strength Shift: While the Panthers got six power plays and converted on one of them, they didn't blow the Devils away there. No, they were limited to six shots on net in all of 9:40. The Devils PK was excellent from the second kill onward, though they did allow a two-on-one near the end of the Zubrus double-minor. Thankfully, Brodeur bailed them out with a big save on Tomas Fleischmann. Anyway: the Panthers did their damage at even strength for the first time all series.
The Panthers not only was better in Fenwick and Corsi at the team level, but most of their players were positive. This doesn't include the Stephen Weiss line, who got wrecked again at evens. However, the Devils had no answer for Marcel Goc and Sean Bergenheim. Each were a +10, and Bergenheim was particularly beast-like with seven shots on goal. Brodeur had to come up with a big stop on a few of them, including his first shot where Bergenheim was essentially one-on-one with the goalie. It's the first highlight in this video and it's a good way to get into the mindset of how this game went for New Jersey.
Tomas Kopecky also had a big night at evens. He was a +11 in Corsi, he attempted five shots only to get one on net, and he got credited with an automatic empty net (and shorthanded) goal at the end of the game. OK, he wasn't at all like Bergenheim, but good things kept happening when he was out on the ice against the various Devils he played against. John Madden and Marco Sturm were positive, but Kopecky just took it to another level.
This is rather bad news going into the upcoming must-win game. All series long, the Devils were the superior team at 5-on-5 and Florida either stayed in games or got help to win them with special teams. Tonight, the Panthers got one goal from their power play, another at 5-on-5, and overall had the better offense in 5-on-5 situations. If this continues in Game 6, then the Devils are in big trouble.
I Guess I Got What I Wanted, Except I Really Didn't: I wanted more offense out of the Devils and technically I got it with 30 shots on net. That's more than the 27 in Game 4 and some of the shot takers included players who weren't really taking enough of them, like Henrique and Clarkson getting four on Theodore and Petr Sykora only missing one shot and putting three others on net.
However, the Devils accomplished this in a rather innocent fashion. They had some good rushes into Florida's end and Theodore was forced to make somewhat difficult stops on a few of them. The problem was that the Devils struggled to keep the puck in Florida's end once they got in. They would get one shot, Florida would get the bounce, the rebound, or a block needed to win the puck, and then get it out of their end. Worse, the Panthers responded with offense of their own. Like the Devils, they didn't pin back the defense too much; but they definitely made their mark with 32 total shots (31 on Brodeur). I will be clearer for Game 6: I want more sustained offense by the Devils and some goals. Obviously, Theodore did quite well in net; but the Devils needed to throw the kitchen sink at him a lot sooner than they did.
If You Can Play, Then You Can Play Unless You're a Goalie and the Puck Isn't in a Arbitrarily Designed Four-Sided Shape on the Ice - Then You Can't Play: On the second goal by Florida, I have three main thoughts. First, shame on the NHL Board of Governors for their incredibly stupid trapezoid rule. Because the puck slid slowly along the boards, Brodeur couldn't touch the puck until it got to the trapezoid. That meant he hung out of his net too long and Versteeg was able to meet him at the line. If there was no trapezoid, Brodeur would be able to use his stickhandling skills to clear the puck away. Instead, Brodeur was hung out there and it cost him a goal tonight. Unless I'm mistaken, this may have been the first time it has since the idiotic rule came into effect.
Second, shame on Brodeur for his incredibly stupid decision to come out for the puck. Brodeur is very, very good with the puck and he's very, very good at diffusing the other team on dump-ins. However, he came out expecting the puck to go along the boards hard. When it slowed down, he didn't bail out and get back in his net - he just waited. It allowed Versteeg to stick-check him for the puck, which put the puck into space for Upshall to get an easy goal. Brodeur's error not only dug the Devils in deep with a two goal deficit in the third period, but it also wiped out any good feeling from the Devils. Prior to the dump-in, the line of Travis Zajac, Parise, and Kovalchuk actually had one of the few shifts of sustained offense by the Devils. Kovalchuk came close to scoring right at the crease, the Devils kept things moving, and while they didn't score, it was something they could have built around. Nope. After a night where Brodeur made a lot of tough saves and bailed out his team a few times; this mistake by Brodeur was heinous to sour any opinion on how he did tonight.
