Yet as if conjuring up the ghosts of playoffs past, the Canes struck back for two quick goals - including one by Brandon Sutter to twist the knife in further - and forced the Devils to scramble late to keep from losing that huge lead with Rob Niedermayer finally applying the coup de grace with an empty-net goal as time ran out on a 4-2 Devils win. While part of me felt this was a bit of a phyrric victory (being up 3-2 to start the third and this time winning only served as a reminder over what should have been last year), it's always nice to stick it to that team and two points is two points, especially when the Devils are now on their fifth game in seven days.
After an early feeling-out process, things started to heat up when Erik Cole slammed Bryce Salvador into the boards, knocking the defenseman out cold - or so it seemed at the time. I've seen far softer penalties get the law of the land thrown at them but inexplicably Cole only got two minutes instead of say, a five-minute major. At least it appeared that way to me from the far end of the ice, maybe the hit itself wasn't that bad but still Cole (of all people) should know better since he nearly had his career ended by Brooks Orpik on a similar play. While the Devils didn't score on that power play thankfully Salvador would return to the ice for the start of the second period and play the rest of the night.
By that time the Devils had already started to make life uncomfortable for Canes' goaltender Cam Ward, returning off of IR just in time for this game, though perhaps they caught a break on their first goal when a Patrik Elias attempt on net appeared to glance off of Aaron Ward and in the net for Elias's fourth goal at 11:11. Nicklas Bergfors - who I initially thought had touched the puck himself - and Zach Parise would get the assists on the goal, which put the Devils up 1-0. Six minutes and forty-two seconds later, Greene would get into the act for the first time when he went to the front of the net to deflect a Jamie Langenbrunner shot home for his fourth goal of the year, with Jay Pandolfo also getting a secondary assist on the goal which put the Devils up two after the first twenty minutes.
Greene's second of the game would be an even more jaw-dropping display of skill as he moved the puck in the zone, faked one shot and then advanced further, avoiding traffic and throwing a wrister through traffic that got by Ward at 6:05. Though Parise would get an assist on that goal too, it was all about Andy and the Devils were now up 3-0 as a result. Before we could dream about a similar ending to Monday night though, the Canes struck back quickly - per usual against us. Sutter scored just 43 seconds later on a shot that deflected off of Mark Fraser, souring the mood in the crowd. Among the 12,000 plus in the arena, the boos carried a little extra oomph when the goalscorer was announced. Too bad we don't get a chance to take out our venom at daddy Sutter this year but that's another NHL schedule rant for another day.
Now, the Canes started coming hard and the struggling Mike Mottau took a penalty, leading to a Tuomo Ruutu power play goal at 8:46, when Ruutu rifled a short-side shot past Martin Brodeur. In near-record time the game went from a nice, stress-free night to 'uh oh...not this crap again!' Even though the Devils outshot the Canes 13-9 in the period and 23-16 for the first two, they were lucky to get out of the second still ahead when Johnny Oduya appeared to block an open-net chance in the final minute.
Even Devils fans were struggling on this night, as a few rows behind me in 208 they had one of those potential giveaways (I didn't see of what but noticed something AC/DC among them which might have been nice). In kind of a silly contest, some other fan gets asked a question and you have to guess whether the fan got the question right or not. Now this one seemed to be a no-brainer - would the fan know how many skaters were on the ice for a team when the goaltender gets pulled? Predictably the guy in 208 says yes and much to everyone's horror, the guy on the jumbotron hemmed and hawed and finally said...seven. Oy vey, talk about a Charlie Brown miscue. The only reason I was glad that row didn't win was that Devil Boy from a few sections over who wears the paint and horns magically appeared in our section for the first time like ever, just to be part of the row in the prize giveaway. Evidently he got tipped off on it, pays to be a celeb fan I suppose. Except last night.
While the Devils weren't quite as bad as the fan who thought there were seven skaters on ice in the third period, it was close. My fear of losing grew with each off-the-wall turnover and nervous pass. This wasn't sitting back to protect a lead hockey, it was 'oh my god we might blow this lead' nervousness. Ironically the Devils actually looked better protecting a 3-2 lead last year - at least until the final five minutes and the ill-fated prevent. Yet, thanks to a couple of Brodeur saves, some gasp-inducing misses by the Canes and nice last-second scrambling plays by the Devils' D they somehow managed to maintain that lead, even through the dreaded 80 second mark.
Of course Carolina being Carolina there had to be some dramatic action in the final minute, with Ward pulled the Canes kept the puck in the zone for forty seconds and nearly scored when Ray Whitney got open in front with a wide-open net in front, but he couldn't get his stick down in time to tap in a pass. Greene proved he was more than one-dimensional by deflecting away another centering pass that might have resulted in a good scoring opportunity. However, the Canes did make one fatal mistake when Salvador took a penalty they didn't give up the puck to get a two-man advantage, instead running off 15-20 seconds as it turned out. By the time Salvador went to the box there were only twelve seconds left, time for the Devils to finally get the clear they didn't last year and Niedermayer to seal it with his fourth of the year, assisted by himself as he won the faceoff and then fired the puck down the ice to the empty net.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Andy Greene (two goals, +2 in 24:56)
- Zach Parise (two assists, 5 SOG)
- Cam Ward (27/30 saves in return from IR)