The New Jersey Devils won a critical Game 3 at home over the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only did they win to deny them a potential sweep and a chance to tie up the series on Tuesday night, they won big in such a way that Carolina could end up being in more trouble than they may think. How big? 8-4 big. Most goals the Devils have scored so far in the playoffs and the most Carolina has allowed as well.
I wrote about how the New Jersey Devils being down two games to none to the Carolina Hurricanes was different than the situation in the first round this morning. I have been highlighting Carolina’s aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck and man-to-man defense giving the Devils loads of fits. While the Devils beat them twice in the regular season and took them to a shootout, those results came because the Hurricanes’ goaltender gave up bad goals and Hurricanes players made errors that the Devils punished. After Frederik Andersen and the Canes lineup all had pristine performances I casted doubt on either happening.
I was wrong. That absolutely did happen. Regarding those three major points:
- Frederik Andersen was pulled after four goals allowed and at least two of them being soft ones. The two I am thinking of is Timo Meier jamming in a puck right at the left post for the game’s first goal and Michael McLeod burning him on a shorthanded rush to make it 3-0 in the first period. Pytor Kochetkov came in and was only somewhat better - and he still got torched for four scores. Damon Severson put a shot through him in the second period. His five-hole was an issue in past Devils-Hurricanes games; Miles Wood reminded him of that in a one-on-one in the third period. After six games of power play failure (and there was more of that today) between this series and the season, Kochetkov was the victim of the first power play goal scored by the Devils against Carolina. Thank you, Ondrej Palat.
- Several Hurricanes skaters had bad games. Brady ‘Skjei and Brett Pesce were horrid. Brent Burns was a non-factor. After rocking the Devils for two straight games, the line of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jesper Fast, and Jordan Martinook did very little against the Devils. Jordan Staal did not even get matched with Jack Hughes and still suffered in 5-on-5. Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis found the scoresheet, but other than that, they got little done. Unless you want to credit Aho for being tackled down by Jack Hughes in the second period. He did get done in there as The Big Deal gave him some what’s for after a cross-check, which was called.
- Perhaps most importantly, a couple of early scores led Carolina to break away from their aggressive forecheck. The Devils were more diverse in their zone exits, sometimes not even giving the Canes a chance to forecheck on offense at times. The Hurricanes even sat back in a more passive 1-2-2 at times. Something Our Hated Rivals did and something that the Devils crushed when the Devils started to roll in that series. The Devils were able to get more lateral on their movements up ice, get around without being kept to the outside in the Carolina zone, and crash the net over and over. The offense resembled more of what we saw in Games 5 and 7 of the first round - and with even more goals scored.
The Devils essentially cracked Carolina in this game. A massive win after suffering two decisive beatings in Raleigh.
Of course, the Devils cracked Carolina today. Sure, I want them to do it again and I think we saw how it could be repeated in the future. Still, despite the 8-goal game, I would exercise caution for The People Who Matter. I fully agree with head coach Rod Brind’Amour when he said his team was no good in Game 3. They were not. If Games 1 and 2 were at the extreme of All Canes Playing Well to Awesome and today was at the extreme of Almost All Canes Were Average to Terrible, then Game 4 could be somewhere in the middle. I would anticipate a return to that aggressive 1-2-2 forecheck that gave the Canes so many successes in the first two games. I would expect a more spirited and calmer game from a Hurricanes squad that just became disorganized as the game went on. I would think Carolina will play a whole lot smarter than they did today instead of falling apart after the McLeod goal. After all, even with a nearly full power play, Carolina took one (1) shot on net since the McLeod goal in that first period. Carolina was cracked in Game 3. We cannot presume it will happen again even if we want it.
To end this summary of the game before I go into some detailed observations, I do want to credit Lindy Ruff and the coaching staff (with one exception) for this win. I am unsure if Ruff has figured out the Hurricanes’ strategies, but Ruff put himself in a position to just make the game harder for Brind’Amour and his squad. Having the last change helped big time. He kept Jack Hughes further away from Jordan Staal, whose line could not handle the Nico Hischier line. The decision to dress both Luke Hughes and Brendan Smith worked out very well. Double-shifting forwards allowed to mix-up the matchups further and both Luke and Smith contributed to the game. Most of all, the Devils kept attacking. Even with a 3-0 lead going into the second period, the Devils pushed for more offense. They were right to do so and it led to the lovely score you see in the headline.
