Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 04/15/09 at 11:30 PM ET
Carolina’s playoff season got off to a bad start on Wednesday as they were owned 4-1 by the Devils. From the drop, it was clear that the Devils were the better team tonight, and they played a near-perfect game.
Just 37 seconds into the game, Carolina took a penalty for too many men , which was a harbinger of doom. Carolina killed that and every other penalty in the game, but that’s the only thing that went well for them.
When it turned 10:00, my DVR asked me, as it always does, if I wanted to “start over”. I did, so I hit the “select” button. It didn’t help matters. The game still panned out the same way.
As the first period was winding down, it seemed like one of those situations where Carolina would go to the room, regroup and come out with some jump in the second. Even after Mike Mattau wristed one in from the top of the right circle at 16:03, that was the plan.
Just be glad we’re onely down by one. Regroup and find some focus for the second.
That plan fell by the wayside when Zach Parise put on a one man show against Eric Staal and ultimately snapped one in from below the bottom of the right circle to the far side of Cam Ward. It was a really tight angle, and Ward wasn’t expecting it at all. Parise would later call it “lucky”. Call it whatever you want, but it was a freaking dagger.
From this point on, the Devils clamped down defensively. The backchecking was fantastic, their work in the neutral zone was amazing. Carolina could barely gain the zone, let alone set up shop inside it.
By the time Patrik Elias one-timed one in from the left circle at 11:33, the game was for all intents and purposes over. The game was only half-way over, but Carolina didn’t have any jump, and every time they looked like they were about to get something going, the Devils defense would squash it.
At the second intermission, Carolina had only managed to put up a total of 15 SOG and they had yet to have a power play. As they sat in the room with a PP in hand, there was still some hope. Y’know. Regroup, refocus, power play on a fresh sheet of ice. The rally cry of “Remember the Miracle at Molson”. All that good stuff.
Carolina’s power play to open the third period was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. As good as the Devils were playing, the Canes could have done better. Their strategy on the power play was gain center ice, dump puck, change. Repeat. With that strategy, all the Devils had to do was sit back, get the puck in the corner after the dump, and send it out while the Canes changed. Not once during that PP did Carolina even attempt to skate the puck into the zone. They never got a chance to work it in a cycle, set up the points or do anything remotely offensive. Zero shots on goal.
Sometime around the six minute mark of the period, Carolina finally woke up and started to work the puck in and forecheck and be aggressive. I thought it would never happen, but finally the Canes scored at 9:21. Ray Whitney banged in a rebound in the low slot to make it 3-1 and give the Hurricanes a very faint glimmer of hope.
This hope was short-lived, though. Right after the goal, Carolina worked the puck deep in the Devils zone, and Joni started being Joni. Pitkänen aggressively joined the rush, vacating his defensive post. This led to a four-on-two break for the Devils and Jamie Langenbrunner scored at 9:51 with a wrist shot from the high slot, beating Ward high on the glove side. 4-1 Devils. Check mate.
Hopefully, Whitney’s first goal of this playoff season won’t be his last.
The Devils were very nearly perfect in this game. Their only blemish is that they failed to score a power play goal. The most impressive thing about their game was their work in the neutral zone. Carolina couldn’t gain the zone, and the Devils were so good in transition that it seemed like they had an odd-man rush every single time down the ice.
The result of their excellent defensive work was an abysmally low 19 SOG for Carolina. That’s for the whole game. Also worth noting is that Carolina had two power plays, and they failed to register a single shot on goal in four minutes of power play.
The Canes, needless to say, have a lot of work to do before returning to the ice on Friday. I have faith, though, that they’ll bounce back and at the very least be competitive in game 2.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.