The Time: 7:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - MSG+ (Local), NHL Network, TSN (National); Radio - 660 AM WFAN
The Series: The New Jersey Devils (1) vs. the Florida Panthers (2)
The Last Game: The New Jersey Devils hosted the Florida Panthers and it was great - for the first fifteen minutes. The pre-game video was superb, the Rock was electric, and the Devils swarmed all over the Panthers to score three goals on six shots in a little over six minutes. The Devils chased Jose Theodore as Scott Clemmensen made his 2012 playoff debut. Everything was going well until Patrik Elias shoved Erik Gudbranson down after a whistle for icing. He got two minutes, Martin Brodeur kicked out a long shot by Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim beat Anton Volchenkov to the puck and then beat Brodeur easily to make it 3-1. The Devils muddled as the Panthers became more agressive and they drew another call when Bryce Salvador roughed up Upshall along the boards. The Florida power play got the Panthers back into the game further when they converted on a long shot in the final seconds of the first period to make it 3-2. Early in the second period, Mike Weaver's shot from distance went through a screen, possibly deflected, and ended up behind Brodeur. Peter DeBoer changed Brodeur with Johan Hedberg. Yes, the Devils' three goal lead was equalized and only 22 minutes elapsed.
The goalie change did not change the run of play. Petr Sykora high-sticked Tomas Fleischmann for another careless minor penalty. On the ensuing power play, Brian Campbell scored on a similar shot to Weaver's only it was on a power play and Hedberg saw it all the way. The soft goal allowed gave the Panthers the lead. Normally, a team would see this happen and start throwing everything forward. The Devils didn't do that except in spurts. They had an equalizer of their own waved off by the refs on a weak incidental contact call and that was the closest they got. Yes, the Devils had over 30 minutes to tie up the game, to retake what was theirs early in the first period, and they failed. The Devils lost Game 3 by a score of 4-3 and no Devils fan was happy. I wasn't at all as I blamed everyone in my recap. For the happier side of the game, you'd have to go read something by a Florida supporter. In that case, Chris S Roberts has this recap at Litter Box Cats.
The Goal: This is a must-win game and the only way I can see this team getting that win is if they can be smart for all 60 minutes. Note that I didn't say they have to dominate. Florida is going to be going for glory and they're likely going to play like a NHL team for all 60 minutes. I would not expect another quick three goal start like we saw in Games 1 and 3. Regardless, the Devils have basically found ways to shoot themselves in the foot in each game. They would take avoidable calls to give Florida and their hot power play to get back into games. They would not respond to Florida's goals well, they would settling on hard dump-ins instead of trying to breakdown Florida's defense with speed, and generally not playing to the scoreboard. The Devils do not need to be perfect, they just need to be better than Florida. We know they can score against Florida, we know they can get through to them, and we know that the veteran-laden Devils squad has the experience for all of these situations. If they can keep their focus and keep their wits about them, then they have a good chance as any to get to tie up this series. And it's got to happen tonight.
For a few more thoughts on tonight's game, please continue on after the jump. For an opposition's point of view, please visit Litter Box Cats.
This is a must-win game. I decry all of the Devils fans who felt it's over after Game 3. Yes, it was a bad loss, but it is a 2-1 series. If the Devils win this one, it's a best-of-three series that the Devils could win. That said, if you want to lament their demise before it happens, then feel free to do so if they lose Game 4. Going down 3-1 in any series just leads to impending doom. It requires the losing team to be perfect and have enough luck going their way for three straight games. I don't know about you, but I do not see this team rattling off three straight wins. Therefore, they pretty much have to tie up the series tonight.
It's a little unknown what the Panthers will do. According to George Richards of the Miami Herald at On Frozen Pond, the Panthers took Wednesday off. I doubt there will be any changes with the Panthers' skaters. After all, they did win two straight playoff games. I wouldn't mess with the Marcel Goc line, the Stephen Weiss line, the defense, and definitely not the power play if I were him. There is an open question as far as who their goaltender will be. With Scott Clemmensen coming into Game 3 and stopping everything, I wouldn't be surprised if he got the start over Theodore tonight. Reading in between the lines of Richards' post, it seems that Clemmensen would be the likely starter. However, Kevin Dineen wouldn't give any hints. We'll find out later today.
