Devils crash with a thud after a no-show game four puts them on the brink of elimination

It’s hard to know where to even begin with the absolute disgrace that was tonight’s Game 4, a 6-1 defeat that left the Devils not only down 3-1 in the series, but completely humiliated on their own home ice…again. It’s unfortunate that we’re likely going to end the season the way we started it, with fans booing the team out of the rink after a no-show performance, but quite frankly they brought it on themselves. If getting blown out five times already in the postseason wasn’t enough to convince them they have to bring it every night against good teams in the postseason, I’m not sure why the sixth one would make that message finally sink in to their thick skulls.

Well thank you captain obvious, everyone in the building could see that. Thing is, there was no reason for this team to quit to the extent they did in a five-goal second period. You could even feel the energy sap out of the building after Carolina tied the game late in the first. Players can’t control the fans, but they sure as shooting can control their own reaction to the situation. Maybe we knew intuitively what was coming next, especially given the pattern of the first two games in Raleigh. Play well in the first five-ten minutes with little to show for it, then Carolina gradually grinds the game to their tempo and takes over, breaking it open in the second period. I couldn’t escape the sinking feeling early in the second period once Carolina took the lead of ‘it was happening again

But really now, for this team to turn tail and just not even compete is beyond comprehension. I don’t want to hear about goaltending, just stop it. There’s eighteen other skaters out there…get your own jobs done. Would I have played Vitek Vanecek in either Games 3 or 4? No, it’s obvious the dude is either fried from playing a career high in games by double-digits, or just screwed up mentally and mechanically. If he were a baseball pitcher, he’d already have been phantom DL’ed as they worked on his mechanics in the back fields. I was afraid what would happen tonight was going to happen in Game #3 when I heard Vitek was starting, but fortunately we were able to get such a huge lead early goaltending was irrelevant. Not as much so tonight.

Problem is, you can’t really say Lindy Ruff made the wrong decision, because quite frankly there was no right decision to be made judging by both guys’ play in the first four games of this series. Schmid allowed eight goals in basically a game and a half’s worth of minutes, while Vitek’s allowed twelve goals in two and a half game’s worth of minutes. Not exactly a big difference. Would I have given Schmid at least one home start considering his last two games at the Rock against the Rangers were shutouts, absolutely. Would it have made a difference? Probably not, other than the fact we wouldn’t have embarrassed Vitek any more than we already have.

I don’t know how you can look at the Vitek clip (around 3:30 of this video) and not feel bad for the man. Especially given all he did for us in the regular season to help us get to this point, not to mention the fun, classy dude he is in general. Unlike some people who might sulk when losing their job, Vitek has been nothing but supportive with both Mackenzie Blackwood during the season and Akira Schmid now and honest about his own play.

As frustrated as I’ve been with Vitek’s play at times, more than anything I’m just angry for him, and personally offended that the rest of the team helped embarrass him in this manner and basically spoiled a fine season. Now his 30+ wins is basically irrelevant for most of the fanbase after four straight playoff duds and that’s just not right. Especially since not all of them were exactly his fault. You could pin Game 1 of the Ranger series partly on him at least with two bad goals, but Game 2 he held the fort for twenty-five minutes when the team no-showed before the fort just got overrun. In this series, he had two bad relief appearances after Schmid got blown up in Raleigh, which is why I wouldn’t have started him Game 3 coming off his bad start to the Ranger series. But he did start and won the game, with most of the goals against being breakaways and quality chances. You could pretty much say the same thing tonight.

Yes, Vitek had four bad starts in the playoffs. Where the bleep is Dougie Hamilton?! He’s had like ten invisibad games and clearly hasn’t shown up against his former team. I expect more from the highest paid player on the team, and the highest scoring defenseman in Devils history than I do a guy who was basically brought in and paid to be a 1B goalie, who played up to a 1A level long enough to help us to a team record number of wins. Talk about other big names who need to do more…Nico Hischier has one lousy goal in the postseason. Jesper Bratt has one empty-net goal. Timo Meier finally got on the scoreboard the last two games at least, but it’s been too little, too late.

And I don’t want to hear about coaching either…yes I was screaming at Lindy to get Vitek the hell out of there after it was 3-1, and thought he pulled him two goals too late at 5-1 – but ultimately this game had nothing to do with lineups and goalies. Especially when nobody played well at all, from skaters right on down to the net. It had to do primarily with heart, desire and patience, all of which the Devils lacked (and not for the first time in this postseason). It’s as if the Devils bought into their own press after Game 3 and got sucked into thinking they were Manchester City, or the Harlem Globetrotters and were going to just fancy pass their way into another eight goals.

