Yesterday addressed the downsides, the worries, and the concerns of playing Carolina in the first round. It's not just here, it's also at 2 Man Advantage where Joe Betchel likens the first round to another problem he may or may not be willing to admit. (Aside: It's seemingly always at IPB Manor too but is it pessimism if it's the norm?) It's in a fanpost where Richard Adranga correctly identifies Anton Babchuk as a big problem for New Jersey. It was in the comments of the last What Do You Think that inspired yesterday's cavalcade of words. It's in the comments ongoing at Chere's and Gulitti's blogs before the series starts. Expectations are high and the opposition is feared. Canes Country, in their tidbits even suggests that Cam Ward, he of one Stanley Cup and no other award fame, is the scariest goaltender in the league right now.
How can anyone not be worried?
Well, that was then. Today is different. Today, I take a stab at what the Devils have going in their favor. Any one of these could very well spell the difference in this series overall.
1. When they score, it ends up going very well for them. I'm going to drop a statistic on you that could that will be criticized at first. That stat is 45-3-1. Whenever the Devils end up with 3 or more goals next to their name on the scoreboard, that's their record. Seriously.
But 3 isn't the magic number. It's actually 4 or more that's the magic range. The Devils are 28-0-1 when they put up 4 or more goals on the scoreboard. OK, some of those may have been shootout wins, but the main point to keep in mind is that the Devils did not lose a game where they had 4 or more on the scoreboard. The only slip-up was back on October 29 against Toronto. Even if it meant 3 + 1 via the shootout, the Devils still pull off the W.
My point is that when the Devils are able to finish more than just one or two chances, they not only take or extend the lead; their confidence is raised on the ice - the Devils tend to have more of a spring in their step and look for, well, more goals. In addition, their opponents are usually worse off because of it since they either have to A) match what the Devils did or B) climb out of a hole to get back in it. Combine this with the Devils' general committment to positioning and covering for their teammates, and I can only think of a few exceptions to that rule, though, and yet the Devils won out anyway with the sole exception of Toronto back near the beginning of the season. If the Devils can hang 4 or more on Cam Ward at any point, then it'll likely destroy the myth of Ward's dangerous, give the team the feeling that they can beat Carolina's defense, and, oh yeah, give them the lead in the game.
Also: Just under 55% of all of New Jersey's wins this season featured 4 or more on the Devils' side. With 51 wins for New Jersey from this past season, this happens more often than you'd think.
2. Outside of the 2006 playoff series and Cam Ward is 5-4-1 against the Devils lifetime. The Devils - and the Devils fans - should keep this in mind throughout the series. Ward hasn't been a Devils killer by any means, and 3 of those wins came this season. And 2 of them really helped out by uneven performances by the Devils back in January and March. The Devils, especially the forwards, should just remember that Ward is talented but not unbeatable in net. Yes, he was a monster in 2006; but he was a monster against everyone. That was then, and it means nothing now. This sort of thinking should be part of maintaining their focus by the Devils and it will only serve to help them.
3. Speaking of series, you might as well throw out this season's series as well. Someone by the name of Big Picture Guy put up this insightful fanpost at From the Rink about how a season series can predict a playoff series. That is, they really aren't good predictors of how the playoffs will go. For the first round, this is what he found:
Results have been evenly distributed throughout the three rounds: in 1st round matchups, the winner of the regular season series has won 45 times, the loser has won 46 times.
It may sound like a cliche, but based on the results of past playoff series that Big Picture Guy found, it really is a second season in the playoffs and everything is new once again. New Jersey should seize this moment.
4. Carolina could very well be starting a slump right about now. The Carolina Hurricanes went on an impressive 20-8-7 run from February 1st on to make it to where they are. They won 9 out of their last 11. Yet, this isn't a complete outlook. Consider the Devils, who went nearly two and a half months where they didn't lose two games in a row in 2009 and even then the losses were sporadic. They eventually got tagged with a 6 game winning streak after all that success. Boston, Detroit, and San Jose also got sandbagged with periods of mediocrity despite how well they have finished.
To quote Hüsker Dü, "Friend, you have to fall." The Hurricanes ended the season - and a 9 game winning streak - with a big 5-1 loss to Buffalo at home and a 3-2 loss at the Rock where the Hurricanes didn't collapse in their own zone, didn't control the puck well, and didn't do much on even strength. It's not like Carolina had nothing to play for, home ice would have been theirs had they won either game - with all other games remaining equal. If the comments and content at Canes Country are any indication, this backing into the playoffs doesn't seem to be a big cause for concern. The big question the Canes fans should be asking is whether Carolina is coming back down from the high level where they have played much of these last 30 games. Because if they are, this possibility hugely favors the Devils - who ended the season 4-1, by the by.
5. Two Actual Scoring Lines! Bubba actually points this one out - the Devils' forward lines have been more productive than Carolina's lines this season. The only disparity is in that third line match-up, but that won't make much of a difference given how powerful the ZZ Pops line and Elias' line are. Seriously, when was the last time the Devils had two legitimate scoring lines? 2001? That the Devils have that and the forwards overall have done better than Carolina this season should instill some confidence. It's literally an extra dimension to their attack. Eric Staal is a mighty power forward, but he doesn't have the hustle, heart, and dynamic ability of Zach Parise (who should have a fun series on his own).
6. The Experience of Martin Brodeur. Was it ever a question? With all the Vezinas, the gold medal, the 3 Stanley Cups, and all of those shutouts and close wins, Brodeur's experience is priceless in the playoffs. He knows what to expect and he has met those expectations before. And, according to Gulitti today, he wants to do more. More! From Brodeur! That can't be good news for the Carolina offense if Marty is looking to do better than he normally does! Can Ward step it up with the expectations based on what he did in 2006? He - and the Canes - better hope so!
7. The Vengence Factor. You think the Devils forgot about last year's playoff exit to the Rangers behind them? According to Gulitti, the Devils haven't. Really! In addition to all of what they have accomplished and what they have going for them both written and not yet written, they have something to prove. In a close game, I don't see how that extra desire won't help New Jersey out. I don't think Carolina can claim the same and even then, it likely isn't as significant as a response to losing in the first round to your hated rivals despite home ice.
Already that's plenty of reasons to like New Jersey's chances in this series. Feel free to add any others you may think of in the comments. Yesterday was the time for concern, now is the time for hope.