The Devils practiced on Wednesday. According to Tom Gulitti's post-practice post at Fire & Ice, Peter DeBoer hasn't committed to any lineup changes. That's a rather curious statement. Normally, whoever has been on lines in practice would be active in the next game unless a sudden injury or illness comes up. Now, DeBoer says he hasn't settled on anything yet. Reading in between the lines, I think he's considering making some change in the lineup. That he also states that Anton Volchenkov has to perform better makes me wonder if he's the target for change. I wrote earlier today that Volchenkov has really fallen, particularly in this playoff series. So I wouldn't be surprised if Adam Larsson came in place of him. As with Florida's starting goaltender, we'll find out later today.
What also doesn't surprise me is that DeBoer announced after Game 3 that Martin Brodeur would start in Game 4. I've called out Brodeur whenever he's let up a soft goal and he wasn't good in Game 3. Yet, I have no problems with Brodeur starting again. Johan Hedberg came into Game 3 and not only did the team not play any better, but he gave up a soft goal as well. It would have been two if it wasn't for a Devils defenseman (I think it was Andy Greene) clearing the puck out before it went over the line. Moose has been excellent in spot duty, but his performance in Game 3 wasn't enough to convince me that he should be in between the pipes instead.
The big question is going to be whether the Devils can stay out of the box. The Devils surprisingly didn't work on their penalty kill in Wednesday's practice according to this post by Gulitti. They decided to look at tape instead so the coaches can highlight what's going on. I can agree that Florida has had some great luck, but I'm hoping the coaches are talking about the root cause of these PK woes: the penalties themselves. The best penalty kill is not to need it as possible. I have no idea how the refs will call this game, but the Devils can do themselves favors by not doing anything stupidly obvious to the opposition. This isn't some young team who's nervy and are reacting too hard by being in the playoffs. This isn't a team that's filled with bruisers, bangers, and bad tempers. This is a veteran team that should know better. If the refs are calling every little thing, then there's not much to do but adjust as they happen. Giving Florida opportunities to burn them on the PP again and again will only lead to a loss.
While I'm concerned about their discipline, I will say that the team's attitudes seem to be in the right place based on this post by Gulitti. The quotes by the players and DeBoer demonstrate that they understand the situation that they're in and they're not freaking out. They know they've made mistakes and they're just that: mistakes. They can be addressed and fixed. I particularly liked this quote by Ilya Kovalchuk:
"We’re a good team and we have to find a way how to bounce back," Kovalchuk said. "One game is not going to kill our confidence. It’s a good job by them. They didn’t do anything crazy or surprising. They were good on the power play and why were they good? Because they were simple. They were shooting the puck from (the point) and a couple good bounces went their way and it went in. So, that’s what it’s all about. You have to shoot the puck to score goals."
He's right. That's why we must demand that Kovalchuk get shots on net. Kovalchuk's all about creating and attempting a lot of shots. That's what he does, and usually it's good. However, two shots on net out of four to ten attempts is still only two shots on net. Firing them into traffic or the defender in front of you doesn't help. Kovalchuk didn't look good at all at times in Game 3; he can help out his own cause by being more judicious with his shot selection.
His teammates should follow the instructions that should come from that last sentence. They need to shoot more. Kovalchuk needs to get more on net and Parise could stand to get more at evens. It would be great to see Travis Zajac or Adam Henrique put some rubber on net. It would be grand if Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus followed Patrik Elias' lead from Game 3; Elias at least had four shots on net. It would be simply marvelous if Alexei Ponikarovsky can generate some shots and David Clarkson takes more shots that aren't 40 feet from the net. The goals by the Devils have come in bunches, but the forwards as a whole need to keep shooting - with or without a lead - to keep control of the game and to hopefully get those additional goals to secure a win.
I also liked this quote by Zach Parise:
"You know what? The things we talked about before the series – when they play well, how they score goals, the things we should be aware of – that’s exactly what’s happening," Parise said. "They get offense by turnovers. They get offense by their power play. And that’s how they’ve been scoring their goals. We knew it was coming, so we have to understand we have to play them 5-on-5. That’s how we’re going to beat these guys."
He's absolutely right. It is to the Devils' benefit to keep this game at even strength and maintain possession as much as possible. The captain knows the way to success. This is a very good thing. Now the players he leads has to follow suit on the ice. In the words of two-time Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin, "Talk is cheap, play the game." It's time for Parise and Kovalchuk and DeBoer and the Devils to back up their words with action. It's death or glory, Devils. Please choose glory.
Now it's your turn to give your opinion on tonight's crucial Game 4. How confident are you in the Devils' chances at tying up this game? What are the keys to the game that you think think the Devils need to do to win this game? Will we see a better overall performance? Who do you think will have a big game for the Devils? Who do you think needs to have a big game? Will the Devils win tonight's game? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's game in the comments. Thank you for reading. Let's go, Devils. It's a must-win game.