For the New Jersey Devils, their loss tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes was like looking in a mirror.
Carolina used an aggressive forecheck to control play, forcing New Jersey into multiple turnovers and mistakes. Through the first two periods, the Hurricanes outplayed the Devils at their own game.
Couple that with a game when the special teams failed, and it added up to a 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes at the Prudential Center. The loss snapped the Devils five-game win streak, and was the first time New Jersey lost in regulation on home ice this season.
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer didn’t think his team deserved to extend their win streak.
“We didn’t do enough to earn a win tonight,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Jiri Tlusty finished with a multi-point third period for the second straight game. He finished with two goals, including the game-winner. Eric Staal stretched his point streak to ten games with an assist.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored a goal for the third straight game, extending his point streak to four games. Elias recorded his team-leading 12th assist in the loss.
The Devils special teams, a driving force behind its five-game win streak, came up short. New Jersey only allowed Carolina one power-play goal on five chances, but allowed the game-winning goal seconds after a successful penalty kill.
“Our penalty killing, through our streak, had won the special teams battle every night, whether it was a power-play goal or we shut the other team out with our penalty kill,” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said. “Tonight we lost those areas of the game and couldn’t recover from that.”
Tlusty scored the game-winning goal at 7:25 of the third period, right after the Hurricanes power play expired. Staal held the puck behind the Devils night, finding Tlusty with a pass in the left circle. His shot deflected off Anton Volchenkov and past Martin Brodeur for Tlusty’s fourth goal of the season.
“Volchie was in the way there, and it went through him,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. “On good days, that doesn’t go in. But it’s part of it I guess.”
Carolina got that chance after Elias and Adam Henrique failed to convert a shorthanded 2-on-1 chance. Elias carried the puck into the Hurricanes end, taking it into the right circle. His pass got by Cam Ward, but just missed the stick of Henrique, who crashed the net looking for the re-direction.
“Tough play on that penalty kill, obviously,” Elias said when describing the chance. “We had a great chance there, and they go back and score a funny goal on that.”
The Hurricanes controlled play from the opening faceoff, at one point outshooting New Jersey, 8-3, in the first period. Carolina took the first penalty, and Kovalchuk cashed in to give the Devils the lead.
With Jussi Jokinen in the box for tripping, Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky controlled the puck. He sent a pass to Kovalchuk, who fired a shot from the point that hit inside the top of the net and came back out. The referee originally waved off the goal, but video replay upheld the score.
New Jersey couldn’t build on that momentum, though, as the Hurricanes went right back to work on the forecheck.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone says – in your own zone, when the defense is pinching that hard and the center is there to fill, you don’t have much to do with the puck,” right wing David Clarkson told Inside Hockey. “They did a great job of that tonight, and we have to be better. We have to find a way to get that puck out.”
It paid off Carolina, as Jokinen evened the score with a power-play goal just 1:36 into the second period. Joe Corvo held the puck at the left point, faking a shot before sending a slap pass to Jokinen in the right circle. His one-timer was blocked by Andy Greene, but the puck found it’s way through the defenseman and into the net for Jokinen’s first goal of the year.
“I didn’t see the goal,” Brodeur admitted after the game. “I was looking at Corvo, and he kind of teed it up. I thought he was going to shoot it, and he faked a shot and passed it. Greenie almost had it.”
Patrick Dwyer gave Carolina its first lead, breaking the tie later in the middle period. Just seconds before the score, Stephen Gionta made a diving block to thwart an open net chance by the Hurricanes. Carolina gained the loose puck, working it back to Jay Harrison at the point. The defenseman’s shot was tipped by Dwyer in the slot, finding its way past the glove of Brodeur.
Even after being outplayed, New Jersey still had a chance to gain a point. The team came out strong in the third period, turning the tables on Carolina. The Devils third line, counted on to create momentum, used the forecheck to tie the game. Steve Bernier kept Justin Faulk in front of his net, forcing the Hurricanes defenseman to hold the puck. Ryan Carter took advantage, stealing the puck and putting a backhand shot past Ward for his second goal of the season.
“We wanted to come out and get back in the game and try and push this,” Brodeur said. “We knew it was a tough game. We got back in it. We took a penalty, we gambled a little bit and tried to score a goal on our penalty kill. It came back to haunt us this time.”
The Devils recognized the overall execution wasn’t as crisp as the last five games.
“We got spurts of it there – periods when we had good shifts, good momentum,” Elias said. “We never sustained it as a team. We had a couple of lines, a couple of guys going, but not as a unit tonight.”
While the Devils have found ways to get points in 11 of 13 games this season, team captain Bryce Salvador wasn’t surprised by going home empty-handed.
“Every team, especially when you’re sitting at the top, is picking up their game and wants to beat you,” he said. “The effort we had tonight, we didn’t deserve to get the points.”
New Jersey has allowed three power-play goals in its last three games. Before that streak, the Devils had killed 19 straight opponent power-plays.
The Devils once again scored a power-play goal, the sixth straight game with at least one goal with the man advantage. The Devils finished the night 8-for-26 (30.8%) on the power play over the past six games.
The loss tonight snapped a seven-game losing streak for the Hurricanes in New Jersey. Their last win in Garden State came on March 28, 2009, when Carolina defeated the Devils, 2-1.