So close, yet so far. In the final minute of tonight's game, the Devils pulled Martin Brodeur during a penalty kill and swarmed the zone of the Carolina Hurricanes. They were down 3-2 and were desparate for an equalizer. Stephen Gionta re-directed a shot in front of Cam Ward and the puck just trickled wide. Bobby Butler bravely dove at it but couldn't knock it in. The Devils recovered but a misfired pass led to Justin Faulk clearing it up to Eric Staal, who fed Jiri Tlusty for the empty net goal. The Devils were incredibly close to getting a late game-tying goal but the Canes sealed the 4-2 win. They were so close, yet so far from getting something out of tonight's game.
However, the Devils have no one to blame but themselves for being in such a situation. The Devils were fortunate to end the first period 1-0 as the Hurricanes repeatedly and successfully gained the zone to start the game and throw pucks towards Brodeur. The nadir was when the fourth line got pinned back by Eric Staal's line, which was then followed by the Travis Zajac line and the Adam Henrique line getting pinned back in successive shifts. The Canes did what they could whereas the Devils just had issues clearing the puck, much less making passes up ice. They only got away with the first period lead due to Ilya Kovalchuk firing a rocket top-shelf past Ward on the team's first power play.
By the way, that goal by Kovalchuk led to a time warp. You see, the referee on the ice didn't award the goal when Kovalchuk shot it. It required a video review, which can only happen when there's a stoppage in play. As it turned out, it took three minutes before a stoppage in play. Once they got it, a video review clearly showed the puck going into the goal, Kovalchuk officially got the score, and as a result, the game went back to when the shot occurred: 4:01 left in the first. So the Devils and Canes played about a 23-minute first period. then we went all the way back to 4:01 in the period to play. The Canes did what they could to equalize and came out of it with a late holding penalty by Jacob Josefson.
That led to a good start by the Canes' power play in the second period. 1:36 into the period and Jussi Jokinen converted a shot on the weak side to tie the game up. The Canes continued to attack while the Devils' offense was nowhere to be seen for several minutes. The Canes continued to look smooth while the Devils were sloppy. While they would get shots later on, it certainly wasn't consistent. They had one power play and completely squandered it. They had rushes up ice but decisions went awry and the Canes were able to survive it and counter. Somehow, the Devils got eight on net; but the Canes looked more threatening. After a decently long possession, Jay Harrison got an opportunity to shoot from the point. The puck was about to go wide until Patrick Dwyer tipped it. The deflection got past Brodeur and it was 2-1 within the final minute of the period. Not many at the Rock were happy but they can't claim they were surprised. The Devils didn't look good in either period except in spots. The big positive at the second intermission was that the game was only 2-1. Perhaps a strong third period effort could allow the Devils to scrape out a result.
The Devils did get such an effort. David Clarkson was robbed early in a 2-on-1; the first of what would be 14 shots on net. There wasn't a long wait for that second goal. Ryan Carter stripped it from Faulk in the slot and slammed the puck through Ward's legs. With 18:26 left, it was very possible that the Devils could re-take the game. They actually put up offense, enough to double their first two periods in one. However, the Devils got burnt on special teams. It started with a really unnecessary interference call by Mark Fayne, where he just hit a Cane well after the play was necessary. The penalty kill looked good early and generated an opportunity for Patrik Elias and Henrique. Elias' pass was just off the mark, Zajac crashed into the net, and the Canes hurried up ice. Elias got back to make it a 3-on-3 but he and Anton Volchenkov were like statues as Eric Staal found Jiri Tlusty just inside the lower right circle. Through the bodies, he lofted one in and it became 3-2 Carolina.
The Devils would get more shots on Ward, but nothing was got through. The Devils would get two power plays but they did very little beyond two shots with them. Any hope of a second equalizer was dimmed when David Clarkson took an offensive zone penalty for tripping Jokinen in the corner with 7:17 left to play. That hope was nearly turned off when Andy Greene got beat at the blueline and hooked down Alexander Semin with 2:37 left in the game. While the Devils killed both penalties, and came very close to getting that needed goal with the last one, it undercut the team's chances. Chances that they didn't really deserve to have given how they did in the first two periods. They looked close, but they were understandably far at the start of the third and again when Tlusty scored Carolina's second power play of the night.
