Martin Brodeur set aside any previous disagreements with referees and led the New Jersey Devils to a 1-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes last night in a crucial game at the Rock. The win gives the Devils a commanding 3-2 lead in the best of seven series with both teams returning to Raleigh for a possible elimination game on Sunday.
Carolina peppered Brodeur with 44 shots, 35 of them in the last two periods, but were unable to put any past the future Hall of Fame goalie. (Actually one did get past him, but as luck would have it the puck stopped at the goal line and the goalie covered it up before any damage was done).
Cam Ward matched Brodeur save for save at his end of the ice, if anything making even more spectacular stops than his mentor. But as outstanding as the former Conn Smythe winner was, his performance was not quite good enough to earn a victory.
After Ward made 16 stops in the opening period, some of them brilliant, David Clarkson was able to tip one past him off of a shot by replacement Andy Greene during a Jersey powerplay midway through the second period.
The slim lead proved to be enough as Brodeur received ample help from his defense this game, as they kept traffic in the crease to a minimum and cleared out any rebound opportunities the Canes might have had a chance at.
Carolina's powerplay woes continued as they went 0-5 with the man advantage in this game, extending their "powerless" streak to 1-19 in the series. Of course with the coaching staff's constant tinkering with the powerplay units, it's not surprising that the team's play with the man advantage has been anything but fluid. After sitting out for much of the season, Frank Kaberle was put on a unit in games two and three in place of Dennis Seidenberg, then returned again for this game replacing Anton Babchuk, who had been the best powerplay producer for the defense the entire second half of the season. (more about that later.)
The Hurricanes controlled much of the third period but were unable to solve Brodeur and his teammates, who gave the visitors very few grade A opportunities. It is "do or die" for the Canes now, as they will try to regroup at home for the next matchup on Sunday.
The Devils had 22 blocked shots, which indicates just how tough their defense was. The Canes had seven.
While there is no question that Brodeur had a great game, there did not seem to be the same activity in front of him as in game four. Perhaps that was because the Hurricanes were less aggressive in that regard or perhaps the Devils cleared the crease much better. Either way, the Canes will have to get back to that mindset to find success in the future.
Sergei Samsonov did not play in the game because of an undisclosed injury. (lower body concern). The coaching staff had a rough time compensating for his loss as the lines seemed to be a mess most of the night.
Maurice eventually broke up the number one line and moved Matt Cullen to play with Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu. Eric Staal was with Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose. Perhaps the coaches were happy with the changes, perhaps not, but to this untrained eye they seemed to be out of synch and ineffective.
The most effective line for the Canes during the past two games barely got a sniff of the ice last night as Ryan Bayda just played five shifts for a total of four minutes. Bayda was the one creating most of the traffic in front of Brodeur in previous games, which was missing in game five. He also is tied for the team's lead with two goals scored. His linemate, Scott Walker played a bit more and had seven minutes.
For some reason the coaching staff seems to think that Frantisek Kaberle is the same player who starred for the Canes back in 2006. Yet he has not been able to crack the starting lineup in two years, management has been unable to trade him, even though they have tried diligently, and no other team in the NHL wanted him off of waivers. But suddenly, he is now good enough to start in the playoffs? They continue to play him this series over two proven point producers who have helped the Canes win during their long recent winning streaks, Babchuk and Seidenberg.
Also, in the long run does it make sense to bench Babchuk, a young player garnering his first ever playoff experience, in favor of Kaberle, a veteran who more than likely will be dealt over the offseason? (or at least it will be attempted again) The team will probably try to keep Babchuk, who is a restricted free agent in July, and this experience would be invaluable to him and to the team in the future.
As for Bayda playing just four minutes, that's not much of a reward for his previous success and hard work.
Not only are the Hurricanes being outplayed in this series, they are also being out-coached. More about that in my next article.