By now, everyone knows about the Devils' checkered recent history against the Carolina Hurricanes - especially in the playoffs after losing series in 2002, 2006 and last April in the most excruciating, gut-wrenching fashion possible. Even in the regular season we've struggled down south, losing our last four games in Carolina. And I'm quite tired of everything about that team from the Tarzan goal song, to their diving and whining on penalty calls to getting seemingly every break known to man against us.
Needless to say, tonight's 4-0 shutout win was sweet indeed. Not only did the win put us back in second place in the conference, but it (combined with Boston's overtime win) officially eliminated the Hurricanes from postseason contention. Maybe it's not the same as actually beating them in a playoff series and Carolina looked and played like a beaten team tonight after their tough loss in Ottawa two nights ago but it's still at least a small measure of revenge on an organization that's been torture on us over the last decade.
What made this win even more enjoyable was it was a bit unexpected, what with our 12-15-6 record and two straight brutal defeats heading into tonight's game, not to mention having to go down there the night after losing in a shootout at home. Plus Carolina had been white-hot in the second half of the season, coming out of absolutely nowhere to even get into playoff contention. Yet, the one thing I never expected to happen did - the team that never quits (especially against us) did so tonight.
Personally, I could care less, in fact I was all the more glad to see it because of who it was. Not only have we had to hear more than enough about their work ethic but also it was nice to play any team that isn't supermotivated since seemingly every other game at least we're playing a team that's fighting for their playoff lives or has more motivation than we do. Not to mention even the homeristic (or loyal fans, depending on your point of view) Caniacs even started to boo their team midway through the second period, something else I didn't think I'd see. All that aside, the best thing of all is that tonight was the Devils' best game really in weeks if not months.
Before the game however, I was a bit bemused by Jacques Lemaire's lineup decisions. For one, after giving Vladimir Zharkov over sixteen minutes of icetime last night and trusting him enough to play in the final minute, he was a healthy scratch tonight in favor of Jay Pandolfo. Really I could understand that one though, Zharkov had played four games in a week after sitting for long stretches in the last few weeks, and Danius Zubrus at least was able to return to the lineup after missing last night's game with flulike symptoms.
What was really surprising however, was seeing Jamie Langenbrunner and Paul Martin also among the healthy scratches. When did Lemaire turn into Tony Dungy exactly? Actually, at least Dungy waited until the Colts clinched home-field before resting everyone en masse. If that's the way it's going to be though, then Rob Niedermayer and Dean McAmmond also better get a night off before the end of the season, not to mention a few of our defensemen that have been playing almost every game could use one as well. And after Martin Brodeur started two back-to-backs and five games in eight days, he'd also better get one of the final couple games off here.
Maybe Lemaire really was the mad scientist tonight though, after all we were playing better early in the season when we were mixing and matching with players on IR. Other than the St. Patty's day game against the Penguins, I can't remember the last time we played this well but the Devils came out a step ahead of the Hurricanes to every loose puck. Things went so well we even got a rare power play opportunity (!) in the first period, which the now-healthy Zubrus took advantage of, banging home a rebound for his ninth goal of the season at 13:13 off of assists from Zach Parise and Andy Greene.
At 18:18 of the first the Devils doubled their lead when Patrik Elias scored in traffic for his sixteenth goal of the season, on a newly-created line with Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson, who both got assists on the goal. From there, the rest of the game resembled a python slowly taking hold of its prey and choking it as for once I had no consternation with the Devils trying to protect a lead. Our remodeled defense - which included Mark Fraser playing a whopping (for him) 15:05! - allowed only 26 shots, and many of them late in the third period when the Canes made one last gasp effort to save their season.
Fortunately by then, the Devils did extend their lead when Parise scored a typical effort goal, outworking multiple Canes behind the net and throwing one in front that hit off a skate or stick and went past Cam Ward for the Zach Attack's 36th of the season at 7:34 of the third, off a Zubrus assist. I swear if Zubrus gets pinned to the fourth line again on Tuesday I may start tearing out my hair literally. Perhaps tonight's effort will get him back into Lemaire's good graces. Clarkson finished it off with an empty-netter at 18:28, with assists from Elias and Kovalchuk for his tenth goal of the year.
For a night though, I don't think you can find one player that didn't play well starting with Brodeur, whose 26 saves finally got him win #599 and another shutout to add to his record total (though it is his first since blanking the Panthers in late January). And Parise for his part said after last night's game that we'd get a 5-0 win soon and everyone would forget about our scoring troubles. He basically was as good as his word, leading the way with a goal and assist though he was an entire goal off on the final score.
Some other results went the Devils' way tonight as well with Buffalo losing to Montreal, the Devils stayed at the two seed and with Ottawa's loss to the Islanders our magic number for clinching home-ice in the first round is one (as in combination of points gained by us or lost by Ottawa). Most important of all though, the Devils dare I say actually looked like the October-December juggernaut again for a night. And we got away with resting two key players to boot, which can only pay dividends down the road.
BoNY Three Stars:
- Martin Brodeur (26 saves, SHO)
- Zach Parise (goal, assist, +1)
- Danius Zubrus (goal, assist, +1)