I will admit that I was caught off guard when Steve Cangialosi interviewing Zach Parise asked how it felt getting the first playoff victory the Prudential Center has seen. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, after all this is only the second season being played at the Rock, and last year’s first round was against the Rangers.
Sitting up in section 116, I did notice something I failed to mention as a key to the game – home ice advantage. And I don’t mean how the Devils will get the extra game at home or how they get the last line change – I mean the fans.
Think about last year’s disaster of a post season against the Rangers. You would start a "Lets go Devils" chant and about a minute later you would hear a "Lets go Rangers" chant – just as loud and just as powerful. The Devils didn’t have that "home" feeling when they played at the Prudential Center.
Thankfully, the Devils are playing against a team that’s in a state not bordering New Jersey. It’s highly unlikely that you will hear a "Lets go Hurricanes" – or whatever Carolina fans chant.
Oh, and I think it should be pointed out that the game was a sell-out, something the Devils seem to have had trouble in the past with first and second round games.
Now to the hockey game!
Devils beat writer Rich Chere mentioned something about the Devils using defense and relentless forechecking as the formula for their victory. I will agree about the relentless forechecking, but I didn’t think I saw much defense in play at the Rock.
Granted, I was distracted a little by the wave going through the crowd, but defense didn’t seem at forefront of the Devils game on Wednesday.
What I did notice was that the forecheck and the offense the Devils employed was perhaps the best I have seen them play in a few weeks.
From within the arena, it felt like Carolina took a lot more penalties than the Devils did, but looking at the differential, 4-2, it wasn’t that big of a difference. What was big was the chances teams got on the power-play. The Devils appeared to get the most chances, and had two opportunities in the first period.
The first period started out quiet. Both teams were very much so playing it safe. Simply put, neither team wanted to give up the first goal of the playoffs. The crowd was a little quiet with the sporadic "Lets go Devils" chant and some buzz when Carolina took a penalty.
The first penalty was just bad luck for Carolina, when the puck came to their bench as they were changing and caught an extra man on the ice for Carolina. While the Devils were unable to capitalize on their penalty, it did give the Devils some momentum. In fact each penalty Carolina took, even though did not directly result in a power play goal, gave the Devils some additional momentum. The Devils first goal, scored by Mike Mottau, was scored only 10 seconds after Carolina’s second penalty had expired.
Getting back to the Devils offense, the Devils solid offense simply kept Carolina on their heels and kept them from getting dangerous scoring chances. A couple of mistakes did allow the puck to squib near the net, but no where as close as some of the Devils chances. It is clearly evident when looking at the stats that the Devils just had possession of the puck more, getting nearly double the number of shots the ‘Canes had.
Looking at the game as a whole, the Devils did a lot right:
- They had some great hits – Mike Rupp’s physical presence helped out.
- They had some fantastic scoring chances – players like Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Patrik Elias stepped up to get the shots needed to win.
- Netminder Martin Brodeur made good saves – when needed; the Devils kept Carolina from really getting too much rubber on net, but when they got through he made the poke check or save needed.
- Devils defense stepped up to the offensive role – Johnny Oduya and Mike Mottau stepped up to keep the puck in Carolina’s zone and, in Mottau’s case, even scored a goal.
And lastly, looking ahead:
Carolina was off Wednesday night. Star Ledger reporter Colin Stephenson said in an article that Cam Ward admitted the team was playing a little "nervous." Essentially the Devils can’t get cocky here. They played a very smart, very up-tempo, and very offensive game.
If they want to keep winning, players like Parise, Elias, and Langenbrunner are going to need to step up each night. Players like Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan are going to need to provide their veteran leadership and hockey sense each night. And Brodeur is going to have to be sharp each night. Carolina will get a handful of chances on an "off" night, and will get many more on an "on" night.
Since it’s very popular to offer predictions, I will give one now that I have seen game one.
Devils in 6.