Some numbers: They generated 27 shooting attempts (more than the 23 in the first), took 16 shots (more than the 9 in the first), and scored two more goals. Those goals would ultimately end up being the difference in the final score. And this even continued in the third. While lesser, the Devils drew power plays, put up 16 attempts, put 9 on net, and found three more scores to ensure no comeback was realistically possible. If there is one thing I always like to see when my favorite team has a lead, then it is keep attacking. It frustrates the opponent, it makes the game easier on defense and on the goalie, and it could lead to the lead being larger. That is how it goes in any hockey games regardless of the situation. It happened once again to secure an important playoff win against one of the best 5-on-5 and defensive teams in the NHL.
It was a great game for the Devils and a great game to attend. Now we shall see if they can honor it on Tuesday night with another win to extend the series further.
The Game Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Natural Stat Trick Game Stats
The Opposition Opinion: Ryan Henkel at Canes Country has this recap that calls the game a “defensive collapse” fior Carolina in the headline. I can agree with that assessment. The Skjei-Pesce pairing was raw meat for a wolfpack; .
The Game Highlights: Savor the glory of eight (8) goals scored by the Devils in an 8-4 playoff win this afternoon with this highlight video from NHL.com.
Was it All Good for New Jersey? Well, No: While the Devils won and won big, we have to be honest about the team’s performance. It was not all good up and down the lineup. There were absolutely plenty of positives. There is absolutely a lot to praise. I want to get the criticisms out of the way.
First, Vitek Vanecek did not have a good game. He was the best goalie in the game. He out-performed Andersen and Kochetkov. He even got a secondary assist on Wood’s goal to put the netminder ahead of two Devils (Yegor Sharangovich and Jesper Boqvist, whom both did not play today) and multiple notable names. That said, he was fighting the puck all afternoon. His goal allowed to Aho was a bad one to let trickle through, nevermind that Aho was all alone. Vanecek was beaten three times for shorthanded goals. Jordan Martinook’s came from a penalty shot where he beat Vanecek with a good move. Jordan Staal scored on a 2-on-1 right after a power play began, and Seth Jarvis turned a Tomas Tatar turnover into a breakaway goal. On both of those, Vanecek looked frozen. Throw in two post-shots - including a loud one from Necas early in the first period - and there is reason to still doubt Vanecek as the Devils goalie for Game 4 and beyond.
To be fair, Vanecek did make some important saves. He stuffed Aho all alone in the second period. He kept the puck out of some second period scrambles to keep it a three-goal game. He robbed Jesper Fast at his left post early in the third period. He also struggled to catch the puck, he played it at odd times with his stick, and rebounds were plentiful. I will say that if Vanecek had to concede four goals, then doing so in a game where his teammates would score eight is the best time to do it. I can agree that the likelihood of the Devils giving up two shorthanded scoring chances and a penalty shot again is very low. Still, Vanecek had a chance to re-take the crease this afternoon. I do not think he took it with confidence. I could be convinced that Akira Schmid may be the safer choice for Game 4. Even knowing that Ruff is likely going to stick with the same lineup after a win for better or for worse.
Second, the power play. I do want to say congratulations to Ondrej Palat, Jesper Bratt, and Luke Hughes for doing what no other Devil has done against Carolina this season. The eighth goal of the game was the Devils’ first PPG against Carolina all season long. The problem is that goal came after the following:
- A power play from a Hurricane getting an extra minor (Sebastian Aho cross-checking Jack Hughes) whose highlight was Luke Hughes blindly making a pass at his blueline that Martinook picked off. Dougie Hamilton hooked him - a bit questionable per replay from some of the People Who Matter, but live, I thought it was a foul - for a penalty shot. Martinook scored on said penalty shot.
- A power play from a Hurricane getting an extra minor (Stefan Noesen for roughing Erik Haula prior to a fight) that started with Jordan Staal and Martinook rushing up ice for a 2-on-1 SHGA and, almost a minute later, Seth Jarvis taking a Tatar turnover in for a score.
- Thirty seconds after the Jarvis goal, Burns went off for slashing Luke Hughes’ stick into pieces. The Devils had a short 5-on-3 but did not do much with it.