In short, the game was a let down. After five good wins in a row, these sorts of games can and do happen. They got some breaks, but they fell apart elsewhere. Perhaps if they didn't start off spending most of the first period in their own end of the rink, tonight could have been different. Perhaps if they took one or two fewer penalties, then the Devils would have come out of this with a result. Perhaps if the PK didn't get beaten twice while the PP did little beyond Kovalchuk's awesome shot, we may be talking about six in a row. Perhaps all of those things happen and the Canes would have found some other way to win. Whatever "perhaps" you feel like believing in, the score remains: 4-2 by a deserving Carolina team, and the Devils' winning streak is now over.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Canes Country, Bob Wage is pleased with the victory tonight in his recap, He notes that it was last of a six-game road trip for Carolina. Thanks to the Devils' early play, it didn't look like they were at the end of a long road trip. Struggling against a forecheck and playing mostly in your own end will do that.
The Game Highlights: Tonight's highlight video from NHL.com does have two impressive goals by the Devils. How often do you see Kovalchuk score on a shot that turned back the clock in a game? Or Carter scoring off a steal? At least that was cool.
OK, One More "Perhaps:" Perhaps if the ref immediately awarded Kovalchuk his power play goal instead of going three minutes without a stoppage for a video review to award him the goal, then maybe Josefson doesn't take that penalty the Canes scored early in the second and the game unravels differently. OK, it could have still resulted in a Carolina win, but possibly differently. All right, I'm done with the "Perhaps."
When Penalty Kills Falter: Tonight, the Devils were beaten twice on the penalty kill. I don't know why the official game summary has Tlusty's first goal at even strength; it clearly was during Fayne's minor for interference. Regardless, they scored two goals out of seven shots on the power play and each were noteworthy as to how Carolina scored.
The first one can be pinned largely on Martin Brodeur. As the play went from the right to Joe Corvo up-top, the Devils seemed to be in control somewhat. Corvo went for the slap-pass; faking the shot and moving it diagonally to Jokinen. Greene was in front of Jokinen, however Brodeur didn't get over. Whether he bit the fake hard or he was just unaware, he didn't even make an effort to go to his left. It would have been a tough shot to stop but as a result, Jokinen had the whole net to shoot at and he found it.
The second one really was baffling from both Patrik Elias and Anton Volchenkov. As the Canes gained the zone, Eric Staal went right, Elias was right behind Semin, and Tlusty carried the puck. Tlusty threw it behind the net as he saw Bryce Salvador and Volchenkov back with Elias right there. As Staal collected the puck, Salvador went after him while Elias and Volchenkov just hung out with Semin right in front of Brodeur. Tlusty remained wide open and neither of the two Devils went after him. So Staal fed it back to Tlusty and he had the time to aim and fire. I can't blame Salvador since at least he tried to go after Staal. But there's no reason, even on a PK, to allow a forward that much space. Semin's good but he doesn't require two skaters to cover him in front. It's rare to see Volchenkov and Elias make such an error in a shorthanded situation, but it happened tonight and it was costly.
Calls Happen But Could You At Least Try to Cut Down on Them: Since the PK got beat tonight, the players who took the penalties to begin with deserve blame for what went down tonight. Out of the five, only Volchenkov's interference penalty seemed weak since Chad LaRose jumped on the defender as the ref's arm went up. The rest, well, they were legit. Taking down guys with your stick was, is, and will be a penalty. Clinching a guy in the corner too much is a call. And the Devils either paid the price for with goals or time off the clock that they needed to get one of their own.
To be fair to Rob Kowal and Francois St. Laurent, tonight's refs, they called similar penalties on Carolina. Eric Staal got tagged for a tripping and a hooking call. Jokinen and Corvo got one each as well. The Devils couldn't complain about not getting their share of calls tonight. The fans can complain about how they only got three shots total out of four opportunities. Kovalchuk's goal was fantastic and after that they only forced Ward to make one really good save. As with the penalties and the PK, it helped undercut the Devils' chances at coming back tonight.
