The New Jersey Devils built up a 3-0 lead within the game's first six and a half minutes of Game 3 in Newark this evening. They lost that lead in about that long ranging from 16:11 into the first period to 2:18 into the second period. Yes, the Florida Panthers answered each one of New Jersey's three goals in a row. Not only that, they tacked a fourth goal about four minutes after that. The Devils allowed four straight goals to Florida. It negated their entirely hot start, silenced what was a raucous crowd at the Rock, and made nearly Devils fan in the world angry. It would be unacceptable to give up a three goal lead to lose 4-3 in the regular season. It's down right infuriating that it happened in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the playoffs! In a pivotal Game 3! How can this happen?
The how, my dear reader, is simple. There's no deeper analysis required as far as how the Devils lost this game. They lost this because they didn't stay out of the box enough. I've said it in my preview and I'm not the only one to say it. The Devils needed to keep this game at even strength as much as possible. Tonight, the Devils took three stupid and avoidable penalties and they paid for each time. That's how Florida turned a 3-0 deficit not even seven minutes into the game into a 3-2 game at the end of the first. That's how Florida got their game winning goal. The Panthers' power play has been hot and yet the Devils didn't understand the importance of staying out of the box until it became 4-3 Florida.
If you want a chief cause for the loss, an area to point the finger at, then look no further. The Devils were doing fine until Patrik Elias fouled Erik Gudbranson after the whistle on an icing. Florida scored. Then Bryce Salvador roughed up Scottie Upshall on defense minutes later. Florida scored. After a goalie change and Florida's lone even strength goal in the second period, Petr Sykora high-sticked Tomas Fleischmann. Florida scored. Yes, the goals themselves lend themselves to further discussion (and blame), and I'll get to that after the jump. None of these happen if these players were smarter and calmer on the ice. That they were so reckless with a lead doesn't speak well of the team's focus in general.
If you want a second main cause for this defeat, then let's talk about the offense. The Devils chased Jose Theodore out of the game with 3 goals on 6 shots. That was cool. Then Scott Clemmensen comes in and the Devils only put 19 shots on him - most of which came after the Devils were down 4-3 in a playoff game. Clemmensen did his job fine and the Panthers did tighten up a bit in their own end. But the Devils really failed to attack consistently. The Devils eventually got the better of possession but only in Corsi at +5. In terms of Fenwick - shots, goals, and misses at evens - the Devils actually were behind at -3. That's not good at all given the score and situation. More of the attempts had to be on net and they weren't. And that jump in possession only happened with a late push that was more or less hoping for a bounce and not necessarily constructive play. As Steve Politi put it best on Twitter:
The sad part about the Devils? Blowing the 3-0 lead wasn't the most damning part. They had 37 minutes left. Showed no life until very late.
Indeed. They didn't force Clemmensen to stand on his head or the Panthers to make excellent desperation plays. They were muddling through most of this game like the second period of Game 2. Therefore, the Devils deserved to lose. Blowing a three goal lead to get there hurts and the penalties they took to enable the Panthers double the pain; but the harshest part is that, again, the overall effort wasn't nearly enough. The game was still close, an equalizer was possible but they didn't get one. Yes, the Devils had a tying goal in the second period taken away by a cheap call by the refs; yet the Devils didn't play hard or smart enough to get another, and possibly indisputable, goal. They dug their own hole with stupid penalties and they didn't get enough of it together (I leave you to decide what "it" should be called) to drag themselves out of said hole. The entire team lost this game and so they deserve the blame as a whole.
I don't know what else you want me to say beyond that, but I'm going to try anyway after the jump. For an opposition's take on this game, please read Chris S Roberts' recap at Litter Box Cats.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: If you want to see the goals in their glory/horror, then check out this video from NHL.com:
Your Three Positives I Will Give You: The first fifteen minutes of the game was all Devils hockey. They scored three goals on six shots, they controlled the play, and while they didn't get more than one shot on Scott Clemmensen after he entered the game, the Panthers were held to a mere three shots fifteen minutes into the game. I loved it, you loved it, and the Rock was, well, rocking. Everything just went right for the Devils and the skaters kept battling for possession to keep Florida out. Then Elias took his penalty and it all wound up in the garbage can.