Third, now that I said my piece in the first two points, I have to admit that I'm not all that mad about the goal against. As it turned out, the Devils still would have lost the game even if it didn't happen. That's also why I'm not mad about Kovalchuk giving Kopecky an empty net goal. A 1-0 loss may look better than 2-0 or 3-0, but in the playoffs, it really doesn't matter. A loss is a loss no matter what the margin was. Even if Brodeur didn't come out of the net and Upshall never scored that goal, the Devils still loose the game. No goalie can turn a deficit into a win by themselves.
The A-Train Station Complaint Section: I think Anton Volchenkov is still getting beat by Bergenheim as you read this. Peter DeBoer limited him overall, but in match-ups, he saw a bit of everyone for one to three minutes at evens. Volchenkov's low light came on Florida's first power play. First, his stick breaks. An accident - it happens. Parise hands him his stick so Volchenkov can still do things down low. That's fine; Florida was moving the puck around the perimeter. Weiss gets the puck and sees Versteeg on the right side with a wide open passing lane. Volchenkov put himself in a spot where he couldn't possibly get to Versteeg and didn't even attempt to make an effort at blocking the pass even with a stick. Weiss hits Versteeg perfectly and the one-timer beats Brodeur to his right.
Volchenkov did do much better on the PK tonight and while Bergenheim made it seem like a long night for him, he wasn't as putrid as he was in the first three games of this series. Still, it wasn't all good from #28 yet again.
Peter DeBoer and His Demeanor: One of the running themes noticed by some fans in this playoff series is that Peter DeBoer hasn't looked visibly upset or angry at what transpires on the ice. He hasn't been visibly angry or upset off the ice in front of the media. I don't think this is an issue. For one, we have no idea whether or not he is or isn't giving his team a verbal what's-for in the room. For another, it may not be in his personality to do so and expecting him to change who he is because you're not happy is a fool's request. Most of all, a fiery coach who spits out the verbals like Mussolini on the balcony on and off the ice doesn't always get results in the post season either. Just ask any Rangers fan right about now.
Instead, DeBoer should be criticized about whether or not he's getting through to his players. He rightly states that they've given up the puck too much and they've taken too many penalties. We've seen both (on offense for the turnovers) tonight after four games of this. I didn't see many adjustments in tonight's game outside of shifting the lines for a bit and going to six skaters with two minutes left to play. It would have been worth a shot to have the forwards relent on dumping-and-chasing and try to carry the puck into the zone. They've had their best opportunities on offense tonight off the rush. If they're not going to sustain offensive pressure, then they need to get something going some other way. Whatever the gameplan was, it wasn't working as intended.
Scapegoatvalchuk: A common theme from the fans in the run of this game was the demand for Ilya Kovalchuk to do more. I can understand that. He's the team's top shooter, he led the team in scoring, and he has yet to have a breakout game in this series. In a 0-0 or 1-0 game for most of the time, everyone's tense and reasonably wants a top offensive player to be, well, very effective on offense.
I can agree that Kovalchuk could have done more. Anytime you lose a game, more could always be done. I can't say I really agree that Kovalchuk is gassed. He didn't practice yesterday and he played less than his usual amount of ice time in Game 4. No, he doesn't skate as hard as, say, Parise; but that's because he really doesn't have to. I'm not really sure he's injured because I have no real evidence to base it on. It would have been nice if he didn't fire the puck into Kopecky's legs and then foul him for an automatic empty net goal; though, the Devils stood to lose either way. It would have been even better if he (and Zajac) didn't get wrecked in possession by the Goc line as evidenced by his -8 Corsi value.
That all said, the guy led the team in shots on net with six. Only Bergenheim had more shots on net between both teams. Only Zajac has as many shooting attempts as Kovalchuk as shots, except Zajac only put two on net. Moreover, three of those six shots came in the third period, all when the game's score was 1-0 Florida. I don't want to hear that Kovalchuk was lazy or that he's hurting the team because at least there's evidence he was making an effort. And it's even more impressive if he's less than 100% and doing this. By no means am I saying he was perfect or even great, but he wasn't awful either. He definitely attempted more than the focus of this next section.
