After spending nearly every waking minute with each other over the past two weeks, the New Jersey Devils received a well-deserved break on Friday.
Devils coach Brent Sutter rewarded his players following their efforts in Thursday's dramatic 1-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at the Prudential Center. Behind Martin Brodeur's dazzling 44-save performance, New Jersey took a 3-2 series lead and can advance to Round 2 with a win at Carolina on Sunday.
"Of course, our mentality is to not allow this series to come back here," said All-Star forward Zach Parise, who was named a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy on Friday. "I don't think either team is looking to change a lot. That was a great hockey game (Thursday) night. But you want to get it done as soon as you can."
Just like the Hurricanes can draw on previous experience of having their backs against the wall, the experienced Devils have been here before. And they have every intention of ending this series on Sunday.
"For me, it's just the confidence of being here and knowing what to expect," veteran forward John Madden said. "It's a situation you want to be in. You approach it with a good mindset and just stay confident through the whole thing.
"We can't let them back in this series. We don't want to go to a Game 7. That's our goal and our focus right now."
The focus will really get under way on Saturday when the Devils practice in New Jersey before boarding a flight to Raleigh. Friday, though, was more about getting away from the game for a bit and spending time with family.
"It's been tough games, mentally and physically, so any kind of rest is nice," Brodeur said. "Especially today, I didn't have to see any of the guys. It was nice to be on our own for a day. Now we can get refocused for Game 6."
As for having a second day off in between games, Sutter believes it will be beneficial for both clubs. After all, this may be the most evenly-matched and the most emotionally draining of any first-round series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Your schedule's your schedule," Sutter said. "I'm sure both teams love keeping their players off the ice today. It's been a very high-paced, entertaining series. It's been a great series. Both teams have played extremely hard. The two days off between isn't going to affect either team. If anything, it's probably going to help both teams."