Additionally, the Devils' power play actually resembled a power play in all three opportunities. OK, they weren't consistent at it; but it was a lot better than what we had to see in Game 2. Elias scored on the first one in the first period to cap off a three goal rush early in the game. The Panthers went aggressive on a shorthanded chance, a pass was blocked, and an odd man rush ended with chaos around the net. There, Elias taking the puck and putting it past Theodore. The other two power plays at least got set up in Florida's end, they didn't allow anything shorthanded, and they got five additional shots. That's progress and I have to recognize it despite how this game turned out.
Your third positive is that the Devils continue to be the better team at even strength. While the Devils didn't bring enough of an effective effort, the Panthers were still out-attempted at evens, the Weiss line did very little in 5-on-5 play, and were out-scored in 5-on-5 play for a third straight game. The Devils need to keep that in mind and play to keep the game in the situation they benefit in.
I'm Blaming Everyone: I did say everyone's responsible. So I'm going to name everyone. I leave it to you to decide which are more substantial than others; though that shouldn't be too hard based on what happened tonight. Besides, I'm sure most of you already have your fingers pointing at personnel and will keep them pointed no matter what I actually right.
I'm blaming Peter DeBoer for this loss because I didn't get the sense that he has much control. Sure, he's got the skaters not getting killed at evens. Sure, he's limited the minutes of Anton Volchenkov. At the same time, the adjustments need to come earlier than the second intermission and I question whether he really has the players' ear at times. I'm certain the first intermission pep talk discussed in candid terms that they shouldn't take needless penalties. In the second period, Sykora does exactly that and the resulting goal becomes the game winner. Changing up a line or changing goalies doesn't lead to anything, it's just change for the sake of change. Instead, we see hard dump-ins. I don't think DeBoer is a bad coach in the bigger picture, but this performance falls on his hands to some degree.
I'm blaming the assistant coaches for this loss because they certainly didn't help out. Dave Barr was the main guy in getting the Devils' PK to be so successful in the regular season. Now that the overall success rate is 40%, I have to wonder what he's doing and what he's adjusting, if anything. Larry Robinson handles the defensemen. What's he doing with Volchenkov because if anyone needs a talking to or a dressing down for his defense, it's him. Chris Terreri handles the goaltenders. He should be reminding both Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg to completely cover the posts on an angle among other points. As for Adam Oates, well, since I praised the power play and the Devils actually won 53% of all faceoffs tonight (seriously), I guess I can't say too much about him other than that the second unit continues to be a waste.
I'm blaming team leadership. It's my understanding that the players like DeBoer and the coaching staff. It's my understanding that they know the stakes. It's my understanding that they've been in these in-game situations before, both in this season and in their past, where things go awry and they have to get back into this game. What I can't understand is how the leaders on this veteran team with plenty of experience didn't get their teammates or even themselves to resolve the situation, re-focus themselves, and re-take the game. DeBoer and the coaches can be saying the absolutely perfect things regarding the game, but if the players aren't demonstrating that on the ice and the leaders aren't making sure the message is sent, then what does that say about their leadership?
I'm blaming Martin Brodeur. I don't think there was anyway he saw the third goal he allowed. He should have stopped the first two goals, though. On the first, he definitely should have hung onto the post or cut off the angle on Sean Bergenheim. I'm not getting mad about the rebound; but Brodeur had the time to get himself into a better position for Bergenheim and he wasn't. On the second goal, I thought he was screened; but the replay doesn't show much of one. Jason Garrison fires a bomb he mostly sees and he just is too short of it. The shot itself was perfectly placed inside the left post; but if Brodeur saw it from that far away, then he's got to stop it. Had Brodeur stopped either, perhaps the Devils don't end up in the hole that they ended up and he doesn't get pulled for the first time in the playoffs since 2006. This isn't the National Perhaps Hockey League, and so it happened.
I'm blaming Johan Hedberg. The one goal he got beat on was very similar to the third one allowed by Brodeur. Brodeur was beaten by a Mike Weaver shot that got in past his right side. The only differences between that goal and the one that beat Hedberg were the shooter, the situation, and the play in front of Hedberg. The shooter was Brian Campbell, it was during a power play, and Hedberg didn't appear to have been screened like Brodeur on the goal. I await the criticism for Moose on allowing the game winning goal. Moose made some tough saves, namely a big bail-out save on Marcel Goc in the second. However, he was beaten again in the third period on a Dmitry Kulikov shot that didn't end up in the net thanks to the quick stick of Andy Greene.