- Then shortly before that 5-on-3 ended, Jaccob Slavin hit Nico Hischier down to deny him a puck in the corner. It was called for interference. Brind’Amour was irate. A continued 5-on-3 ensued. The Devils got one (1) shot on Kochetkov.
- Then just after the 5-on-3s ended, Palat hammers in a feed from Bratt to end it.
The power play was a net -2 today and generated a total of three shots on net against two goalies who had really bad afternoon. While one did go in, the offensive opportunities were wasted at their best despite the back-to-back 5-on-3s and 5:34 of power play time. It is true that Carolina’s penalty kill is one of the best in the NHL. And the Devils’ power play really struggles against aggressive PK teams. Yet, this is unacceptable. This has to be better. Andrew Brunette, you have to change something. Something about their breakout. Something about their approach. Even just telling the guys to be more careful with the puck would have denied the embarrassment of three shorties. Good that the Devils finally converted one against Carolina, but if the Devils really want to make future games easier to win, then their power plays have to be a lot more effective at generating offense. Certainly not to allow three shorthanded opportunities!
The Luke Hughes Debut: I was skeptical of the addition of Luke Hughes changing anything that the Devils needed to in this series. By the game’s end, I was proven very wrong. Luke Hughes absolutely deserves to be in this lineup. While his turnover to Martinook was costly on the power play, he created so much more good than bad. He was calm in his own end. When he took a shift in 5-on-5, the Devils out attempted the Canes 15-7. The youngster did not get torched at all; he did quite well against Carolina’s fourth line of ineffective play today (Did you know Jesse Puljujarvi was in this game? Now you do) and in shifts against the line of Staal, Martin Necas, and Jack Drury. The shots in 5-on-5 were even at four each, but that included his awesome shift with Damon Severson that yielded the Devils’ fifth goal. Hughes picked up two assists to go with 14:28 of ice time in his debut, which is fantastic. He was a legitimate contributor to today’s big win of an important playoff game. I do not know what more one would need to see. Luke must be in the lineup going forward.
Is two assists a lot for a teenage defenseman making his debut in the postseason? Actually, yes per the NHL PR account on Twitter. It ties him all-time with Miro Heiskanen, Ray Bourque, Erik Karlsson, Jim Pavese, and Devils legend Scott Niedermayer. Lauren Kelly is somewhere on social media pretending her stupid tweet will not be brought up again. I can confirm that it has. L*** H&ghes was actually good today.
The Return of Brendan Smith: Almost the opposite of Luke Hughes, the veteran, slower, defensive minded defender Brendan Smith also drew back into the lineup. He was really bad on the puck in Game 2 against Our Hated Rivals. He was much better today. Sure, he missed some coverages and had some turnovers that Vanecek did bail him out on. He also had some smarter defensive plays one-on-one, such as on his first shift. Smith also registered a primary assist on Jack Hughes’ first goal of the afternoon. The point was Smith’s first since January 19, 2023 in Seattle. In the run of play, Smith was fine. The Devils were out-attempted 14-15 when he was out there; shots were even at 8-8; and xG% was just below 50%. Not great, but not bad at all for a veteran that is not the best on the puck when he is having a good game. It was a decent enough return. Possibly enough for Ruff & Co. to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen going forward - until he cannot.
The Kevin Bahl Question: Kevin Bahl played all of 5:50 today. He took just three shifts in each period. I wonder if he was hurt or not fully 100%. I do not recall him doing anything objectionable or costly. With seven defensemen in the lineup, I can understand that someone is going to get the short end of the minutes. Still, 5:50 is a small amount even in an 11-7 roster. Especially in a game where the Devils led by at least three goals from the 13th minute onward. So here is my question: What is up with Kevin Bahl’s usage today?
