My first thought for tonight’s New Jersey Devils loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 is as follows. The Devils sucked, especially in the second period. Carolina dominated them. It was a 1-6 loss with five goals allowed in the second period. Do I really need to go into more detail? Have a good day/night.
My second thought for tonight’s New Jersey Devils loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 is as follows. You have seen this game before. No, seriously. This was pretty much Game 2 all over again. Except it was in Newark and the majority of the goal scoring took place in the second period. Oh, and Vitek Vanecek was allowed to give up five goals before being given the hook for Akira Schmid in a 1-6 loss. This sucked as much as you think it would have. I saw it live and in person so I confirm its suck-ness. Have a good day/night.
As usual, I have more to say than that. But if you want to leave it there and scroll on down to the comments section to have your say, share your beef about this loss, and/or commit to whatever narrative you have decided upon whenever the Devils lose this season, then go for it. I cannot blame you. I certainly cannot stop you. For those who want a little more than just that, please read on.
The Devils won big in Game 3 thanks in large parts to Carolina’s goaltending being questionable at best and some Hurricanes having some awful games - especially Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce. The early scores by New Jersey forced Carolina away from their preferred tactics and that only helped the Devils continue to crash the net and get more goals. Did the Devils do any of this in Game 4? Yes. For about 12-13 minutes of the game.
The Devils did find it fruitful. A Timo Meier shot hit off Jack Hughes’ shin in front to dribble a puck past Frederik Andersen for the game’s first goal. Ondrej Palat nearly beat Andersen twice later; a wide shot was waffleboarded to the slot almost as a gift to Michael McLeod; and the Devils were just pushing forward. All 11 forwards. All 7 defensemen. Even Brendan Smith got to activate a little. Luke Hughes was carrying the puck out of the zone ahead of an attempted forechecker like a proper veteran. It was great. With Andersen’s perceived shakiness in net and the Devils playing like they did on Sunday and against Our Hated Rivals after Game 4, I had a great feeling. As did the rest of the Rock, which was remarkably loud thanks to the People Who Matter.
Then the game turned. Eventually, Carolina started to attack a bit more. No matter, they were losing after all. The Devils looked for stretch passes to try to beat the 1-2-2. Those started to falter or they would end up leading to battles in the neutral zone for the puck. Battles that the Canes started to win more. This stunted the Devils’ attack while creating potential opportunities for Carolina. The Hurricanes squandered them at first, thanks to some good defensive awareness by the Devils. Vitek Vanecek even made some stops to great ovations. But Carolina kept at it and they would hit pay dirt.
A stretch pass by Luke Hughes to Michael McLeod, who was otherwise having an awesome first period, connected at the redline. But Jaccob Slavin was ready for McLeod. No, the defenseman did not light up McLeod with a hit. McLeod attempted a deke and Slavin just took the puck away. A turnover but not a huge problem at first glance. It became one when Slavin recognized that Luke Hughes went for a change and had Jordan Martinook wiiiiide open by the right boards. He passed it up and it was a make-shift 2-on-1 with Damon Severson defending the middle and not Martin Necas streaking down the middle. Martinook played a puck towards Necas, Severson got a piece of it, but the puck went forward. Necas got it and buried it past a seemingly frozen Vanecek. That goal made it 1-1. A late first period goal. In most cases, especially in Devils games in the regular season, this would have been a disappointment but not one to doom the team. It ended up being a forebearer of what the second period would become.
The second period was absolutely miserable. Terrible. Horrendous. Awful. No-good. Very bad. Whatever negative thing you want to call it, it was it for the Devils. Carolina was the opposite. They were terrific. They were excellent .They were on point. They absolutely punished the Devils, especially Vitek Vanecek. Remember that first Necas goal? The second one by Necas featured Ondrej Palat being burnt and Brett Pesce - who had a far better game tonight - setting up Necas for a similar goal to Vanecek’s left. That goal kickstarted a four-goal-in-less-than-six-minute deluge against Vanecek.
- A few minutes after Necas made it 1-2, Carolina broke out of their end and Jordan Staal made the entry and easily went around Severson to go behind the net. He tried to fling a pass around to Necas but the puck hit off Luke Hughes. It came to Jack Drury, who teed up a puck to Pesce in the high slot. His shot went in off the left post and past a Vanecek who gave up a lot of space to his left. 1-3.
- Less than two minutes later, the Devils are in their own end defending. Jalen Chatfield fired a shot from the left point. It is blocked away but gets loose. Chatfield recovered it at the left halfwall and attempted another shot. It hits off Jonas Siegenthaler and just stays there. Jesper Fast, covered by no one, picked up the loose puck from the bodies and rounded Vanecek, who made himself smaller somehow on the play. 1-4. Devils head coach and Jack Adams Finalist Lindy Ruff called a timeout after this goal against to presumably calm his team down.
