Through six games, the Devils’ first-round series with Carolina has been split right down the middle, virtually too close to call. The only sure thing? That one team will come out on top in tonight's Game 7 at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m., MSG Plus, WBBR 1130 AM).
A look at the series thus far reveals just how dead-even the play has been.
First, the Devils took a 2-1 series lead in the first three games. The Hurricanes then responded with two wins in the next three games to knot things at three games apiece.
No team has won consecutive games. Each starting netminder has posted a shutout. Each team's leading scorer – Zach Parise
for New Jersey, Eric Staal for Carolina – has five points in the series.
The Devils' top trio of Parise, Travis Zajac
and Jamie Langenbrunner combined for five goals and four assists in Games 1-3, with Parise and Zajac (OT) accounting for both of New Jersey's winning tallies.
But Langenbrunner suffered a lower body injury late in the second period of Game 2, and was forced to miss Games 3-5. He returned for the Devils' 4-0 loss in Sunday’s Game 6, registering two shots and five hits in 16:26 of ice time.
Langenbrunner said the team can't throw out Sunday's loss, but can learn from it.
"Do you dwell on it? No," Langenbrunner said Monday. "You look at what they did and realize how well they played and how desperate they played. We know what's expected from them now. We know what they can bring and we have to be able to bring that same attitude."
Parise and Zajac have not recorded a point in their last three games, which included two outings with Brian Rolston on their right wing in Langenbrunner’s absence.
| ||New Jersey ||Carolina |
|Games 1-3 ||8 ||5 |
|Games 4-6 ||4 ||8 |
| || || |
| ||New Jersey ||Carolina |
|Games 1-3 ||108 ||81 |
|Games 4-6 ||99 ||127 |
"I know we can be better, and we will be (tonight)," Parise said.
The good news for the Devils is that Parise had only two scoring droughts last as long as three games during the regular season. He snapped out of both skids with multipoint games.
"There are things you can control out there, and I know I'm working as hard as I can," Parise said. "So (the drought's) not from a lack of effort."
Parise went without a point in three games from Jan. 4-8, and responded with a goal and an assist on Jan. 10 at L.A., and points in 11 of 12 contests over the next month. That included his season-high eight-game points streak (5g-6a) from Jan. 17-Feb. 6.
Parise endured another three-game slump from March 28-April 1, but ended the scoring funk with a three-point effort (1g-2a) on April 3 versus Tampa, and points in consecutive games.
But as the Devils’ top threats have cooled, Carolina’s stars have turned up the heat.
Staal and Ray Whitney were put together with Chad LaRose to start Game 6, and Staal erupted for two goals and an assist. Whitney had his best outing with a goal and three helpers.
Staal had centered Erik Cole and Tuomo Ruutu for the first five games, collecting two goals. Ruutu had an assist in Game 4, while Cole has yet to record a point in the series.
Whitney started the series on a line with LaRose and Jussi Jokinen, but eventually joined LaRose and Matt Cullen. Whitney had just a goal and an assist in the first five games before the switch.
• Between the pipes, Martin Brodeur
and Cam Ward exchanged shutouts in Games 5 and 6, and have battled to four consecutive one-goal games in the series.
Brodeur said the Devils have their work cut out for them tonight.
"You can't leave anything on the table, that's the bottom line," he said. "There are limits to what you want to do, especially at certain times in the game, but you have to play. You can't go in and hope for people to make mistakes. You have to try to create things out there and make them make a mistake, not just sit back and wait."
Brodeur was outstanding on Thursday with 44 saves in a 1-0 triumph at the Rock that tied him with Patrick Roy for the most postseason shutouts in NHL history (23). He'll be looking for more success in front of the hometown crowd tonight, but pointed out that there are no guarantees.
"It's a Game 7 and I don't think we take anything for granted," he said. "They've given us everything we can handle and it'll be even worse (tonight). We have to bring our level of play to the highest standard for us."
Brodeur believes either team can use the first six games to make a case for victory tonight.
"Everybody will draw positives about their situation," he said. "Carolina has nothing to lose, they're coming in and are going to do everything they can. For us, we're in our own building – everybody's going to come to their own conclusion about what the outcome will be until the puck is dropped.
"We feel confident that we can go out and perform the way we need to perform in a pressure game. We have a team that's got that experience, and has the will. We have the system in place to be able to play that type of game. Now it's just going to be up to us to execute."
• There have been 12 Game 7s in Devils history. New Jersey is 6-6 all-time, but has been victorious in four of the last five times a series has gone the distance. Patrik Elias
has two Game 7-winning goals, having scored series-deciding tallies against Philadelphia in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, and Toronto in the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Jersey’s Team played two Game 7s en route to the 2003 Stanley Cup title. They defeated Ottawa on the road in the Eastern finals, then Anaheim in the Finals, when Mike Rupp had the clincher in a 3-0 victory.
"The team that is the least tight and more composed is usually going to be the team that comes out on top," Rupp said. "We've got an experienced group here, so I expect that from us."
Carolina had to be the more desperate team in Game 6, and Rupp said now the Devils must dial up their level of effort in the deciding game.
"I think we need to play desperate," Rupp said. "I guess both teams are desperate. We're both desperate for a win. I guess it's (the media's) job to look beyond that as far as who has more 'pressure' on them but to us, we have to win to keep going and they have to win to keep going."
Rupp recalled the feeling of his Cup-winning goal in '03.
"I made a comment right after that game, and it was really weird, that it was probably the most calm I've been," Rupp said. "I think that had to do with the veteran leadership. I remember the pregame meal before Game 7, I was sitting at a table with Kenny Daneyko and John Madden, and they were telling old-time stories; listening to Dano keeping it calm. Then you look around the room and you see Scotty (Stevens).
"You don't want to say it was just another game because obviously there was a lot riding on that game, but you were in good hands. (Tonight's) going to be a big night. We're in the same situation, we have a lot of players that have won Cups, who have played in Game 7s. We've had guys that have been on teams that have had success and we just kind of depend on each other and rely on each other to get the job done."