It may have been a little more adventurous than they had wanted, but the Canes have come home with all you can ask for when playing the first two games on the road – the split.
After a dominating performance by New Jersey in Game 1, Carolina also accomplished their goal of reversing the momentum of the match-up, as overtime wins in the postseason can often do. Think of how different things might have been if the Canes returned home down 2-0 and with nothing to show for their improved effort
Now, it’s essentially a five-game series, with three of them coming at the RBC Center, which should give the Canes an advantage.
“It does, and I think we’ve seen that in the last few months,” said Coach Paul Maurice. “I go back to the 5-4 Islander game and the crowd got behind the team before we had given them a reason to and gave us a real good push. It will be good in the playoffs.”
“We’ve got to take advantage of our home ice now, and it starts with Sunday,” said Eric Staal. “I think the guys are excited, are fans are going to be ready and rocking pretty loud in our building.”
For players like Tuomo Ruutu who will be playing their first ever home playoff game, having somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 fans meet the team at the airport around 1 a.m. Saturday provided a sneak peek of what that atmosphere might be like.
“It was something special,” he said. “Somebody was saying there might be some fans there, and I was like ‘Are you joking or what?’ I wasn’t really expecting it.”
After the initial flat performance on Wednesday, it was up to the Canes to respond by matching the Devils’ intensity, which they did quite nicely, led by Staal’s goal and de facto assist on screening New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur on Tim Gleason’s game-winner.
“We had a great effort from everybody from goalie on out,” said Gleason, who will also play his first home playoff game tomorrow. “It was a great pass from Joe Corvo and a good screen from Eric Staal, and that’s pretty much why it went in.
“I’m not too much of a talented guy,” he added. “I pretty much just wanted to hit the net and tried to shoot it as hard as I could. I didn’t know where it was going; I just wanted to hit the net.”
It’s important to note that there wasn’t much of a drop off in how New Jersey played from Game 1 to Game 2, but the Canes were just that much better, making it exactly the type of game that was expected leading into the series.
“Yesterday we played playoff-type hockey,” said Ruutu. “We had all the emotion in the game that you can have, and that’s the bottom line and the way we have to play.”
The Devils suffered the first injury casualty of the series, as captain Jamie Langenbrunner left last night’s game in the second period and is out indefinitely, with his status for Sunday night’s Game 3 in Raleigh uncertain.
In Game 1, Langenbrunner scored moments after Ray Whitney claimed the Canes first goal, quickly erasing Carolina’s comeback hopes. He was the Devils’ third-leading scorer in the regular season with 69 points, 29 of them goals.
“That kind of player is a really important piece to any team,” said Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice. “But New Jersey’s strength is their structure, it always has been, and they are the team that survives injuries. They’ve always been able to do that – lose key players and have enough depth that it didn’t really affect their game.
On the Canes side, Maurice said he did not expect to make any changes to his Game 2 lineup.