NEWARK, N.J. – Brent Sutter and the New Jersey Devils have been saying for the past week that their late-season swoon wasn’t going to be another prelude to an early exit from the playoffs.
If the first game of the post-season was an indication, the Devils will hang around for a while this spring.
Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner each had a goal and an assist and the Devils dominated from start to finish with a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in the opening game of their best-of-seven first-round playoffs series Wednesday night.
“It’s step one,” Parise said. “It’s going to be a long series. You’ve got the start somewhere and the effort was there from everybody. It was a good way for us to start.”
Last year, the Devils went 4-5-1 down the stretch and we eliminated by the Rangers in five games in the opening round, losing all three games at home.
“Tonight was a good example of how we feel we are able to play,” Martin Brodeur said after coming within roughly 11 minutes of tying Patrick Roy’s record for career playoff shutouts.
“They’ll adjust and try to do something different in Game 2 (Friday) but I liked the way we came out, the energy and the crowd was great,” the NHL’s leader in career regular-season wins added. “Finally, we performed well in front of them. In the playoffs last year, they didn’t have much to cheer about.”
Defenceman Mike Mottau scored a rare goal late in the first period, Parise and Patrik Elias tallied in the second period and Langenbrunner added one in the third for New Jersey, which won four of its final five games after a season-high six-game losing streak.
“Toward the end of the season we were getting back to the way we needed to play,” Parise said. “All around, it was a good team game by us. Right away we did a good job of using the crowd, the excitement in the building and sustaining that the whole game. We did a good job of pressuring tonight.”
Brodeur, who set the regular-season record for NHL career wins last month, was closing in on his 23rd career playoff shutout when Ray Whitney scored on a rebound. He finished with 18 saves in winning for the 96th time in the post-season.
The playoff appearance was the first for Carolina since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, and the Hurricanes played as if they will not be around long. Cam Ward kept them in the game, making 34 saves.
“I guess you scratch your head a little bit, knowing it’s a playoff game,” defenceman Tim Gleason said after the Hurricanes played a bad game after ending the season as one of the league’s hottest teams. “It’s one of those things, they came ready to play and we fell behind early. Friday night we have to come in ready to play at the drop of the puck.”
The Devils outshot the Hurricanes 15-7 in the first period but they didn’t score until Ward made a mistake. The goaltender, who posted a 19-7-2 mark in his final 28 starts, had the puck behind his net late in the period and elected to try to clear it himself off the sideboards.
Mottau, who had one goal in 80 games this season, intercepted the pass, and beat Ward with a shot from the right point with 3:57 left in the period. The defenceman was also a little lucky in getting his second career playoff in six games. Carolina forward Chad LaRose had a chance to nudge the puck away from him before he shot but he missed the opportunity.
“I’m sure he was pretty surprised that a little wrister could get through there,” Mottau said of Ward. “But when you can’t see it, it’s pretty difficult to stop.”
Parise made a great individual effort in the opening minute of the second period to push the lead to 2-0. He fought through a check along by boards by Eric Staal, took a little pass from Travis Zajac and beat Ward to the far side with a shot from a bad angle.
Elias got his goal on a nice play by Brian Gionta. The little forward took the puck away from Rod Brind’Amour in the corner after Elias was stopped on a wraparound attempt, and then found Elias for a shot from the left circle.
The crowd of 17,625 started chanting “Cam Ward! Cam Ward!” repeatedly and then switched to “Marty is better!” a couple of minutes later.
Whitney got Carolina on the board after Brodeur stopped LaRose in close. Parise whiffed on a wild swing to clear the puck and Whitney backhanded the puck into an open net at 9:22.
The Hurricanes didn’t get long to enjoy the goal. Langenbrunner took a pass from Parise 29 seconds later and blistered a shot past Ward.
“We know we have to have a better effort and fortunately, there is better hockey in this room,” Hurricanes centre Matt Cullen said.
Notes: Center Bobby Holik, who was signed after last year’s playoff debacle to provide leadership, was a healthy scratch for New Jersey. … Devils RW Brendan Shanahan was hit in the face on a shot by defenceman Colin White late in the first period. He returned in the second period. … Carolina was 6-of-17 on the power play against New Jersey in winning three of four in the regular season. They were 0-for-2 in Game 1, not getting the extra man until the start of the third period.