This wasn’t part of the plan, but the New Jersey Devils now find themselves facing elimination after giving Game 4 to the Carolina Hurricanes in spectacularly horrible fashion. At the end of the night, they were tagged with 26 (!) giveaways to the two the Hurricanes had in a 6-1 rout that pushed the Devils to the edge of their season-ending. Perhaps this team has just run out of gas, or maybe the Hurricanes are better built for this moment and truly have more experience as a group than these young New Jerseyans do.
For the first 15 minutes of Game 4, it appeared the Devils were well on their way to evening their second-round series in the same fashion they did a round earlier – by rallying from an 0-2 series deficit. New Jersey led 1-0 less than two minutes into the game and the building was rocking. They were rolling their lines and playing well, getting scoring chances and forcing the Canes into some ill-advised decisions.
But Carolina and their interchangeable flock of forwards (it’s a compliment) steadied their game and new Devil-killer Martin Necas tied the game with 2:20 left in the opening period; which was set up by the other new Devil-killer Jordan Martinook. After that moment it was all Hurricanes, all the time. New Jersey took a penalty with 1:03 left.
“We had guys that just went rogue,” a visibly frustrated Lindy Ruff said of his Devils team after Game 4. “You can call that lack of experience, you can call that…even the power play – it turned into one man trying to do something, and then another guy trying to do something. There was no support, there was no team effort. We’re a good team when five guys play and support each other, come up the ice together and defend together. We weren’t good.”
The Devils killed it off and then killed another penalty as well. But their opponents were coming at them in waves and at times it seemed in Game 4 that New Jersey was standing still. Perhaps they were shell-shocked or the game was moving too fast to keep up. Necas scored again at 7:26, then Brett Pesce at 9:51, then Jesper Fast at 11:07 (then a Devils timeout), and then when Brent Burns made it 5-1 at 12:46 Vitek Vanecek was yanked from the net after surrendering five on 17 Carolina shots.
“How we played, what we gave up, I don’t think we should point the finger at the goaltender,” replied Ruff when asked what he thought of the performance in net during Game 4. “There’s a lot of other places to look.”
“Why did you want him benched in the first place?”, replied Ruff to a reporter asking why he waited until the fifth goal-against to replace Vanecek with Akira Schmid. “What did you want him benched for? Even if I pull him at three or four, I don’t know if it makes a difference. We can all have hindsight if you want. If you want to criticize me for that, you’re more than welcome to. That’s my decision.”
Martinook added the final tally at 19:36 in the Devils’ worst period of the season at the worst time. Of the 18 skaters for New Jersey only four were not credited with a giveaway (Damon Severson, Erik Haula, Michael McLeod, and Nate Bastian). Jack Hughes, who had the lone goal on a deflection, had a game-high six giveaways and Brendan Smith had four.
Truth be told, the Devils could have had Martin Brodeur in his prime playing goaltender for Game 1, Game 2, and Game 4 and you’re likely still getting the same result. The only consistent line for New Jersey in those games has been McLeod-Bastian-Miles Wood. No disrespect to them but the Devils won’t win many games if that is their best line on a nightly basis.
“We had a few breakdowns obviously, give them some credit they did a lot of good things,” Severson said after Game 4. “But we didn’t help ourselves. It wasn’t a lot of fun for us tonight. We’re not going to look in the past, we’re going to look to the future and try to win the next game to bring this back home for Game 6.”
The Devils’ theme song for Game 4 could be “Give it Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers because all they did with the puck was give it away, give it away, give it away.
“They were a lot quicker tonight on the puck than last game and we weren’t as quick moving it, getting open for each other, moving our feet. Game 4 at home was not a good one for us, now we have to go win a Game 5 in Carolina,” added Severson.
“That’s about as poorly as we’ve skated and supported the puck in any game this year,” said a clearly disappointed Ruff. “I don’t know what team showed up, where we went…we didn’t skate. We didn’t support. Our defense didn’t move their feet trying to leave the zone. All the things we did so well in the previous game. They competed harder on pucks and won more battles than we did.”
Now they head to Carolina for Game 5, having to win to save their season and force a Game 6 back in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. Does this team have another magical comeback left in the tank? Or is this just not their time yet?
“We have to play our best game of the year,” said Ruff.
This team is still a bit green and a year ahead of schedule, but to have the (home) season end after a downer like Game 4 was doesn’t seem right. If they can find a way to get back to Newark in an attempt to force a Game 7, these Devils will have earned themselves a chance at a better sendoff from the fans.
“We got the wind taken out of our sails real bad there in the second period; it’s unfortunate. We’re in the second round of the playoffs – now we’re facing elimination,” added Severson, the longest-tenured Devil finally experiencing a playoff run for the first time. “There wasn’t any pushback from us, it’s not fun, obviously, losing that way. We didn’t give our fans anything to cheer about tonight. That’s on us. Now we have a challenge ahead of us to climb back into this thing.”