Many thought this would be one of the closest first-round series across the league this postseason. After two consecutive overtime decisions, Carolina and New Jersey have shown that will indeed be the case.
Now that the Hurricanes have worked their tails off for the majority of those two games, things are about as even as they can get. They have a very tough opponent in New Jersey, who has shaken off any doubts caused by its late-season slump. There are teams that entered the postseason with more fanfare than the Devils, but it’s hard to imagine a tougher opponent in this series.
We knew how responsible New Jersey is defensively, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that the Canes have managed only five goals in the first three games. That being said, they’ve done a much better job of banging bodies and cycling the puck down low, which they’ll have to continue doing to be successful and eventually get some breaks. Grinders like Ryan Bayda, Patrick Eaves and Scott Walker put in notable performances in that regard last night.
There’s a new poll on the front page about this now, so feel free to have your own input either there or on the beards, but my feeling is that if there’s one thing the Canes could improve upon, it’s clearing the puck out of their own zone when under pressure.
Both of New Jersey’s goals in regulation came seconds after a Carolina defenseman had controlled possession of the puck behind the net (one a little more obvious than the other). Zach Parise’s goal last night was eerily similar to Mike Mottau’s goal in Game 1, where a hasty clearing attempt was sent to a well-covered Carolina player on the boards, allowing New Jersey to gain control of the puck and fire a quick shot on net that caught the Canes off guard.
That hasn’t been something the Hurricanes have been doing consistently throughout entire games, but it seems like each instance comes back to bite them. In a tight series that will come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes, eliminating those should go a long way.
You can’t ask for a much better effort than the Canes gave last night, and more often than not they’ll win if they bring that kind of intensity to a series that demands plenty of it. Here’s hoping that’s the case in a crucial Game 4 at the RBC Center.