This will be the last time the Devils go down to the RBC Center for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If Carolina seriously doesn't step it up tonight, it will also be the last time the Hurricanes will play at the RBC Center in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is a legitimate must win for them. They lose and they are gone. Looking back at the series, this concept is not completely new to them - they have had to "step up" to avoid getting into a big hole in this series and they have succeeded in that. It's how we got to where we are today.
Game 5, in many ways, was a must-win for them. They needed to take advantage of this series, force the Devils to play big in a place they really haven't played all that well historically. While they pounded Martin Brodeur with 44 shots, only one shot got through him - and Brodeur covered up the bouncing puck before it slid to the line. The Devils got one glorious deflection to beat Cam Ward and that was that. The Hurricanes did quite a lot right to be in the game, but the ultimately failed in the face of an opportunity to take control of the series.
Therefore, we should expect the Canes to literally try to give 110% on the ice tonight. Nothing new in this series, though. Since the games have been so close, the Devils have responded well in the face of Carolina's aggressive, up-tempo hockey. I see no reason to believe they will fall flat tonight as the Devils have every reason to make this game their own.
However, there is plenty to be concerned if you're a Canes fan, and I think it could benefit the Devils tonight.
According to Bubba at Canes Country yesterday, he notes that Paul Maurice has been getting outcoached at the same time Carolina has been outplayed for much of the series. I definitely agree with Bubba has to say here about Maurice changing his lines again. I understand that he is trying to get Erik Cole, Tuomo Ruutu, and others to be productive; but it's reminds me of Brent Sutter's first season here - where he'd change the lines so often that chemistry is sacrificed while looking for a spark. It didn't give Sutter much success in the playoffs, and it's not giving Maurice success here. But, yet, he'll keep trying.
Short of Maurice "striking gold" with his changes, their success will be reliant on how great Cam Ward will be tonight. Carolina can simply not afford Ward having a bad game. With the Carolina defense still making absolutely boneheaded mistakes in their own end, sometimes resulting in goals (e.g. Joe Corvo giving the puck to Brian Gionta in Game 3, defenders not once but twice ignoring a Devil in the slot for Game 4 which led to rebound goals, allowing Jay Pandolfo a breakaway in Game 5, etc.). The Devils defense hasn't been sparkling as of late, but they play the bend-but-not-break approach to defense. They'll let Marty see the shots because they know Marty will stop them, the defense will do their best to keep those shots direct and clean up any loose pucks. On the other hand, Ward has bailed out his team so many times I don't even know where to begin. Given that the pressure is truly on Carolia here, Ward has to be great for the Canes.
What wasn't great (or smart), and Bubba referred to this at Canes Country, is that Ward and Corvo handed out some bulettin board material yesterday. From Luke DeCock's Talking Points at the News & Observer:
Corvo: "He played well last night, but I think on the other hand a lot of pucks just hit him and he had no clue where they were. … I think Cam played just as good or better than Marty yesterday."
Ward: "I'm not going to sit here and whine about being bumped once or twice."
Gee, Ward, we know you won't whine about it. You'll just fall down like you've been shot when a Carolina defender pushes a Devil into you. We saw this in Game 5. Also, Corvo does know his first statement would better apply to Ward, right? Then, he's been so insignificant in his own end, maybe he wasn't paying attention?
But seriously, why would anyone think this is a good idea? Martin Brodeur just shut down your team in a crucial playoff game, and you're going snipe at him before a game you absolutely must win. Does Martin Brodeur need to do it again? He may have to, maybe they'll learn their lesson about not trying to discount legendary goaltenders while on the golf course.
As far as the Devils go, what's the worst case scenario? They lose big to Carolina. While momentum would totally be back in Carolina's favor if that happened, the Devils have a chance to shut them down in Game 7. . If it's a close loss, I wouldn't be worried about the Game 7 because, hey, this entire series has been close game after close game. Carolina blowing things wide open would make me question whether the Canes figured out the Devils. Still, they have the benefit of an extra game should things go awry. The Canes don't.
Yet, along with the comments from Ward and Corvo - and believe me, I'm sure the Devils know about them - New Jersey is getting an extra boost from the potential return of Jamie Langenbrunner. According to Chere yesterday, captain Langenbrunner returned to practice and Langenbrunner himself said that he "imagines" playing tonight. Brent Sutter said it's a gametime decision, but given that it's the playoffs, I would think he's likely going to play Langenbrunner. Even if he doesn't play, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac - two guys Carolina need to keep quiet - are already happy he's in the fold:
His two linemates were happy to have Langenbrunner back in the fold.
"It can only help us to have our captain, our leader back, who's been great for us all year," Zajac said. "It's just going to be something Carolina's going to have to be aware of now."
"He's a big part of all the special teams -- plays in all the big situations," Parise said. "It'll be a good shot for our lineup. Rollie (Rolston) did a good job on our line of filling in, but anytime you have a full lineup back, it's good."
So to sum up, Canes are playing down Martin Brodeur, who just owned them in Game 5. And the Devils may be getting their captain back, to the delight of their best forward and the center who works his best with the best forward. The only Devil missing is Bryce Salvador, but Andy Greene did well enough in Game 5, so I'm not concerned. On top of all that, the Canes' head coach is still mixing and matching, hoping to find the right combination - again, he may be "over-coaching" here.
Yeah, I think the Devils have a good chance to close out this series tonight. But even if they don't, it's not over. Regardless, why stretch this out? Make it happen, Devils. And please put more of those shots on net tonight.