The New Jersey Devils snapped a 6 game losing streak in playoff overtimes and a 6 game losing streak of playoff games in Carolina, fighting hard in Game 3 to win 3-2 in overtime tonight. The win gives the series lead back to New Jersey and effectively ends a home ice advantage for Carolina.
This game was just a 60 minute battle. The stuff that what makes playoff hockey, playoff hockey. Carolina was energetic and intense, but without as much dirty play as they had in Game 2. If anything, it was the Devils that shot themselves in the foot with dumb penalties. Let's list what they had done: Extra roughing during play (once by Dainius Zubrus, later by Colin White), a slash to the stick that broke it (Paul Martin), and - I don't like to type this because he wasn't bad otherwise - Bobby Holik took his usual unnecessary minor penalty when he literally held Joe Corvo down. Four of the five Devils power plays conceeded came in a row chronologically in the second period, and Martin's stick-smash came during Holik's minor.
Honestly, the refs weren't bad; the Devils just weren't smart. I will say, the Devils penalty killing units were on form and Martin Brodeur was just as huge all night long. Especially on the five on three that lasted for 52 seconds. The Devils cleaned up on their penalty mistakes and the penalty killers should be lauded for it. They helped ensure the game stayed nice and tight on the scoreboard.
The other half of the special teams, though, does not deserve a lot of praise. In the first period, the Devils had 6 minutes to burn Carolina: Ryan Bayda hit Bryce Salvador in the face with his stick to draw blood - resulting in a 4 minute man advantage; and Rod Brind'Amour followed that up later in the first period with a hook. Add a a really harsh goalie interference call on Eric Cole and that's a total of 8 minutes on the power play. The result? 0 goals and 5 shots on net. They missed and got blocked way more than they got through to Ward! Talk about opportunities lost - just awful!
In fact, that ties into the big concern I had with the Devils as the game went on. The offense started well enough. Zach Parise opened things up with another glorious deflection off a Paul Martin shot. A lot of credit should go to the whole line for keeping the puck in play. While it was a hard fought game, the Devils managed to do a good job keeping the puck in more often than not. Then in the dying seconds of the first period, Joe Corvo gave the puck up right to Brian Gionta - who then did a sweet move and beat Ward for the goal. Great awareness on both goals, surely they can keep it up, right?
Alas, from then on, the Devils had trouble getting most of their 35 shots on Cam Ward to get in. With 19 blocked shots and 17 misses, hitting the net became an issue - especially in the third period. Worse off is that the Devils really needed to be successful. For starters, Carolina immediately responded to Parise's goal when Jussi Jokinen whiffed on a Scott Walker pass, only for the puck to come out to Bayda for a quick strike. And after all of those power plays, the Canes get the second tying goal of the game just after Martin is free. Chad LaRose re-directed a Pat Eaves shot and so it became 2-2. Had Corvo not make his fatal mistake in the first period, who knows if we're even talking about overtime at this point.
From then on, while the Devils did a good job in repelling the Canes' attack and had some good shifts of their own, they were playing with fire. The lack of success on the power play held them back, the lack of accuracy in the third period (only 8 on Ward and most were easy for him), and the Canes were just charging. Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu were up for this one. The Canes defenders loved to pinch in and mostly got away with it. Yes, the game ended in a tie, but Carolina played their best game this entire series - even outdoing the Devils for a little bit.
As far as the Devils' lineup changes go, I wish Holik didn't do what he did for his penalty. He was all right otherwise. Brian Rolston actually looked good out there with Parise and Zajac. He kept up with them and helped contribute 3 shots (the line had 12 total). In fact, he did something few Devils did in the third period in overtime - set up in the slot. With the work of the other Devils - Colin White's pass, Parise's shot, and the Devils finally broke through with Travis Zajac snapping a goalless streak that dated back to mid-March. Watch how it happened:
To quote John Davidson: Oh, baby! Ward had no chance! The Devils prevailed, Bill Cowher and the home fans left in shock, 3-2 was the score, 2-1 is now the series, and we are feeling good once again!