newjerseydevils.com – The Devils are coming back to New Jersey with some unfinished business.
They traveled to Carolina with a chance to eliminate the Hurricanes in Sunday's Game 6, but ran into a strong performance from a desperate club and stumbled to a 4-0 loss in Raleigh.
Cam Ward made 28 saves for his first shutout of the series, and third of his playoff career. He traded perfect performances with Martin Brodeur, who in Thursday's Game 5 stopped 44 shots for a 1-0 win and his 23rd career shutout.
The trio of Eric Staal, Ray Whitney and Chad LaRose combined for three goals and six assists as the Hurricanes tied the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at three games a piece.
Whitney had a goal and three assists, and Staal struck twice in a 2:46 of the second period to put the contest out of reach. Jussi Jokinen added a goal on a 5-on-3 power play in the third.
The deciding Game 7 is set for Tuesday at Prudential Center.
"I guess the difference is, one team played like there was no tomorrow and another team played like there was," head coach Brent Sutter said. "When that happens, usually the team that plays like there is another tomorrow winds up on the wrong side. We certainly did in a lot of aspects here tonight."
Sutter's club has won two of three in Newark, including the Game 5 nailbiter. Sunday's outcome snapped a streak of four straight one-goal games in what has been the tightest matchup of the NHL's opening round.
Neither team has won consecutive games in the series, a trend the Devils hope to continue Tuesday.
"That's why you play the whole year, is to get that home ice advantage," Sutter said. "And that's why you do it: for Game 7s. You have to go out and do it now. We've got 48 hours to get ready to play. Both teams are in the same boat. You have to expect that it's going to be a great game."
Brodeur was under siege early on Sunday, making 14 of his 33 saves in the first period. Carolina held a 23-7 edge midway through the game and finished with a 37-28 advantage in the shots column.
New Jersey had both of its power-play chances late in the first period, both courtesy of Joni Pitkanen. They were opportunities to tie the contest at 1, but the Devils failed to cash in.
"The way we played didn't give us a good chance to win this hockey game," Brodeur said. "You have to give them credit, they played really hard and did what they needed to do in a desperate situation to be in the game and to win the game."
Brendan Shanahan led New Jersey with five shots, followed by Brian Gionta with four. Both players scored in the Devils' Game 4 rally from a three-goal deficit, but Jersey's Team couldn't get up off the mat on Sunday.
Jamie Langenbrunner returned after missing three games with a lower body injury. The Devils' captain was slotted into his familiar spot on the right side of Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, and contributed two shots and five hits.
Parise, who had three goals and two assists in the first three games of the series, has been held without a point in three games since.
"They obviously played like a desperate team, and we didn't," Langenbrunner said. "That's what happens this time of year is the team that wants it more usually wins. They wanted it tonight."
The Devils now prepare for their first Game 7 since the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. They squandered a 3-2 series lead versus Anaheim that year, then came back with a 3-0 win in the deciding game to secure the third title in franchise history.
"We've got another game and another opportunity," Langenbrunner said. "We obviously saw how desperate and how hard they're going to play, and we have to bring that same intensity to our game."
There's no question that Langenbrunner and the Devils will be looking forward to taking the ice in front of their home fans with a shot to advance.
"We earned the right to have home ice advantage during the regular season and now we have to take that," said Langenbrunner. "It's going to be a tough game – it's a Game 7. Both teams have been involved in them and know what to expect. It's been a good series and we knew coming in it wasn't going to be easy. We have to be focused on rebounding; coming back and having our best game."
The Hurricanes dominated the first period, outshooting New Jersey 15-4. Thanks to Brodeur, New Jersey only trailed 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
Staal set up Whitney from behind the net, and Whitney batted home the waist-high pass to open the scoring at 10:32 of the first.
It was only the second time in the series that Carolina had scored first. They notched their only other first goal in Game 4 and went on to a 4-3 win.
In the second period, Whitney started Carolina's second scoring play, lifting a dump-in that was gloved down by Paul Martin at the Devils' blueline. LaRose stripped Martin of the puck as he attempted to control, and Whitney got it to Staal for a wrister from the slot at 4:44.
Less than three minutes later, Whitney connected with Staal on a 2-on-1 to make it 3-0.
Jokinen rounded out the scoring 9:12 into the third. He one-timed Whitney's cross-slot pass from the side of the net on 1:18 of a two-man Hurricanes advantage.
NJD NOTES The Devils suffered their last postseason shutout in Game 3 of the 2007 Eastern semis against Ottawa. ... With Langenbrunner back, Bobby Holik was scratched Sunday. ... Bryce Salvador (lower body) missed his second straight game. ... The Hurricanes last went the distance in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, beating Edmonton in Game 7 at Raleigh.
1 - 0 CAR
2 - 0 CAR
3 - 0 CAR