Lights Go Out on the Devils As Hurricanes Move On

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The New York Sun

Last night, the New Jersey Devils continued their effort to mount an improbable comeback in their best-of-seven series against the Carolina Hurricanes. But the dramatic rebound – which would have been only the third such recovery in NHL history – was not to be. New Jersey fell 4-1, and 4-1 in the series, enabling the Hurricanes to move a step closer to the Stanley Cup. Next, they’ll face the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals, while the Devils must contemplate their increasingly uncertain future.

With their backs pressed firmly against the proverbial wall, the Devils came out firing on all pistons in the first period, drawing first blood just under one minute into the game when Brian Gionta buried the rebound of a Zach Parise sharp-angle shot past Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward. But though New Jersey received four power play opportunities (to the ‘Canes’ none) in the period and out-shot Carolina 11-5, they were unable to capitalize on what was a wonderful chance to take control of the game.

Meanwhile, the opportunistic Hurricanes turned an offensive zone face-off into the game-tying goal nearly halfway through the period. Matt Cullen won the draw, pulling the puck behind him while tying up Devils center John Madden. Veteran forward Mark Recchi alertly slid the puck back to Frantisek Kaberle, whose slap shot caromed off Paul Martin and past Martin Brodeur to knot the score.

The Devils’ failure to take advantage of the opportunities given them in the first period turned out to be their undoing, for they only received one more power play opportunity in the final two periods. Moreover, they did not seem to have much energy left once the second period began, and looked increasingly sluggish as the clock ticked away.

The Devils’ skaters played “on their heels” for much of the contest, while the Hurricanes gradually and decisively gained control. The tide finally turned for good in the Hurricanes’ favor when they consummated a gorgeous tic-tac-toe exchange. Cory Stillman tipped a Justin Williams feed past Brodeur to give Carolina a 2-1 lead; Rod Brind’Amour received a secondary assist on the play, for what was the 100th playoff point of his stellar career.

The biggest problem the Devils had in this series was their defense, one step behind and unable to neutralize Carolina’s talented forwards. That problem was illustrated perfectly last night when the ‘Canes doubled their lead just over seven minutes into the third period. First, Carolina rookie forward Andrew Ladd stole the puck from Brian Rafalski, then Martin tried in vain to chase down Doug Weight, whose perfect centering feed set Ray Whitney up for an uncontested one-timer in the slot. When Whitney’s shot sailed over Brodeur’s shoulder and into the net, it all but cemented the Devils’ fate. Eric Staal later tallied an empty-net goal to put the ‘Canes up 4-1. That turned out to be the final score.

Over the final two periods of play, the Devils were out-shot by an appalling 26-7 margin. Put simply, it was a thoroughly underwhelming performance by a team on the brink of elimination. Their offense failed to generate any high-quality scoring chances, making Ward’s job surprisingly easy.

To be fair, the Devils did a nice job of resurrecting their season following an inauspicious beginning. They finished the regular season with an 11-game winning streak that extended to 15 when they swept the injury-ravaged Rangers in the first round. But when they found themselves matched up against a Hurricanes team that was bigger, faster, and better, the flaws that plagued them in the season’s first half were once again exposed. Now, the Devils’ future is looking increasingly dim when contrasted against their glorious past.

With two minutes to go and the Devils’ season all but over, the lights briefly went out at the RBC Center in Raleigh, leaving the players skating in complete darkness. Power was restored quickly in the arena, and the game finished without further incident. But for the disappointed Devils, that power outage might well prove to be foreshadowing.

Their best forward, Patrik Elias, will be an unrestricted free agent, and with many teams expected to vie for his services, it is quite possible that New Jersey’s lineup will be without yet another key component of their Cup-winning teams when the puck drops next season.

Mr. Greenstein is the Editor in Chief of

The New York Sun

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