- About 100 seconds after the Fast goal and the timeout, the Devils were once again played back into their own end. A dump-and-chase was used and Luke Hughes gave chase to Jesper Fast. Damon Severson came in with Big Body Presence to hit down Fast. He was sandwiched. Grit and Physical Play was on Display. But the puck - the thing that matters a lot more in hockey than toughness - was left behind the net. Jordan Martinook rushed in to take it and passed it right to Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the left corner. Kotkaniemi moved out of the corner and passed it back to Brent Burns, who wired a shot past Vanecek. 1-5. At this point, Devils head coach and Jack Adams Finalist Lindy Ruff decided that five goals allowed was enough and replaced Vanecek with Akira Schmid.
What were the Devils doing in response to any of these four goals within six minutes of each other? Not much of anything, really. Andersen could have let in two beach balls and it would not have mattered. The Canes denied the Devils’ offense with their 1-2-2 and the Devils trying and failing to stretch out the ice. Carolina is a team full of talented, hard-working players committed to their system of playing hockey. They have, they can, and they did punish teams playing sloppy hockey. The exclamation point came within the final minute of the second period when Burns played Martinook up ice to stop a Devils attack, Martinook essentially had a one-on-one - Dougie Hamilton was not going to catch Martinook - and the Hurricane went bar-down to make it 1-6. For the first time all season and in the playoffs, the Hurricanes scored five in a period and the Devils allowed five in a period.
Everything about the Devils in that second period was awful save for the penalty kill. The Devils killed a dubious-at-best goaltender interference call on Timo Meier. That was your one positive. That was it. Negatives? I’ve got them.
- Vanecek was absolutely awful. He was in too deep and too slow to react. He may be ice cold and the playoffs are a bad time for a goalie to have a cold streak. Vanecek is absolutely not beating the allegations that he becomes a sieve in the postseason. He was fighting pucks and gave up soft goals in Game 3. If I, a mere hockey blogger and season ticket holder, can see he was struggling; then why cannot the Jack Adams Finalist or the professional goalie coach? He got Game 4’s start because, hey, the Devils won Game 3, and Vanecek straight up lost another opportunity to reward the coach’s trust in him. The first round was turned around in large part due to a hot Akira Schmid. Carolina cooled him off. They have wrecked Vanecek in both relief duty and the last two games. At this point, why not try MacKenzie Blackwood for Game 5? I know it would not work but Schmid and Vanecek have both faltered. Perhaps go off the board more and start Nico Daws on Thursday? That these are legitimate questions speaks to how questionable the goaltending situation is for New Jersey. I just know it cannot be Vanecek after this abysmal performance. Going back to Vanecek for Game 5 would almost be a humiliation. For the goalie, for the Devils, and for the People Who Matter who would watch the Devils repeat this same thing and expect something different.
- The defense was abhorrent. Luke Hughes very much looked like he was playing in his fourth NHL game. While he was not guilty for all four goals against he got to see on the ice, he was guilty for some of them. Damon Severson, well, nights like this are why he may not be retained. Dougie Hamilton and Jonas Siegenthaler were ultimately nonfactors. Brendan Smith was truly bad on the puck and his big gritty, veteran presence hit was on Timo Meier in the third period. John Marino can only do so much and it showed. The Hurricanes buried Smith, Severson, Hughes, and Marino in the run of play for two periods. At this point, why not dress Simon Nemec instead of hoping Ryan Graves comes back to correctly sit Smith?
- The neutral zone play. Goodness. This was where the game began to be lost in the first period and it was why the Devils were drowning in this game. I would have thought a more passive 1-2-2 forecheck would have benefited a Devils team who feasted on it in Game 3 and when Our Hated Rivals struggled with it. But the Devils were swarmed and when they were not swarmed, their own passing often betrayed them. The Devils were counted for a lot of giveaways, which is a highly variable stat from arena to arena. Yet, the Devils lost a lot of pucks to the other team and the Hurricanes just kept making the Devils pay for it over and over.
- And the offense stalled out. Mostly from the previous two bullet points. If the defensive effort cannot breakout quickly enough and the neutral zone play is not going well, then any team’s offense would fall apart. The Devils added to this by not firing away as much as they could on Andersen. Credit to the Carolina defensemen and backcheckers for making life difficult for any Devil looking to shoot. Blame to the Devils trying and faltering wherever they could. From The Big Deal to Timo Meier to the BMW line it was not enough. Sure, at least BMW they showed a lot of effort. Effort that led to nothing much by the third period, but they skated hard and were more positive than, say, Dawson Mercer or Tomas Tatar or Jesper Bratt. Which is like saying being bitten by an ant is better than being bitten by a spider. I’d rather not be bitten by anything, really.
- Special shoutout to the power play. No, they did not concede a shorthanded goal. That I have to write that speaks to how bad it has been in this series against Carolina. But Andrew Brunette’s plans in the playoffs have been utter trash against a penalty kill that plays at least somewhat aggressive. It is enough to question if he has the acumen for a head coaching job - anywhere, really.