I'm blaming Anton Volchenkov. Some fans wonder if he's hurt. I think he's just plain bad right now. He's clearly in a slump and I wonder whether Adam Larsson will replace him in Game 4. The last time Volchenkov was fast was back in two-thousand-and-never, but he's been in the league for so long that he should know how to handle fast players. Yet, Sean Bergenheim continues to toy with him. Bergenheim beat Volchenkov to that rebounded puck that led to the first goal against tonight, making it the second time he scored off him in this series. Volchenkov was present for all four goals by Florida, but that first one to kick it all off was the worst. He played exactly 13 minutes and it's sad that his work in this series has undercut the good things done by the other defenders like Mark Fayne, Marek Zidlicky, and Andy Greene in this series. All this for $4.25 million a year for four more years.
I'm blaming Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk was up and down tonight; but for the most part, he really wasn't a positive factor. He led the Devils in shooting attempts with eight, but only two got on net. His passing and retrieving of passes was spotty. There would be shifts where he'd skate like the wind and then just passively glide on others. In his own end, he'd sometimes help out down low when he's supposed to and on other times, he just seemed to coast and cover, well, not much. He ended up -1 in Corsi on a line where Parise and Travis Zajac were positive. The Devils need him to be more like the beast he was in February and March and not like the occasional flashes that we saw in October.
I'm blaming Zach Parise. Yeah, he scored a goal tonight. It was great, he took a loose puck, didn't immediately fire it, and patiently skated with it until he rounded the goaltender for the goal. After that, Parise was inconsistent. While he had five shots on net, three of them came on the power play in the second period. He had no other shots on net in the first period except for his goal; and he only had one shot on net in the third period. A +5 in Corsi, 5 SOG, and a goal is great on the surface but under closer review, Parise's performance leaves one wanting. He did a lot more hard work than smart work, if you catch my drift.
I'm blaming Travis Zajac. He was good at the dot by going 13-for-22 and he assisted on Parise's goal. That's the sum total of what he did tonight. That's right, in a one-shot-to-tie game, Zajac got nothing on net in 60 minutes. I know he's not meant to be the offensive machine, but Travis, you got to make more than just one attempt. He needs to get more involved like he was in Game 2.
I'm blaming Patrik Elias. He too scored a goal. He also put his hand on Gudbranson from behind after the icing call that gave Florida their first power play and their ticket back into the game. It was an incredibly stupid move from a player who should know better. You're up by three, Gudbranson has done nothing to nobody, and everything's going your way. I don't care if the contact was much at all. You don't put your hands out and do something dangerous. Don't take my word for it. Elias himself admitted that he took a bad penalty and blames himself for the loss according to this post-game report by Rich Chere. At least he was a little more offensively prolific in the third period and he wasn't destroyed on faceoffs. But his penalty was the turning point in this game, if not the series, as Florida not only scored on it but held the Devils shotless since then while ultimately out-shooting them 10-7 and cutting the lead down to one. It cannot be emphasized enough how unnecessary and stupid it was of Elias to take that call.
I'm blaming Dainius Zubrus. He was winning battles along the boards and in the neutral zone throughout much of the first period. Then he just faded away and ultimately contributed little to the team. He didn't win as many battles and he just had some problems handling the puck at times. Elias can't do it all himself on his line and if Sykora's going to continue to be a non-factor, then Big Z needs to step it up. He was good in Game 2, but not tonight and that hurt.
I'm blaming Petr Sykora. If DeBoer really wants to shake things up, then he should consider demoting Sykora from the Elias line. He did nothing outside of getting blocked three times and high-sticking a Panther, demonstrating he didn't learn what happened after his teammates' other two penalties. Sykora was a pleasant surprise in the season. Now, I get a little surprised seeing #15 because he's been somewhat missing for stretches at a time.
I'm blaming Adam Henrique. Where's the guy who finished in the top three in rookie scoring? Where's the center who made smart plays at both ends? Where's the forward who has better hands and stickhandling than one would expect? Where's the shooting? Where's the attempts of shooting? Where, oh where, is Henrique?
I'm blaming Alexei Ponikarovsky. Like Zubrus, he was great down low early on but became less and less effective. He's not fast enough to get to hard dump-ins all the time, but even if he did engage with a Panther for the puck on some occasions, he just couldn't corral it in consistently. Since that begins the attack for the third line, that he loses those battles hurt. Likewise, he didn't add much to the offensive effort with just one attempt on net, which missed the net.
