The New Jersey Devils got beaten by a smart 52 minutes of hockey from the Carolina Hurricanes; yet a mostly 6-man Devils squad pulled within 1 in the dying minutes in the game to end it 3-2. It begs the question of where was the level of performance for much of the game? The answer to that question lies with Carolina.
I must say, Paul Maurice and the Hurricanes deserve a lot of credit for their efforts tonight. They played conservatively, but with intelligence and with wonderful organization and discipline for a majority of the game. With a few exceptions, the Hurricanes had at least 3, usually 5 in their own zone when the Devils attempted to attack and they all collapsed very well. Guys picked up open Devils easily, bodies in the way led to 16 blocks for the home team, and a frustrated Devils offense just had trouble for most of the night. They got blocked 16 times and missed the net 18 times; that's 34 attempts that Cam Ward didn't see - 6 more than the 28 Ward did see. And a good amount of those, Ward had no trouble with. Tim Gleason, Dennis Seidenberg, and Anton Babchuk in particular stood out in their own end and just made things difficult for the Devils offense. It wasn't a lack of work ethic, but they could only break down Carolina's defense when either A) on a power play or B) had the extra attacker on the ice.
More to the point, and a bit surprising to me, is that Carolina hung back, only to strike at the right opportunities. And, boy, did they do that well. You think they are just happy to clear it, and the next thing you know it's a 3-on-2 where Tuomo Ruutu somehow misses a wide open net and you're sitting there going, "How can you miss that!?" knowing full well that you didn't want him to do just that. It's why the Hurricanes didn't try to pin the Devils back or flood Scott Clemmensen with shots.
They were picky in when to turn up the attack and they were right in doing so when they chose to do so. All three of their goals were opportunistic. The first goal had Rod Brind'Amour take advantage of Bryce Salvador misplaying a dumped puck. Brind'Amour wheeled around, some how got a pass past the intervening Mike Mottau and right to Ray Whitney who applied the right finish. The second goal came on the power play and featured Sergei Samsonov beating his man on the right and attempted a cross-ice pass to a streaking Ruutu, only for Paul Martin to be in the way and have the puck knock off his skate almost perfectly past Clemmensen. Rough, but it doesn't happen if the Hurricanes didn't decide to rush into the zone and chose to set up their unit. The third goal had Ruutu redeem an earlier massive miss by slotting the puck home on another 3-on-2 later in the third. It was 3-0 and it was deserved. Changes in approaches and in lines (yes, Sutter mixed up the lines in the third - haven't seen that in a while) could not get the Devils' offense going against. And for a little over 51 minutes, the Hurricanes committed no penalties.