The Canes were 5-0 all-time in playoff OT games against the Devils – including a 2-1 victory in Game 2 in New Jersey – and already had first career playoff goals by Ryan Bayda and Chad LaRose in the bag Sunday night.
In other words, the Canes may have been pushing their luck.
“This is real tight. Nobody wants to give up an inch in this series,” said Eric Staal. “It’s no fun to lose in overtime, especially at home, but we’ve got to get it done in the next game.”
“We just wanted to play a fast-paced playoff game and we did that for the most part,” added a disappointed LaRose after the Canes fell behind 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 on Tuesday night. “This is why you play seven games. We didn’t think it was going to be easy. They are a good team over there.”
Carolina had the Devils on their heels for the last eight minutes of regulation, but New Jersey came out fired up to start the OT, outshooting the Canes 5-2 en route to the game winner by Travis Zajac off his own shot less than five minutes in.
“We were definitely confident going into the overtime,” Carolina captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “But we came up on the short end. We’ve come back all year and we came back again tonight.”
Cam Ward stopped 32 of 35 shots and was more than solid in net yet again, but Martin Brodeur was on the top of his game, and he also got a few breaks when pucks bounced over the sticks of several Carolina players poised to give the Canes the lead.
“We had some good looks and he made some big saves in the third period and a couple in overtime,” Staal said of Brodeur. “That’s the deal. It’s the playoffs and Cam made some huge saves. It went both ways.”
New Jersey took four straight penalties in the second period, including two that gave the Canes a two-man advantage for 52 seconds. But Carolina lost the initial draw and couldn’t crack the Devils’ box once the Canes raced back up the ice as frustration set in with the players and crowd.
The Canes did manage to tie it though as Matt Cullen won a draw as the Paul Martin penalty expired, leading to a LaRose tip in and a 2-2 score heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.
The game grew more physical and nasty with each passing minute. It was fitting the second period ended with a scuffle in the corner just seconds after stars Staal and Brodeur were called for coincidental minors for slashing.
Carolina was able to kill off six minutes of New Jersey power play time in the opening 20 minutes – a disturbing trend so far in the series – and appeared headed to the locker room tied 1-1 before a turnover by Joe Corvo led to a Brian Gionta goal with just 8.6 seconds left in the period.
“If you are going to make one mistake it can’t come with a guy going in alone on your goaltender,” Maurice said. “And you don’t like to see it happen that late in a period. But based on how well we’re forechecking, almost all of our goal are going to come off of turnovers, too. That’s what this is, it’s a grind. This series hasn’t been played in the neutral zone and it won’t be a puck movement, neutral zone series. The team that battles the hardest in their own end is going to win.”
In addition, the Canes fell behind for the third straight playoff game when Zach Parise tipped in a shot off the stick of Paul Martin for his third goal in as many games.
When asked if it would easier to play against New Jersey scoring the first goal, coach Paul Maurice quipped back in the postgame news conference.
“Yeah, we would like to try that and see how it goes.”
“We always seem to be battling back. But our complete level was there,” Staal said.
The initial New Jersey lead didn’t last long as Carolina’s fourth line tied it up 31 seconds later when Ryan Bayda picked up the puck in the slot after Jussi Jokinen fanned on his attempt and beat Brodeur to get the RBC Center crowd back into the game.
Maurice said high energy play by guys like Bayda and Patrick Eaves allowed him to save some minutes on his top-end players, which could pay off as the series moves deeper.
“You need help from everybody in the playoffs,” Staal said. “That’s what usually gets it done in the end. That was a big goal by Ryan, just to get the crowd going.
“We’ll be ready for Game 4,” added Staal. “We’ve got a good group of guys and leaders in his room.”
NOTES: Carolina had 36 hits to 21 for the Devils. … Ward started for the 12th straight playoff game, dating to the 2006 Eastern Conference finals. … Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher was the siren sounder prior to the start of the game. … Bayda scored in his second career playoff game after sitting out 12 of the last 18 regular-season games. … Parise now has five points in the first three games of the series. … Joni Pitkanen logged 29:27 of ice time on 31 shifts. … Rod Brind’Amour won 14 of 19 faceoffs. … Staal finished second in the NHL in shots but has been held to 11 so far in three games.