The Jack Hughes Ascension Continues: The Big Deal reminded the haters and losers, of which there are a decreasing amount, that he is indeed The Big Deal. He one-handed a puck behind the net to Timo Meier for the game’s first goal. He sniped a high short-side shot past a sliding Andersen to make it 2-0. He had a hand in what would be Luke’s first playoff point and Severson’s first playoff goal of the year, which made it 5-1. Hughes scored a second goal in tight after a lovely move to beat Shayne Gostisbehere and then put a puck in off Kochetkov that slid in. Hughes was cross-checked by Aho and decided that was enough, tackled him, gave him some business (a fight technically needs two participants unless you want to call Aho getting business’ed a participant...), and served a roughing minor as Aho got the extra two for the cross-check. Hughes had a four-point game among six shooting attempts and driving play with a 13-9 attempt advantage in 5-on-5, where he did the most damage against Skjei and Pesce in 5-on-5 (9-3 in attempts, 3-0 in goals). Carolina had little answer for #86 today. The Big Deal elevated his game big time in this playoff game. If he keeps it up, then it is great news for New Jersey and not-so-great news for Carolina.
The Aside about Skjei: Skjei’s day was summed up by crashing into Bastian and another Cane (Pesce?) while trying to chase Wood after John Marino made a stretch pass. Skjei was unaware of the two bodies and so he fell. Wood was free to take the puck into the zone and he did. He flew in all alone and went five-hole with a backhander on Kochetkov. Brady Skjei had a really, really, really bad day.
The Relief for Timo Meier and Nico Hischier: Timo Meier and Nico Hischier had playoff games where they did everything but score. More so against Our Hated Rivals than Carolina. But after many shots, plays, and efforts, both finally got their first playoff goals of the year. Meier jamming one in at the left post opened the scoring. A great goal for him and a sign to keep Dawson Mercer and The Big Deal with him. Something that lasted throughout the game aside from double-shifting.
The Hischier goal was possibly the greasiest goal in a game where the Devils took the game to the crease over and over for scores. A high flip out of the zone by Ondrej Palat put Bratt and Skjei in a battle for the puck. Bratt got away with slashing a stick out of Skjei’s hands to win the puck and put a close shot on Andersen. Skjei just grabbed him and took him down into the endboards. Hischier followed the play to get the puck behind the net and attempt a wrap around. He was denied once and then played the puck across the crease into space. Bratt collected the puck and flung it back into the crease. The puck was slowed down but not stopped by Pesce. Hischier had inside position on Martinook and put the loose puck in past Andersen while being knocked down. There is your grit. There is your toughness with impact. It gave the captain his first goal, it gave Bratt a reason to feel good with an assist after taking some pain from Skjei, and it gave Brind’Amour cause to put in Kochetkov.
With goals against under their belts, these two forwards have to feel good. Especially Hischier, who had an awesome game with Bratt and Palat in 5-on-5. They took Pesce, Skjei, and the Kotkaniemi line to school on Sunday. The one remaining top forward to remain goalless against a goalie is Bratt. But if he continues to have games like this and help set up goals - he had two primary assists today - then I think it will happen sooner rather than later.
The More Underrated Performances of Devils Defensemen: Dougie Hamilton, Damon Severson, John Marino, and Jonas Siegenthaler all had great games on defense. Sure, Marino and Severson both found the scoresheet. And Marino did fall into the red in 5-on-5 for attempts (by 2) and shots (by 1). But all four were smart in their own end, they took hits and gave hits responsibly, and they made a lot of stops that led to breakouts and zone exits. They were important to keep the Canes to only 58 attempts and 30 shots on net. The second period was concerning with 15 shots allowed, but they countered to help the Devils try to match them in attempts and shots as well. Good jobs!
The Better BMW: This was a better game for BMW than Game 2. McLeod’s PK work was good but the shorthanded goal was both magisterial and important to put the Canes in a deep hole. Wood does not always finish those one-on-ones, but he did. Nathan Bastian was remarkably close to making it a 9-4 game late in the third with a snipe that rang off the left post, Kochetkov, and somehow stayed out of the net. Wood and Bastian took no penalties. Outside of some dubious decisions, they did not do anything horrid that cost the team anything. The run of play was not positive but it was not a burial like it was last Friday. That and two goals from the fourths was a good day.
By the way, due to the 11 forwards, McLeod got some shifts with Erik Haula and Palat that went quite well. Per Natural Stat Trick, they got 5:22 together in 5-on-5 for an 8-2 attempt differential and a 2-0 shot differential. Not a lot of offense but just about nothing allowed either. It may be something Ruff should consider putting together if he goes back to 12 forwards or wants to switch out Bastian or Wood with someone else.
