After two straight overtime games in an opening-round series most hockey experts expect to go the distance, Game 4 proved even more dramatic with the Carolina Hurricanes losing a three-goal lead, only to win with the equivalent of a walk-off homer as Jussi Jokinen scored with 0.2 seconds left Tuesday night.
“This is kind of fitting, it seems this is the way things are going to go,” captain Rod Brind’Amour said. “It’s never that easy. For whatever reason we seem to make things interesting, but you know what, at the end of the day it doesn’t make any difference.”
The best-of-seven series is now tied 2-2 heading back to New Jersey for Game 5 on Thursday night, and it’s not clear just what team is holding the upper hand at this point. The Devils said they came into Raleigh and accomplished what they wanted – a split – while the Canes were clearly elated with their opening 40 minutes and the final, thrilling result that required a brief instant replay before the key win became official.
One thing is certain, there will be a Game 6 in Raleigh on Sunday.
Dennis Seidenberg, a healthy scratch the last two games but back in the lineup for Game 4, let loose with a shot from the right point with about 1.2 seconds left.
“I felt it right away hit my skate and then I saw it in the net,” said Jokinen, who jumped over the boards with about 30 seconds left in what coach Paul Maurice said was “his time” because of his top-notch play all night. “I didn’t hear the buzzer so I was comfortable with the goal, but I was a little nervous with the replay. I looked at our coaches and players and asked them if they thought it was a good goal and everybody said they didn’t know.”
The Canes outshot the Devils 37-17 through two periods as Chad LaRose scored his second goal in as many games when he crashed the net 6:30 into the second for a 3-0 lead – a cushion Carolina felt comfortable with.
And Carolina was set to cap off a near perfect opening 40 minutes of playoff hockey in a must-win game before a neutral zone breakdown resulted in a Brian Gionta breakaway goal 27.8 seconds before the end of the period as the Devils headed into the third down just two.
It didn’t take long for New Jersey to seize the momentum and quiet the RBC Center crowd with goals four minutes apart early in the third period to tie it 3-3 and set up a high-energy final 10 minutes of regulation.
It looked as if we were headed to a third straight overtime between these two teams as the final 30 seconds clicked off the clock, but Jokinen was able to keep the puck behind the New Jersey net, and a failed clear by Paul Martin landed on the stick of Joni Pitkanen at the point. The defenseman whipped the puck inside the blue line to the right point as the crowd yelled for the Canes to “shoot,” which is what Seidenberg did, launching his slapper that hit off the skate of Jokinen and past a stunned Martin Brodeur.
“We had the puck on our stick, in our zone in the last six seconds and we threw the puck. We should have taken the puck and eaten it and battled with it and the clock would have run out,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We just didn’t make a smart decision.
It was the second time in this building in as many series against the Devils that the Canes deflated New Jersey in the final seconds – and in the same end of the rink. It was Game 2 of the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals that Eric Staal scored with three seconds left in regulation, allowing the Canes to head to OT, a game in which they eventually won 3-2 en route to a 4-1 series victory that led to the Stanley Cup.
The Canes, who trailed in each of the first three games, dominated the opening 10 minutes, outshooting the Devils 12-3 en route to a 2-0 lead.
“We were down 2-1 and they were up 2-1 so they were probably a little bit not quite as hungry as they had been and we knew we had to win,” Brind’Amour said of the early Carolina domination. “And they turned it up when they had to.”
Both early Carolina goals were the result of Brodeur coughing up rebounds, the first to Staal 7:44 into the period, and then a minute later the future Hall of Famer juggled another shot that Scott Walker scooped up a minute later and centered to a wide open Ryan Bayda in the slot for his second goal in as many games.
The Canes managed just 24 shots in the first period of the first three games but registered 15 in the opening 20 minutes of Game 4.
“That game was crazy,” said Seidenberg. “After the third goal they scored we were pretty down, but we didn’t show it, we had a good bench tonight, everybody was positive. That was the reason we won in the end.”
“They’re not the third-best team in the Eastern Conference for nothing,” LaRose said, explaining New Jersey’s third-period rally. “They know what they’re doing over there, and that’s the way some playoff games go. I’m glad we didn’t have to play another second.”
NOTES: Dennis Seidenberg, a healthy scratch the last two games, started the rush on Staal’s goal and was credited with his first career playoff point after replacing Frank Kaberle in the lineup. He also blocked five shots and dished out a game-high eight hits. … Staal has 30 points in 29 career playoff games. … After a combined 11 shots in the first three games, Staal had a team-high seven in Game 4. … Carolina has killed 16 of 17 penalties in the series. … The Canes held Zach Parise, who came into the game with five points, to just one shot.