Devils dealt a must-do list
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI AGENCY
|Marcel Goc, of the Florida Panthers, celebrates after teammate Jason Garrison scored a goal in the first period against goalie Martin Brodeur, of the New Jersey Devils, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)
NEWARK, N.J. - The stinging words that no team wants to hear during the Stanley Cup playoffs were floating around the New Jersey Devils dressing room Wednesday afternoon.
The Devils never thought they would be acknowledging as much in a series that potentially is not half over but, yes, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal Thursday night at the Prudential Center against Florida is a must-win for Lou Lamoriello's crew.
"Definitely," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who will resume his position in the crease after he was pulled in Game 3. "From now, for us, they are all Game 7s. We have to win.
"We are facing big adversity and we'll see what type of team we are. We're getting tested a little bit earlier than we thought we would, and we'll see if we can pass it."
The Panthers won 4-3 Tuesday night to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
In team history, the Devils have lost nine of 11 series when they've dropped Game 3 after splitting the first two.
Although the Devils have been hampered through three games by their sudden inability to kill penalties, there are other areas to point the finger of blame. Brodeur, for the most part, has been ordinary. Ilya Kovalchuk was fifth in NHL scoring during the season but has one goal and one assist against Florida. Kovalchuk had just nine games of NHL playoff experience before the series and hasn't demonstrated a readiness to carry a team on his back.
The Devils' big-name players, including Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise, haven't been consistent. When the fourth line has two of the Devils' eight goals, despite averaging about seven minutes of ice time a game, there's trouble.
Kovalchuk realizes people are looking at him.
"I think it's fair and it's nothing new to me," Kovalchuk said. "I want to be in these situations. We can be much better. We have to be more focused when we get those (scoring chances)."
As the Devils try to get off the mat, it wasn't clear whether former teammate Scott Clemmensen would be in goal for Florida. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen wouldn't say whether he would stick with Clemmensen, who made 19 saves in relief in Game 3, or go back to Jose Theodore.
There could be a lineup change for the Devils. Defenceman Anton Volchenkov has been on the ice for nine of Florida's 10 goals and, if he comes out, rookie Adam Larsson would dress.
There's no other area the Devils have to improve in immediately more than the penalty kill. The Panthers have scored six goals on 10 power-play chances, this after the Devils led the NHL in penalty-killing during the season.
The Devils should be terrified to take a penalty, and coach Peter DeBoer said they'll have no choice but to tip-toe the fine line that comes with playing physical hockey.
"We can't let that paralyse us so we are walking around playing with pillows on our pads," DeBoer said. "You have to compete. Our penalty kill has allowed us all year to play with that edge, and it (did) not come back to bite us. It has in two of these games. The easier answer to that is get our PK back on track, not lay off playing with any edge."
Several Devils said the team confidence hadn't waned.
It was pretty easy to see which team had won Game 3 based on what they did a day after. The Devils had a crisp 40-minute practice, while the Panthers stayed at their hotel and went to a gym for an off-ice workout.
His team is in control, but Dineen, a veteran of 59 NHL playoff games as a player, isn't beating his chest yet.
"Look at the flip side," Dineen said. "To get down 3-0 twice (as the Panthers have in the series) is pretty irresponsible and not acceptable. You understand you have to be better in certain situations. There's a balancing act. In Game 4, success for us is making sure we try to have a good first five minutes."