The Doubt for Carolina: Carolina could carry this loss into their Game 4 preparation. They got away from their preferred forecheck. Their man-on-man defense was ripped apart, largely thanks to Skjei and Pesce being miserable this afternoon. Without that last change, Jordan Staal is not going to be able to shut down Jack Hughes - not that anyone could this afternoon. Something has to be adjusted beyond asking his players to not to collectively stink it up again.
Most of all, what does he do with the goaltending? Carolina has rotated between Andersen, Antti Raanta, and Kochetkov all season. Injuries and performances required it. It was an issue in the first round. Raanta showed signs of struggling against the Isles. In a critical Game 6 on the road, Brind’Amour went with Andersen, who rewarded his decision with a great game to help knock out of the Isles. Andersen just had to be there in Game 1 and was legitimately good in Game 2. Today, he was terrible. Raanta was sick so Kochetkov got his 2023 playoff debut today. He got torched for four goals on 22 shots, and three of them were not good. So Kochetkov’s chance to show he can be a viable option took a big hit. Is the hope that Raanta is healthy for Game 4 and put him back in? Do you hope for a bounce-back performance from Andersen knowing New Jersey just wrecked him? This is a big question. Another poor goaltending performance will only force Carolina away from what they want to do in 5-on-5 and on defense, and that benefits a Devils team that struggled with their preferred plans.
As for New Jersey, the approach has to be about what they can do to keep Carolina on their toes. Getting zone exits up high, going to the weakside on breakouts, some high flips for one-on-ones, and such were helpful in keeping the Canes guessing. Being able to attack the net was also helpful in showing that the Canes may need to do more than stick to man-on-man at times. Especially if that man gets beat. The Devils need to keep up the good work in throwing off the Hurricanes even if their goaltender - who ever it is - does not give up a jam play within the first six minutes of the game, a horrid SHG through the legs, or a bunch of shots through their person for a second straight game.
The 5-on-5 Victory: The Hurricanes were one of the few teams who were better than New Jersey in 5-on-5 hockey in the season and definitely in this playoffs. Today, it was the Devils who were superior in 5-on-5. Attempts favored New Jersey, 57-45. Shots favored New Jersey, 30-22. Scoring chances favored New Jersey, 35-17. High danger chances heavily favored New Jersey, 20-7. Expected goals were 3.44-1.81 in favor of New Jersey. Actual goals in 5-on-5 was a total blowout: 6-1 for the Devils. These numbers show how excellent the Devils played in the most common situation in hockey. Something that has been a point of emphasis for the Hurricanes. Blowouts are not likely to continue, but if the Devils can hang with Carolina more in 5-on-5 with closer scores, then that is a huge step in the right direction for making this series. I hope this game turns out to be a sign of things to come instead of just One Bad Game for Carolina.
The Penalty Reminder - Watch Your Sticks: Tomas Tatar whacked Aho in the helmet after a Devils shot deflected out of play. It was a dangerous play and Tatar was fortunate to only get two minutes for it. Late in the second period, McLeod hit Jack Drury up high with his stick - behind the play of a Devils breakout, no less. The referee crew let plenty go for both sides, but high-sticking can be obvious calls. Both were dumb fouls to take by Tatar and McLeod. Fortunately, McLeod scored a shorty on the Tatar penalty and the Devils killed the McLeod penalty with aplomb.
The Broom is Denied: With today’s win, the Devils have ensured another playoff series where they will not get swept. It has yet to happen to the Devils - ever.
One Final Thought: It was so much more relaxing to see the arena largely filled with the People Who Matter. Not that there were no Canes fans at the Rock but they were few, far between, and generally good sports about things. A far cry from Our Hated Rivals, whose fans only add to the desire to want to see the Devils disappoint them forever. It was also a very loud crowd. From the opening to all eight goals to successful kills to the very end, the fans were out, proud, and supportive. Of course, an 8-4 win where the Devils never trailed and led most of it by three goals helped the vibes to be so good. Hopefully, we witness it again on Tuesday night at 7 PM ET.
Your Take: You have read my many thoughts about an important and massive win over Carolina. Now I want to know what you think. Who impressed you the most on the Devils? What did you think of Luke Hughes and Brendan Smith? Can the Devils get Carolina away from their strategy for a second straight game? Which of the eight goals were your favorite? Who do you start in net for either team on Tuesday night? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the win in the comments.
Thanks to Elliot for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who followed along here and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.