You can’t exactly treat the Carolina Hurricanes like they’re the Washington Generals. If you’re careless, they’ll eat you alive. Even being outscored 6-1 wasn’t the most jaw-dropping stat of the night, that would be the 26-2 difference in giveaways. Carolina played almost perfect while we literally threw the puck away once every couple of minutes, and that doesn’t even include all our wild shot attempts and bad decisions, such as Luke Hughes leaving the ice for a line change as the puck was being turned over on the fateful Martin Necas goal late in the first period.

Crap like that will happen, but overall Luke had a poor game and was on the ice for four of the six goals against. Perhaps he was guilty of reading his own press too much after Game 3 (arguably, so was the rest of the team). Growing pains are part of the deal, and anyone who thought Luke would be perfect right off the hop based on ‘talent’ and three non-pressure games was kidding themselves. What should not be allowed to happen is how the Devils responded to that goal. They looked like Rocky during the first fight with Clubber Lang in Rocky III, nothing left in the tank after punching themselves out furiously trying to get an early knockout. Understandably, the coach was very hard on the team’s ‘effort’ in the postgame:

That comment about going rogue might be a shot at Luke among others, though he certainly wasn’t alone in that kind of aimless freewheeling. Speaking of the power play they’re still scoreless against the Canes in…seven games and counting this season. With six shorthanded goals against. And Andrew Brunette is the genius who was supposed to be Lindy’s heir apparent. At least they didn’t give up another shorty tonight though they came close in the third period. Granted, it was a glorified preseason game by then. I would have literally walked out after the second period except I wanted to go over to the other end of the rink to see my friends in the now likely case it was the last time I’d be at the Rock for the season.

Obviously 3-1 isn’t quite insurmountable under normal circumstances, even with two of the last three on the road but if the Devils are even going to attempt a comeback they have to figure out two very important things…one, who can actually stop a puck? It’s obvious Vitek is done and the clock has struck midnight on Schmid, and again it’s not like we’re doing a lot to help either regardless. As much as I’m tempted to say what the heck and throw Blackwood to the wolves, I don’t see how that ends well. Not when he hasn’t played in a month and arguably they’ve already finalized an impending divorce at the end of the season. I know it’ll never happen but I’d be tempted to throw in Nico Daws, at least he isn’t tainted by this series yet and has played in the last few weeks (albeit in the AHL), unlike Blackwood.

Honestly you could probably do just as well closing your eyes and picking a guy rather than ascribing any logic to it – but again though, it won’t matter who’s in net if the team itself doesn’t play better and can’t figure out a way to win when they’re not controlling play. It’s not realistic to expect to dominate game in and game out in the postseason, you sometimes just need to keep scores close enough so you can make a play late in games, the way the Devils did in Games 3 and 4 against the Rangers but otherwise haven’t done in the postseason. Our other six losses have been blowouts, as have our last three wins. This series feels even less like the postseason than the weird Ranger series did, with every single game being a blowout.

I’m not going to get into the whole inquest about what happens going forward, not yet. Not that I have much hope of coming back in this series, but it’s late, I want to go to bed and really the series isn’t over. I just don’t see how you get through a team like this three straight times when leaking goals in the defensive end, and not even being able to penetrate Carolina’s defense for many quality chances in three of the four games on the offensive end.

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1 Response to Devils crash with a thud after a no-show game four puts them on the brink of elimination

  1. Derek Felix says:

    Carolina takes away the blue line and waits for mistakes in the neutral zone. That feeds their transition game. They’re very aggressive on the forecheck. It snowballed. I would’ve took the timeout after the 3rd goal. It was obvious that the game was getting away from them. Ruff waited one goal too long. Stop their momentum. Reset.

    I feel for Vanecek. You highlighted the reasons. They hung him out to dry. Obviously, he’s having a tough time. But, you can’t play like that and expect to get bailed out. Even Igor couldn’t save our bacon.

    Luke Hughes is a great skater who loves to roam. That’s what they teach. He will be good. But he’s a high risk player. He’s 19. It was a very tough game for him last night. Most defensemen that age aren’t playing in such a big game. He’ll learn. They have to do what’s best for his development.

    I’m sure Graves will be back if he can go. Obviously, Schmid will start. They have to play their game. If they can get an early lead to take the crowd out of it, and not turn over pucks, it’s possible


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