I'm blaming David Clarkson. I liked the fact he shot the puck more in this game, but two of his three shots were from far, far away and had no chance of getting into the net. Clarkson needs to recall that he's not only got strength but swag. He needs to take it down low, and bang away there instead of settling for a lame wrister above a faceoff circle. In conjunction with Henrique and Ponikarovsky, that Clarkson wasn't where he does his best to get shots speaks to how the whole third line continues to struggle to produce. They were better overall in possession; but that needs to turn into goals and fast to support the other lines.
I'm blaming Bryce Salvador. That roughing call on Upshall wasn't needed. You and your teammates eventually won the puck. It was an egregious, heat-of-the-moment call, and it led to another goal. Salvador has a temper and prefers a physical game. That's fine, but if he can't keep it in check, then his usefulness decreases. Especially given how hot the Florida PP has been.
I'm blaming Peter Harrold. Harrold got some shifts late because he has more of an offensive game than Volchenkov. Yet, he did not elect to attempt a shot on net. He certainly had some looks on net, but he didn't make an attempt. I know you're still new to New Jersey but you need to be bolder. If you have a look on net, then shoot!
I'm blaming Steve Bernier. I really do think he was jobbed on his "incidental contact" with Clemmensen in the second period. I also think he did a fine job protecting the puck that led to Stephen Gionta's first playoff goal and the second of the night. I didn't like how he beefed with Upshall after Salvador's penalty. I didn't like that he didn't do much in his limited minutes beyond that.
I'm blaming Ryan Carter. Though that's a bit hard because that would imply he was doing anything of significance.
I'm blaming Stephen Gionta. Three shots on net, including a re-direction for a goal in six minutes of ice time? What could I possibly blame him for? Namely, not telling some of the other forwards how he did more in six minutes than they did with nearly twice as much ice time.
I'm blaming Mark Fayne, Andy Greene, and Marek Zidlicky for showing up many members of the offense with their own shots on net: 3, 2, and 1 (2 if you count the waived off goal) respectively and doing a good job defending. Their work may be wasted at this rate.
I'm blaming Tim Peel for waiving off Zidlicky's goal in the second period. Bernier was judged to have incidental contact with Clemmensen. Therefore, he ruled no penalty and no goal. First of all, how can that be? If Bernier fouled the goalie, then he should have been penalized. If he didn't, then the goal should stand. Second of all, it had a big impact on the game as the Devils didn't crack Clemmensen again. Third of all, how can he and his partner Steve Kozari call nothing in the third period? I understand the calls he made on the Devils in the first two periods; they were legitimate fouls. But everything wasn't clean in the third period, yet he followed NHL standard procedure of swallowing the whistle. The Devils didn't lose the game because of Peel; but he definitely had a role in the result.
I'm blaming the media who thought Florida was an afterthought. I guess some of the Devils bought into that because the Panthers just keep getting it done. Albeit mostly on special teams, but this is a result-oriented business and the Panthers are doing their jobs. Stop saying that they need to be respected and play like it, guys. Also: don't listen to the media; just re-focus and set a better gameplan for Game 4.
OK, the last two had nothing to do with the Devils themselves; but when you start blaming everyone, it can get out of hand. Therefore, I'll relent on Kevin Clarke's constant pumping up of the crowd, the fans like myself for holding out late hope and being loud despite knowing it doesn't really matter on the ice, the condiments section Kristin Tullo poemed about on the last Talking Red, etc., etc. The short of this long rant is that the Devils team failed together, even if some players did come out looking better than we may feel.
One Final Thought: This series is not over. Florida has retaken home ice and has the series lead at 2-1. Yet, leaving the Rock and in checking the Gamethread, I heard and seen all of these laments that the series is over. Seriously? It's over? Yes, this was a bad loss. Giving up four unanswered goals to erase a three goal lead mostly by their own design was shameful. I understand, sympathize, and empathize with the unhappiness of this loss. I'm not at all happy; I just wrote 3,900+ words - an undeserved amount - blaming a whole lot of people from this game. But to say this series over after three games or that the organization can't succeed or anything like that is so outlandish that I don't know how I can dignify it with a response. I don't think it does, so please excuse me if I regard it with disdain. There's still a Game 4. Let's take it one game at a time, like the Devils should.
That's my take on tonight's game. I'm sure you're not happy, and I'm near-certain you already have your names picked out for blame that will be harped on in the comments. Please let me know what you think in the comments and please follow the rules if you choose to comment. Thank you and good night.