The New Jersey Devils won Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes in an 8-4 loss, as their offensive stars found their speed and room to operate in ways that didn’t allow them in the two defeat at Raleigh.
Will that continue? Or can the Hurricanes take Game 4 in Newark on Tuesday night (7 ET, ESPN) to take a 3-1 series lead back home, where they are the best defensive team in the playoffs (1.80 goals-against average)?
Here are four keys to Game 4 between the Hurricanes and Devils, the latter who is trying to recover from a 2-0 deficit for the second consecutive series.
Which goalies will show up?
We mean this literally and figuratively.
Hurricanes goalie Antti Raanta returned to practice on Monday after missing two games due to illness. Coach Rod Brind’Amour is not sure if he will be able to play in Game 4. “Hopefully. It would be nice to have some options,” he said.
That’s because Frederik Andersen was pulled in Game 3 after giving up four goals on 12 shots in 20:53. According to Evolving Hockey, he has a minus-2.24 goals saved above expectations. After giving up just one goal in each of his previous three playoff games, Andersen didn’t fare well in Game 3.
But that does not mean that Raanta will get the call if he is healthy. Remember that Raanta is a different goalie at home than on the road. Away from Raleigh, Raanta is 1-6 in his last seven games, with a .884 save percentage. At home, he is 8-1 in his last 11 games with a .943 save percentage.
“We know he’s a good goalie who’s got great experience,” said Devils coach Lindy Ruff about Raanta. “We have to work hard and find holes when he plays.”
Ruff has his own questions to answer.
Vitek Vanecek started Games 1 and 2 against the New York Rangers, and was lit up. Ruff turned to rookie Akira Schmid, who confidently returned to rally to win the series in seven games. Schmid gave up seven goals on 36 shots in two games in Raleigh and Ruff turned in Vanecek for the Game 3 win.
All signs point to Vanecek starting again in Game 4, but he also posted a negative goals-saved rating (minus-1.14) for the game. True, the Devils hung him out to dry for a few brief moments, and he didn’t stop a Jordan Martinook penalty shot. But aside from a few saves, Vanecek hasn’t looked very sharp, which is something he acknowledges.
“Akira took care of the first round. He was very good. There was not one thing he did that was not good,” said Vanecek. “He had two tough games [against Carolina] and they gave me a chance. I’m not good [in Game 3]but the win is important and that’s what we need.”
The Devils and Hurricanes will be looking for better goaltending in Game 4.
The Devils and Hurricanes are playing the only second-round series without a multiday break.
While Carolina bought time to recover after eliminating the New York Islanders in six games, it was a physical and grinding series. The Devils, meanwhile, went seven games with the Rangers and then swept their series with the Hurricanes. New Jersey has played every single day since April 27, a trend that will continue until the end of this streak.
Of course, worrying about energy expenditure means you’re still playing in the postseason, which Ruff deserves.
“It’s a great hardship to have,” he said. “Going through a playoff run and finding out how much is enough.”
For Carolina, flush the loss
Brind’Amour called Game 3 a “freak”, and he wasn’t wrong. Many goals. Many penalties. It was an unusually poor start for the Hurricanes, who fell behind 3-0 after just 13 minutes, despite generally playing tight defense in the early stages.
“It’s never fun to come out of a game like that,” Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin said. “But all you can do at this point in the year is flush it out. To see them like we did in the first period like that is never a good thing.”
Brind’Amour said it was a combination of things that allowed the Devils to find their speed game in a way they couldn’t in Raleigh.
“In Games 1 and 2, everything went our way [in Game 3],” he said. “But like I said, they’re in it. They’re better than us.”
Brind’Amour, who celebrated his five-year anniversary as Carolina’s coach on Tuesday, likes to preach about the “stress game” to his players: Putting their opponents in a state of panic with excitement. -on their game. This is what the Hurricanes did so well at home in Games 1 and 2, using their forecheck and a puck-hounding defense to frustrate the Devils. This is what was missing in Game 3.
“They got a lot of pucks deep,” Slavin said. “We have not and cannot establish our forecheck.”
That’s what matters most for the Canes in Game 4.
For New Jersey, the stars must shine
The Devils’ offensive breakout in Game 3 was a story of determination and deployment.
No one was angrier than captain Nico Hischier after the first two road losses. “We should be really pissed off right now,” he said after Game 2.
Hischier played like he was trying to prove something in Game 3. He had eight shot attempts, four shots on goal and one goal scored at 5-on-5. This included four rebound attempts and two rebounds made. He was an absolute force in Game 3, and the Devils took their cue from their leader.
For Jack Hughes, who had two goals and two assists in Game 3, the story was deployment. Carolina has one of the best defensive centers in the NHL in Jordan Staal. After the postseason, he held off the other team’s best players when Brind’Amour got his matchups in Raleigh. Along the way, opposing coaches made it a point to get their stars as far away from Staal as possible.
In Game 1, Staal shared the ice with Hughes for 9:25. In Game 2, it’s 10:40. But in Game 3, Ruff got his young star from Staal, who shared the ice with Hughes for just 3:40.
The Devils saw many of their star players hit the score sheet in Game 3 — heck, even Timo Meier registered his first point of the playoffs with a first-period goal. According to Ruff, it is possible to remove the weight of his players.
“You get automatic comfort. You can talk about not feeling the pressure, but you do. Every game is a big game and you want to be a difference maker,” he said. “Every guy has a tough stretch. It’s magnified in the playoffs.”
Not many expected another 12-goal game between the Devils and Hurricanes. Game 4 should turn out to be a tighter battle. Regardless of whether the Hurricanes win their matchups or play better defense in Game 4, Ruff said the Devils won’t play like they did in their first two losses.
“Maybe you make some mistakes. You have to make plays under pressure. Some of the decisions maybe not the best,” he said. “But to create, you have to put some risk in your game.”