The New Jersey Devils played their worst hockey in the first two periods, while the Carolina Hurricanes just outplayed them. The Hurricanes out-hit them, out-shot them 37-17, out-battled the Devils for the puck, and out-controlled the puck. The addition of Dennis Seidenberg wasn't the sole reason for it, but he had a great game on his own. The whole team did, and they managed to keep the Devils quiet by just pinning them back over and over again. For the most part, Carolina led in regulation for the first time all series and managed to build up a 3-0 lead. The Devils' defense was in shambles and became shorthanded when Bryce Salvador left the game with a knee injury.
Then in the dying seconds, the Devils got a little life when Mike Mottau found Brian Gionta all alone in the neutral zone. The long pass connects and Gionta is clean through to Cam Ward. Ward is just beaten silly by Gionta and so the second period ends 3-1. Surely, Carolina could put this game away? They were playing Hurricanes hockey - free-flowing, finesse hockey complemented by check after check.
Then the Hurricanes, for a lack of a better word, choked. The Devils started to battle back and started getting more possession. Before we know it, the Devils are able to get what Carolina did for their first and third goals - rebounds. both times, Ward was stretched out as Brendan Shanahan and later David Clarkson had the position and the time to just bury the rebound. It's 3-3 and it's a heads-up game. Carolina had to take a timeout after the Clarkson effort; they were blowing it! they regrouped.
Then the game ended on a travesty of a non-call. The Devils defense, who had a bad night all around, were holding Carolina back but the Canes take one last shot from the point. With 2 seconds left, Martin Brodeur - who faced a ton of rubber - gets hit by Jussi Jokinen. Rule 69.1 says that's goaltender interference, but the refs swallowed their whistles. The bump caused Brodeur to get to the left side late and the shot squeaks through (boxscore says Jokinen tipped Seidenberg's shot) with 0.2 seconds left to play. The Canes win Game 4, tying up the series with the 4-3 win.
This is infuriating. OK, the Devils maybe shouldn't have won this game. OK, the the Devils should have thrown their bodies across the ice in front of that shot. OK, the Devils should have had a man on Jokinen. That doesn't excuse ignoring a clear violation of Rule 69.1. The ref may claim it was a reasonable effort to avoid him, but the video shows otherwise! Brodeur was very upset after the game - something not normal for him - and he has every right to be! He was bumped! If he wasn't bumped, he's in position sooner and stops that shot. Moreover, it didn't even need to be a penalty - the goal could have simply been waved off.
This double standard of not calling anything short of blood in the final moments of a playoff game is a horrific precedent to set. Especially when it concerns the goaltender! Does this now mean it's free reign on all goaltenders with 2 minutes left to play? Does it only apply to Brodeur? Does it get allowed after further runs at the crease (e.g. Chad LaRose had an easier time on that rebound with Havelid battling a Cane into Brodeur for the third Carolina goal!). Does Brodeur get that call if he dives? Will we see Cam Ward dive all throughout Game 5 on Thursday? (Actually, I think I know the answer to that one!)
In any case, the Devils played a brilliant third period and it should have been deserving of overtime. Maybe they should have lost this game given how awful they were in the first two periods. They got out shot 46-29, out hit 40-25, and But as luck and gutless play by Carolina's Jussi Jokinen (he knew damn well what he was doing) and poor decision making by the refs say otherwise.
Sutter came to a press conference and he's quite calm about this. He's emphasizing the positives: the Devils did come back from 3 goals on the road, played a terrific third period, and only to lose it in the last 0.2 seconds. It's a tied series now and, hey, it is what it is. Brodeur is calm talking about the incident now, relaying that the refs claim Brodeur had time to reset himself. Really. 1.8 seconds is enough time for this? And it excuses contact altogether?
As a fan sitting here, I am honestly still disgusted about what I just saw and I'm sure you are as well. Despite the quotes and feeling, I would think the Devils players have to feel some anger about what happened - to come so close, and yet to be so far. Of course, that's just me. Looking at the positives is probably the best approach for the Devils. Taking positives, getting angry, and everything in between, I believe it all leads to the same likelihood: Game 5 is going to feature a massive response from New Jersey. Now, the Devils have a serious motive for revenge and to take the series back again.