The New Jersey Devils limped home after Game 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night in a familiar spot: Down 2-0 in their series, having been embarrassed by their opponents in consecutive losses.
"We should be really pissed off right now," said Devils captain Nico Hischier, after Carolina's 6-1 win in Raleigh. "I think what bothers me the most is just that we lost our battles and it's the playoffs. But we can't feel too sorry for ourselves. It's a series. We have to come back to our own barn, have a bounce-back game and forget what happened tonight as fast as possible."
What gave the Devils hope after the game was a sense of déj vu: They dropped the first two games of their opening round series against the New York Rangersbefore roaring back to win in seven games. In fact, they were also dominated in those games, getting outscored 10-2 in two home losses.
The Hurricanes outscored them 11-2 in the last two games. New Jersey was unable to mount any sustained offense against the Canes' defense. The Devils played Carolina even in the first period, despite being unable to cash in on a 5-on-3 power play. The Hurricanes blew open the game with four second-period goals, including back-to-back tallies by forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
"We shot ourselves in the foot. They compete hard on all pucks and we didn't match that tonight unfortunately," said forward Miles Wood. "There's not much that can be said about this game. We've got to flush it and move on. We've been here before, especially in the first round against a great team, and we came back and won. So they haven't seen our best yet."
Coach Lindy Ruff hoped that by returning home, the Devils might be able to use the last line change to get some matchup advantages they didn't have in Raleigh.
"We can turn the table a little bit in that sense, but it's going to come down to whether we can out-compete them in certain places to create the opportunities and end up winning a hockey game," said Ruff, who was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year Friday. "I'll tell you, this team has never quit for a second."
The Devils haven't looked like the same team against Carolina. Their top offensive players have been held off the score sheet. They're losing physical battles. Their speed hasn't made a difference against an equally swift-skating Hurricanes squad, especially when it comes to getting back defensively to mitigate rush opportunities the other way. The power play is 0-for-5, after going 0-for-13 against Carolina in the regular season.
Akira Schmid, the rookie goalie that rallied the Devils against the Rangers, has given up seven goals on 36 shots (.806 save percentage) and was pulled in both games in favor of displaced starter Vitek Vanecek.
"We'll have to make a decision on our next game, and I wanted to give [Vanecek] a chance to get into the mix," said Ruff.
Meanwhile, Hurricanes goalie Freddie Andersen had a third straight strong effort, stopping 28 shots. Since returning to the lineup in Game 6 against the New York Islanders, Andersen hasn't given up more than a goal in each of his three games, stopping 77 of 80 shots (.963).
"Freddie was there all night. There was never really a time when he wasn't having to make some saves. That was a difference, for sure," said Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour. Game 3 is Sunday afternoon at Prudential Center in Newark.