Tuesday, April 17, 2012

N.J. Devils ~ Sticking Themselves With Own Pitchforks

From the desk of:   THE BRICK CITY DEMONS

Stanley Cup Playoffs
Quarter Finals Round

Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers Lead Series 2-1

Game One - New Jersey Devils  3;  Florida Panthers  2
Game Two - Florida Panthers  4;  New Jersey Devils  2
Game Three - Florida Panthers 4;  New Jersey Devils  3

NEW JERSEY DEVILS:  Quick!  How Many Devils Can You Fit in the Penalty Box?

The Devils got off to a great start in the series' opening game against the #3-Florida Panthers.  Three first period goals by Patrick Elias; Dainius Zubrus; and Ryan Carter kind of reinforced what I was feeling heading into the series.  Even as the Panthers clawed back with two second period goals, watching on TV,  I never felt the final outcome was under threat.  The teams played a scoreless third period, as the Devils went on to win by a 3-2 final score.

Martin Brodeur won the 100th NHL playoff game of his career.  And Patrick Elias in particular, scored one of the prettiest, not to mention one of the craftiest goals I've ever seen.  For that one particular play, he almost looked Gretzky-like in how he slowed the play down to a crawl.  For Brodeur's part, he made 24 saves off 26 shots on goal.

Game Two was a much different story.  But not if you talk to a Panther player.  They'd tell you they just picked up where they left off.  A first period goal, followed by two second period goals had the Devils behind 3-0 heading into the second intermission.

Whatever Coach DeBoer may have told his players in the locker room almost worked.  The Devils opened the third period with Tavis Zajac's goal a mere 0:48 into the period.  Roughly a minute and a half later, Ilya Kovalchuck made it a one goal game.  But that's all they'd get.  With but a second left on the clock, Florida scored into an empty net making the final 4-2; tying the series at a game apiece.

Martin Brodeur followed up his 100th NHL playoff win by allowing three goals on just twenty-three shots on net for the loss.

The series shifted to Newark for Game Three.  Playing back at The Rock, the Devils seemingly found their way again.  Thirty-three seconds into the game, Zach Parise finally found net for his first goal of the series.  And visiting Florida fell instantly behind.  Three minutes later, Stephen Gionta made it a two goal Devils' lead.  And for good measure, Patrick Elias scored a power play goal at the 6:16 mark to make it a 3-0 game.

Florida's goalie; Jose Theodore; earned a well deserved hook.  In came Scott Clemmensen for the Panthers.

During the back end of the first period, as they have all series, Florida's power play went to work on the Devils.  Two goals; one in the sixteenth minute, and a second inside the nineteenth minute; made this a one goal game going into intermission.

At 2:18 of the second period, this game was tied.  At that point, Coach DeBoer signaled for his goalie to head towards the bench.  Martin Brodeur's night was through after just twenty-two minutes and eighteen seconds of play.  Johan Hedberg would finish the game.  At 6:34, he allowed Florida's fourth goal of the evening on yet another power play opportunity.

Both goalies have struggled.  And they both earned well deserved hooks Tuesday night.  You may even call the effect on the game, and series, a wash.  Instead, the prevailing factor in this series has been the Panthers' efficiency on the power play.  For the series, Florida has six goals with the man advantage in ten opportunities.  In Game Three, they scored three times in three chances.  The Devils only have two goals in eleven chances all series.  And there's your difference.

Otherwise, the Devils' best chances to score in Game Three came when they had (at the time) a tying goal waived off for goalie interference at 1:28 of the 2nd period.  And then over the final minute, when they pulled Hedberg from net, in a hellish attempt to tie.  But they fell short.  Florida's Scott Clemmensen held on, and with seven seconds left, literally snatched the Devils' last chance out of the air.

The Devils now trail in this series two games to one.  And Coach DeBoer has an interesting decision to make for Game Four.  Does he reinsert Martin Brodeur, or, turn the game over to Johan Hedberg, whom they have plenty of confidence in?  What's more, the Devils just need to stay away from taking so many penalties.  They've been playing winning hockey at even strength.  But now they are behind in the series.


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