The New Jersey Devils eliminated Our Hated Rivals with a 4-0 shutout win led by Akira Schmid and formed by the 18 skaters in front of him. That was Monday. Today is Wednesday. Tonight is the first game of the second round; a playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (2nd in Metropolitan Division, 52-22-8) at the Carolina Hurricanes (1st in Metropolitan Division, 52-21-9)
The Time: 7:00 PM ET
The Broadcast: National TV - ESPN, TVAS, SNE, SNO, SNP; Digital Audio - The Devils Hockey Network on Audacy
It is all national television coverage. The hockey world has its eyes on the Devils and Hurricanes.
The Series Preview: I wrote up an in-depth preview of the two teams going into this series that went up last night. Check it out here for full details on what each team is about and what you could expect from the series as a whole.
Should you want a Hurricanes perspective, Canes Country has its own set of series preview posts. As of late Tuesday night, Ryan Henkel has this post about the forwards and power play and Alec Sawyer has this post about the defensemen and penalty kill.
The Goal: For the love of all that is good, no stupid penalties. Listen to Jack Hughes from before Game 7. No silly penalties. I noted in the series preview that Carolina’s power play was not that hot in the regular season or in their first round series against the Isles. Still, the cost of taking a penalty is not just the concern of giving up a power play goal. It is being forced to play a handful of players in a primarily defensive situation. Shifts can get longer. Fatigue can set in. And the team down a man would not be able to attack normally. Sure, the Devils scored two huge shorthanded goals. The Hurricanes are a better team on the puck so it is doubtful to expect, say, Brent Burns to cough up a puck on a forecheck or a puck to bounce off Martin Necas to spring a 2-on-1. The Devils should make a point of being disciplined and playing to what the refs are looking for and not trying to set a physical tone. This series could be a close one as it is, the Devils do not need to help out the Canes by giving them offensive opportunities and undercutting their own in the process.
The Requisite “Calm Before the Storm” Statement for a Series Like This: The Devils traveled to Raleigh on Tuesday afternoon as per Amanda Stein. They did not practice. Just as well. They pretty much have to catch their breath and then play tonight. The only outstanding question beyond the lineup is the status of Timo Meier. According to Sam Kasan, head coach Lindy Ruff is hopeful - but would not elaborate more about what that means. It would be ideal if Meier could play but I would need him to be able to perform to his level. I know a lot of players (everyone?) is playing with some kind of injury at this point of the season. But there is no value to playing through pain if you cannot contribute like Joel Eriksson Ek trying to play hockey, a sport that requires two good legs, with a broken leg.
As for Carolina, they have been practicing. Per Chip Alexander of the News & Observer, they even put out these line combinations in practice.
Line combos have Aho with Noesen, Jarvis; Staal with Drury and Necas; Kotkaniemi with Martinook and Fast. Stastny with Stepan, Puljujarvi/MacEachern.— Chip Alexander (@ice_chip) May 2, 2023
The Drury is Jack Drury. He was injured during the Islander series. It appears he will return to the lineup tonight. There could be a game-time decision between Jesse Puljujarvi and Mackenzie MacEachern. Stastny and Stepan on a fourth line gives it a veteran presence. The line of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jordan Martinook, and Jesper Fast (Triple J?) could be used as a checking line of sorts. With the first two games in Raleigh, head coach Rod Brind’Amour can and will seek to find favorable matchups. Anything that can get Martin Necas going would be worth Carolina’s weight in gold.
That all stated, nothing out of the ordinary appeared to happen in practice as per Alexander’s tweets. The big roster question for Carolina is who will start in net. Antti Raanta started the first five games of the Islanders series and then Frederik Andersen got Game 6 and played great. Per Alexander, Brind’Amour remains coy and we will actually know tonight before the game.
As ever, more information will come out as the day goes on. Please feel free to use the comments to link to any meaningful updates about the game.
My Completely Wild Guesses at the Open Roster Questions: If Meier is medically cleared, he will play. I will also boldly guess Miles Wood comes out of the lineup after a do-nothing (and, perhaps more importantly, a do-no-harm-either) Game 7 and Curtis Lazar draws back in for defensive support. I think Yegor Sharangovich will get another game. Although the Hurricanes’ potential speed would justify a swap with Jesper Boqvist, I think Sharangovich showed he can still go on an up-tempo Devils squad. I think Akira Schmid will be the Devils’ starter tonight and beyond until he proves otherwise.
For Carolina, I will boldly guess Andersen gets the start. I do not see the need to go to Raanta after Andersen stopped 33 out of 34 from an inspired Isles team in an win-or-stay-home game for them that went into overtime. I think Brind’Amour is going to ride the warmer hand as he sees fit. Everything else about the lineup is the same. With that massive defense led by Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns; Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce; and Shayne Gostisbehere and Jalen Chatfield.
Is This Game Important?: Duh, it is the playoffs. Everything is important. Let me rephrase the question: Relative to the other games, it is the most important? My thinking: No, with a but. No, because the Devils just won a series after going down 0-2 in the series. They got creamed in Game 1 and Game 2; do not let anyone tell you those losses were anything but awful. It did not doom them, of course. They are here now.
But the Devils needed to win two road games to do it and those games were rather close at 2-1 in OT and 3-1 with an empty-netter. I do not know if I like New Jersey’s chances of coming back again from another 0-2 start. Carolina’s goaltending may not be Shesterkin-level, but Carolina’s defense is one of the best in the whole NHL this season and their 5-on-5 play is killer. They demonstrated that they can protect leads with the best of them. They can bounce back from losses too. Unlike a certain hashtag, there is actually no quit in Carolina.
Simply, I think the goal for New Jersey is to at least win one game in Raleigh this week. I would love it if they won both. I would rather they win both. But if they are coming to Newark on Sunday afternoon in a 1-1 series, then I would not be so concerned as I would be in another 0-2 situation. Just one win breaks the home ice advantage for at least a couple of days. It would be great if they did it tonight. After all, why add more pressure to Game 2 if they can help it? But it is not the end of anything if they do not. This series will not be decided tonight. (This also applies to Carolina but Canes Country has that angle covered.)
One Last Thought: Get ready for a siren at some point. It’s Carolina’s thing at the PNC Arena to have someone notable crank an air raid siren. They have been doing this since the 2008-09 season. Here is an example from a few years ago. Better this than a cannon going off with every goal scored.
Your Take: The second round begins tonight. What do you expect in Game 1? How are you feeling about the Devils’ chances? What do you think they would need to do to score more goals than the other team? Please leave your answers, any gameday news updates, and other thoughts about the game in the comments. Thank you for reading.