The deciding game in this best-of-seven series will take place in New Jersey on Tuesday night after the Canes shook off a 1-0 Game 5 shutout to even the series 3-3 as the newly-formed line of Eric Staal, Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose produced nine points in a 4-0 victory over the stunned Devils.
“We got out of the gate, and a lot of it had to do with this building, it was rocking,” coach Paul Maurice said. “And that affects your team. If you handle it right it can give you some jump and I really thought it did.”
“This means nothing now unless we finish the job Tuesday,” added Staal, who led Carolina’s assault with six shots. “Our attack game, our cycle game and our movement has been a lot better the last couple of games. That’s the difference in our team, when we’re moving for each other and finding those scoring areas.”
After four straight one-goal games in the series, the Canes blew out the Devils to force the team’s first Game 7 since winning the Stanley Cup against Edmonton at the RBC Center in mid-June 2006. The Canes also won a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals that same season, but both occurred at the RBC Center.
“The players use the word loose and I use excited as to how I wanted the guys to come to the rink and that’s the leadership in the room,” coach Paul Maurice said. “You can read that body language when they walked in this morning. It’s not even words, they were excited about playing that game. The best part of their day was at 7:30. You can feel that on the players. We’ve got some guys who have been to Game 7 in the Finals. We’ve got a lot of experience there.”
Whitney had a goal and three primary assists, while Staal added two goals and an assist on his new line as the Canes skated past the Devils as if they double-parked on the New Jersey Turnpike.
“I guess the difference tonight was one team played like there was no tomorrow and the other team played like there was,” New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. “Usually when that happens the team that plays like there is a tomorrow ends up on the wrong side. This wasn’t a good performance as far as what our standards are and what is expected. And they played a helluva hockey game.”
Maurice had a good comeback when asked about how pretty Canes goals were Sunday night.
“We’re saving the ugly ones for Game 7,” he said. “I still think that will be the difference, get as many bodies to the net as you can and hope you get the pinball bounce.”
In fact, the Carolina offense was so good Cam Ward’s shutout was almost an after thought. It was Ward’s third career playoff shutout and first since Game 2 of the Cup finals. He stopped 28 shots, but just four in the first period.
After registering 46 and 44 shots against the Devils the last two games, the Canes peppered Martin Brodeur with 37 more in a dominating Game 6 performance as he was bouncing from side-to-side in net, trying to hold off the attack the best he could.
New Jersey, down by a goal and dominated in the first period, took an early penalty to start the second and then fell behind 2-0 after Paul Martin failed to glove a puck out of the air and control it, losing the rubber Chad LaRose, who was able to get the puck to Whitney, whose drop pass found a wide open Staal. The rangy center didn’t miss on Brodeur as the shot differential rose to 22-5 less than 30 minutes into the game.
Less than three minutes later, Tim Gleason’s long outlet pass to Whitney created a 2-on-1 with Staal, whose one-timer easily beat a diving Brodeur to give the Canes some serious breathing room heading into the final 20 minutes.
But Carolina led 3-0 at home in Game 4 before the Devils rallied to tie it in the third, so there was no letup in sight, just eyes toward a deciding Game 7.
“We wanted to stay on the attack and wanted to keep rolling,” Staal said.
The Devils took a pair of penalties that helped iced the game for Carolina, Whitney getting his fourth point of the night on a nice pass down low to Jussi Jokinen for a 5-on-3 goal midway through the final period.
Brodeur, who stopped 44 shots in a Game 5 shutout, was under siege from the start as Carolina registered six shots on an early power play before a centering pass from behind the net by Staal was batted out of the mid-air by Whitney past the future Hall of Fame goalie as the Canes struck first midway through the period.
“I was terrible at baseball, but I’ll take one of those,” Whitney said of his puck batting skills. “It was important for us to get going because we had played well for the first six or seven minutes and it was nice to get rewarded, and then we continued to skate hard and play our speed game.”
Carolina, which has been nothing short of spectacular shorthanded so far in this series, put together a pair of special kills in the last six minutes of the opening period, not allowing the Devils a single shot on Ward as the Canes held a 15-4 shot advantage after 20 minutes of high energy hockey.
“Our power play was brutal,” Sutter said.
“There is offense there for us,” Maurice said of all the games with the exception of a 4-1 loss in Game 1, which seems like a month ago. “We’ve got to force our game, and have it dictate the play. The offensive chances have been there.”
NOTES: Sergei Samsonov (injury) and Anton Babchuk (healthy scratch) returned to the lineup after sitting out Game 5. … Staal has 33 points in 31 career playoff games. … Whitney was a minus-4 entering the game and was a plus-3 on the night. … Rod Brind’Amour and Erik Cole have yet to score a point in the series. … Brodeur fell to 10-13 all-time in the playoffs against the Canes. … Gleason had four of Carolina’s 14 blocked shots. … The Canes have killed 21 of 23 New Jersey power plays. … Staal has 20 shots in the last three games after managing just 11 in the first three games. … Maurice won his 20th career playoff game with the Canes.