Future UFA, Former All-Star Left Winger Didn't Compete Enough in Pivotal Playoff Game: Zach Parise was bad tonight. He was having a very good series, but he was noticeably bad tonight. In terms of possession, he didn't get smashed like Zajac and Kovalchuk with a Corsi value of -1. (Aside: the best Devils' line at possession was the Elias line. Maybe the team has to follow Patrik Elias' example more?) However, Parise was at most a deferring player on offense. He did help Kovalchuk get some of his six shots and Zajac get some of six attempts on net. But he got only one shot on net. One. And it came at 19:05 into the third period when the Devils were down two scores and on a power play. That's right, in a crucial Game 5 where he said the team was ready and they knew it's importance, the captain of the team got no shots on net at even strength, no shots on net when it was 0-0 or 0-1, and no shots on net until the final minute of the game.
I don't know about you, but I expect more than one shot on net from a top offensive player in a crucial and close game for most of the time elapsed. Mark Fayne attempted more pucks on Theodore than Parise tonight. Fourth liners like John Madden and Steve Bernier registered more shots on net. Yes, Parise set up some good shots, but for one of the most prolific shooters in the league, he's got to be creating some for himself. That didn't happen and it hurt the team's cause tonight.
I'm particularly peeved at Parise since he's the team captain, and that definitely didn't mean anything on the ice tonight. Parise's penalty in the second period was a moronic one to take as it was unnecessary, it was in the offensive zone, and it was only minutes after Florida converted on their first power play. The Devils did kill it off, so it didn't ultimately hurt them. Yet, since it's been clear that silly avoidable penalties have hurt the Devils all series long as we read about how they know that, taking that call was a great example of a leader not leading by example. Just like not pushing back to generate more than one shot on net on offense wasn't leading by example. Oh, it was a great play to see him kick a puck out without a stick at the end of the PK for Zubrus' double-minor. And we got to see him skate so much harder than Kovalchuk tonight because Parise is a gritty hustler who always works hard or whatever. Too bad it didn't lead to anything constructive like, you know, shots. .
Within hours, it's "We're ready" to "We didn't compete." That's a team failure; but as someone in a leadership role, I can't help but wonder what he's doing. He couldn't get it through his own head to up his game during Game 5 tonight, much less get it in anyone else's head. DeBoer could be explaining the secrets of the universe, but if the players aren't getting it, then the captain has to sort that out. With six power plays allowed and a moribund offense despite getting 30 shots on net, I'm not really believing he did. 20:18 total, one shot on net, two attempts, and one stupid penalty. In addition to his own pride and reputation, this could hurt his value as a pending UFA.
I'm actually kidding on that last point. Someone in July will throw tons of money at a guy who didn't lead his team as they stunk in a crucial playoff game. Free agency is like that.
Stating the Obvious: They just can't mess up anymore after playing a poor game. The Devils need to play two of their best games of the season on Tuesday and Thursday to first stay alive and then win the series. I know I've dogged Parise and Volchenkov, I've brought up other failings of other players, and I know I looked past some otherwise good performances (e.g. Mark Fayne and Andy Greene to continue to be strong on defense, the Elias line getting non-crappy Corsi values). But no player wins a series all by themselves and no player loses a series. It's a team effort both ways and if the Devils truly mean what they've said and get the job done, then it'll all be forgiven. They put themselves up against the wall as a team; and they can get away from it - only as a team. It's bleak, but it's not over.
That's my take for this shutout loss. I want to know your opinions. Who on the Devils did you think had a good game? Who on the Devils did you think was the worst? Among their many flaws, what do you think hurt the Devils the most tonight? What do you think needs to change the most for the Devils heading into Game 6? Will Zach Parise actually lead a good effort in the future? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's bad loss in the comments. Thank you to everyone in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust for following along during the game. Thank you for reading.