Good Guys: I will say there were a few Devils I did like tonight. Ilya Kovalchuk was great. He got four shots on net out of seven attempts. He scored a wicked goal on the power play, his first power play goal of the season. He was very good on the penalty kill, including one excellent sequence where he carried the puck around the zone, got it back in to circle it around, and threw a hit at the end of killing at least 15 seconds himself. He was strong on the puck and frequently looked to make things happen tonight beyond the first period.
I enjoyed the CBGB line tonight. Stephen Gionta got three shots on net out of five attempts; Steve Bernier got a shot; and Ryan Carter was the standout with his steal-and-score out of four other shots. I noticed that Peter DeBoer correctly didn't throw them out there against either Staal line all that much. I think that had something to do with their performance but that was just my observations. I didn't like Gionta going 1-for-9 on faceoffs but it ultimately wasn't a big deal.
Blah Guys: A lot of the Devils' individual performances can be summed up with "meh." In the case of Adam Henrique, he ended up with no shots on net and didn't make much of an impact. In the case of David Clarkson, he did very little until the second half of the game and most his work came in the third period. That penalty he took was dumb, too. In fact, I wasn't really happy with the whole Henrique line until the third period. As for Adam Larsson, he did a bunch of really good things and then had an occasional bad decision like a cross-ice pass in his own zone with Canes in the area or an attempt at a clearance right to an opposing player. It's things like that where I get hesitant on saying whether he's playing well or not. As for Stefan Matteau, he wasn't so much bad just that he really wasn't all that good. He was just "there," which may be OK but considering where he starts games, we should probably expect a little more impact from him. Lastly, Martin Brodeur made some important stops, especially in the first period. Yet, that Jokinen goal was pretty bad by him, and I'm not quite certain he did what he could on Tlusty's first. I think Ward was the better goalie tonight.
As an aside, I didn't think Josefson or Butler had good games tonight. Josefson lost quite a few pucks and took a penalty that turned out to be costly. Butler was ineffective on the power play and elsewhere in the 9:48 he did play.
I Sort of Got What I Wanted: In the preview, I felt the Devils could limit the Canes' shots. Well, the Canes only got 25 and the Devils did get more with 28. However, the Canes were on pace for 30 after the first two periods and they could have quite a few more had they realized the weak side was constantly open when they carried the puck into the zone. It speaks to how well the Devils did in the third period as a team as well as how out of it they were in the first two periods. Of course, the Canes scored twice on their five shots, with the latter being an empty net. Next time, I'll try to be a bit more specific I suppose.
For what it's worth, most of the Canes split up the 25 shots evenly. The Eric Staal line found the most success with eight total shots, three each from Eric Staal and Tlusty with two from Semin. A lot of one and two-shot players for the Canes tonight.
Suite Seats: I'd like to end on a happier note; I got my season ticket "experience" tonight. As a Devils season ticket holder, they've been giving out various "experiences" and mine was an ice cream social in a suite. I wasn't going to turn down eating ice cream on Jeff Vanderbeek's dime and sitting in a second-level suite. My vantage point was a bit higher up tonight and so I got a better look at how the Canes' forecheck really gave the Devils problems early and how bad things can get if a Devils' pinch doesn't work. The seats were incredibly comfortable, the ice cream was quite good, and those in the suite were fellow fans who appreciated (or at times tonight, unappreciated) what was happening on the ice. As a surprise, Grant Marshall and Bruce Driver stopped in during each intermission separately and just handed out autographed pictures of themselves as Devils. Driver got to be there and looked pleased at Carter's goal. So I want to thank Marshall, Driver, and the Devils for the experience. I had a good time in spite of what happened. And if you ever get the chance to go to a suite, well, do it. I'll be back in my usual seat for future games.
Now that you know my take on tonight's loss, I want to know yours. Would you agree that the Devils deserved to be so close, yet so far tonight? What did you think of their third period play after two relatively poor performances in the first two periods? Who on the Devils stood out to you in a good or bad way tonight? What about the Canes, did they impress you in any way? What do the Devils need to do in preparation for their upcoming back-to-back based on what you saw tonight? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. I want to thank everyone who followed along in the Gamethread and on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. The Wednesday post will be up later than usual - it's about the defense, in case you were curious. Thank you for reading.