- For a third game out of four in this series, Jack Adams Finalist Lindy Ruff was out-coached by Rod Brind’Amour. Not even with the last change and the benefit of what should have been learned in Game 3, the Devils were just out of sorts. A team that came back to win a majority of their regular season games just gave up in that third period. The second period demoralized them that much. Ruff is old school enough to stick with a winning lineup. Fair. But Smith and Luke Hughes were detrimental to the cause, the extra shifts for Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier were diminishing returns, and giving Vanecek a five-goal leash was bonkers. Absolutely bonkers since Schmid was pulled for less in Games 1 and 2. Ruff had no effective answers for Carolina’s game plan. His timeout did absolutely nothing for his team. It is mystifying how Ruff’s experience has yielded so little; you would think he saw a situation like this once or twice before. You would not have known it today. I know the Jack Adams is a regular season award. Just ask Jim Montgomery. Or Andrew Brunette, who was a finalist last season.
The third period was a throwaway. The Devils were beaten and they knew it. Carolina let up on the pressure. In a playoff season where there are intense games every other night, a period to take off is almost like an oasis in the desert. The Devils were down by five goals and nothing they did was going to cut it to four short of Andersen just forgetting to do his job. The Hurricanes established their superiority and so they did not need to push. Bottom six players and depth defensemen got extra shifts. The game went on. The People Who Matter at the arena, once energetic after Hughes’ goal, went from frustrated and angry in the second period to being silent and leaving early in the third. Just like Games 1 and 2 against Our Hated Rivals, actually.
This was a game where the visitors dominated. Do you want the proof of that? Too bad, here it is anyway. Your 5-on-5 numbers for this game per Natural Stat Trick: Devils were out-attempted 35-50, out-shot 20-24, out-chanced 16-26, out-high-danger-chanced 7-11, and out-expected-goals 1.38-2.6. Actual goals were 1-6; all of the damage was done in 5-on-5 tonight. Again: Vanecek was terrible and the Devils’ team performance was just as bad as that. Carolina bossed the Devils around in all three zones and behind the bench.
And so it eventually and mercifully ended. Perhaps the whole season ended if we are being honest about it. It is entirely possible and probable that this 1-6 loss to Carolina was the final game at the Rock until the Fall of 2023. The Devils have been wrecked in Raleigh so bad that hoping for a road win almost feels really faint. A horrid way to end what has been an otherwise wildly successful campaign. It is true that there is a lot to like, celebrate, champion, praise, and even love about this Devils team and this Devils season. The time for that is not right after a five-goal loss that all but makes the 8-4 win on Sunday trivial. The Devils are now on the brink of elimination. It is not appropriate to me to just write, “Well, I cannot be mad about this because the Devils did...” or “We should be happy that the Devils...” I assure you, it is not the time or situation to do so. Especially to anyone - like me - who paid money to see this live.
Can the Devils win the series? Sure, it is possible. In the same way that a Kevin Bahl hat trick is possible. The Devils have came back from a 1-3 series deficit exactly once in their franchise history. That was back in 2000 against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite the deep hole, the Devils lost Games 2, 3, and 4 by more respectable scorelines of 3-4, 2-4, and 1-3. And it was far from easy as the Devils won their next three by scores of 4-1, 2-1, and 2-1. I know Florida did it to Boston this year. But, again, Florida played Boston much closer and better than the Devils have played against Carolina. I doubt Brind’Amour is starting an injured goalie and letting an injured important player (who is their Patrice Bergeron? Sebastian Aho?) play games too. This current situation is very different than those. In addition to the Hurricanes being a much better hockey team than Philly was in 2000 and Florida playing Boston closer than the Devils have, the Hurricanes have also blown out the Devils in their three wins. Tonight’s game and the first two in Raleigh were games that Carolina dominated New Jersey in. The Devils are on the brink; they cannot afford another loss. And after losing by five at home, two days after an 8-4 win, I am to believe that the Devils are going to go to Raleigh and bust out a win? I would be more optimistic if they lost Game 4 in a competitive game. They did not. So here we are.
I want it to happen, of course. I am not ready to end this campaign and go write a ton of words about late second round options in the 2023 NHL Draft or speculative posts about who Tom Fitzgerald should or should not re-sign or addressing the myriad of Jesper Bratt for Connor Hellebuyck trade proposals that I am sure the People Who Matter are understandably coming up with right now. Alas, it is not up to me. It is not up to you. It is up to the Devils and the Hurricanes. Right now, it is not looking good. As ever, I hope to be proven wrong on Thursday. But I will contend that I am right about the fact that tonight’s 1-6 loss in Game 4 by the New Jersey Devils to the Carolina Hurricanes absolutely, positively, undeniably sucked.
Have a good day/night.
The Opposition Opinion: Ryan Henkel at Canes Country has this recap. It is understandably much happier than this one.
One Last Thought: I would love a Game 5 win. I do not see how it is going to happen based on this game and this series so far. Again, prove me wrong, Devils.
Your Take: The Devils lost a crucial Game 4 in a third blowout loss to Carolina in this series, 1-6. What is your take on this game? What are your reactions? Do you expect a win on Thursday to keep the series going? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this loss in the comments.
Thanks to Matt for the game preview. Thanks to everyone who followed along here and/or on Twitter with @AAtJerseyBlog. Thank you for reading.