Zajac strikes back in OT, 'Canes lose 3-2 | Sports

Zajac strikes back in OT, 'Canes lose 3-2

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RBC CENTER/ RALEIGH—After Carolina stole a game from New Jersey in overtime at home on Friday, the Devils returned the favor in front of a rocking RBC Center crowd. The ‘Canes fell behind early and came back twice thanks to more offensive contributions from unlikely sources, but one unlucky bounce in front of the net in OT and the ‘Canes were behind in the season series again.

Carolina received most of the good scoring chances early. The ‘Canes caught Brodeur with his trousers down early when he leapt out of the crease to smother a puck, but missed. Joe Corvo brought it all the way around the net and tried to find an empty space, but all he found was waiting New Jersey defensemen.

The crowd was as billed – excited, rambunctious, and very, very loud. It was disappointing to see that there were patches of empty seats in the audience. The upper parts of sections 103 and 111 were unfilled and section 108 was half filled. For once, team statisticians didn’t even try and pass it off as a sell-out. I know tickets are expensive, but hasn’t everyone heard it’s the playoffs?

2009, no matter how short a playoff run it may be, shall henceforth be known as “The Year of the Cowbell” in Raleigh. Last time around, it was bathrobes and red clown wigs. This year, the accessory of choice is a cowbell, no doubt caused by the enthusiastic response to the Will Farrell SNL clip, which is now shown multiple times a game during breaks in play.

New Jersey scored first, as the team has in every game so far. Zach Parise, who has scored a goal in every game, slipped the puck under Cam Ward’s butt before the goaltender could hit the ice.

“We’d like to try that,” Mo said of getting the first goal for a change.

Ryan Bayda responded 31 seconds later off a third chance rebound. After the Parise goal, the ‘Canes sent out their energy line, and it put life back into the pensive crowd. Scotty Walker set up the play behind the net and sent it to Jussi Jokinen at the crease. He whiffed on it, but a pinching Bayda slid in behind him and buried it. It was “Baydafish’s” first playoff point in his second playoff game.

“That’s normally the way you see these playoffs go,” Mo said. “It’s the guys that grind all year that get rewarded. Those guys played a great game for us tonight. They were pretty physical and they were good lines to put on the ice for us.”

Just as Bayda got the ‘Canes ahead, he put them behind again. After scrumming with Bryce Salvador in front of the net, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style, Bayda nicked Salvador’s face with his stick as he skated away. Salvador bled all over the ice and Bayda received a four-minute penalty.

During one harrowing stretch, the ‘Canes couldn’t get the puck out of the zone or roll a line change. Patrick Eaves finally cleared the puck, but it deflected off a Devil’s shinguard and stayed in. Niclas Wallin lost his stick, essentially giving the Devils a 5-on-3, but Ward stacked his pads and came up with some incredible saves, then Wallin and Jokinen cleaned it out to the points.

The Devils pounced on the ‘Canes every time they tried to bring the puck into the offensive zone in that annoying, old-fashioned trap you rarely see anymore. However, it was effective tonight, as it forced the ‘Canes to play dump and chase, something they don’t like to do.

“We’d like to force them to open their game up, which is something we haven’t been able to do,” Mo said.

With eight seconds left in the first period, Corvo turned it over to Brian Gionta right in front of the net and the Devils scored. I’m willing to cut Corvo some slack as he never makes those epic mistakes, but those sorts of brain farts cannot happen in the playoffs.

When asked about the mindset of his defensive partner, Gleason responded, “Joe Corvo?”

No, Gleason. That other Joe you play with.

“People make mistakes; I make mistakes,” Gleason said. “It’s a game of mistakes. But he’s been there all year.”

The ‘Canes drew a hooking penalty right off the start of the second period and a roughing penalty later on, but wasted both. During a Bobby Holik penalty, Paul Martin slashed a player down and gave the ‘Canes a five-on-three. Mo promptly called a time-out to strategize. If you thought a 5-on-3 in the playoffs would be like shooting fish in a barrel, you’d be wrong; after plenty of passing and no shooting, another power play was gone.

However, Chad LaRose made sure his team didn’t sulk for long. After a heads-up pass from Joni Pitkanen, Patrick Eaves ripped one from the point and LaRose tipped it past Brodeur.

After that, the refs’ true colors came out (it’s not a perfect reference, as both teams’ colors are red, white and black, but you get the point.) In one of the biggest crap calls of the playoffs thus far, Cole was driving to the net and pushed into Bodeur by Martin. Brodeur clearly fancies himself a prize fighter when he faces the ‘Canes – I combed the internet for a picture or video of him punching Justin Williams in the face in 2006, but ol’ Marty seems to have erased the evidence from hockey history. Anyway, Brodeur made a big show of pushing Cole to the ice, and the referee must have just then looked up and decided to make a call, because otherwise there was simply no reason beside blatant homerism. Pitkanen had his stick swatted out of his hand and a Devil was all up in Ward’s grill during the power play, but again, no call.

Staal took an extremely undisciplined penalty after New Jersey was whistled for slashing, knocking Brodeur in the back of the helmet. He and Brodeur received matching slashing calls with 36 seconds remaining.

The penalties expired without effect and Staal came out of the box firing. He had two chances close-in on Brodeur, but the goaltender didn’t give him anything to work with.

The ‘Canes fans could almost see the Devils’ game winner happen in slow motion. New Jersey players were open everywhere, and Carolina was skating around, clueless. If it weren’t for Anton Babchuk sliding into the shot, the Devils would have found a way to get the puck behind Ward.

“Our game in the neutral zone was good at some times, and at times it wasn’t,” Staal said. “We’ll be better.”

With the crowd on its feet, Matt Cullen almost pushed the puck past Brodeur before he was taken out and sat on. A Staal attempt went just wide.

Overtime commenced. Wallin wound up two and a half minutes in, and the crowd held its breath. However, the “secret weapon’s” shot went wide.

One thing is certain: Carolina must find some way to contain Parise, who has five points so far in the series. After back-and-forth chances, Cam Ward made a desperate pad save on Parise. Travis Zajac was there for the spare change, and he tucked it just underneath the crossbar.

“He’s quick, smart, and he’s got two solid linemates to help him out,” Gleason said. “We have to bear down on that line especially, and we obviously didn’t do that at the end there.”

It wasn’t a bad game for the ‘Canes, just as Friday’s wasn’t a particularly horrible effort by the Devils. It’s almost astounding how evenly matched these two teams are, but Carolina still finds itself on the brink. The ‘Canes are in deep six if they can’t manage a win on Tuesday night in front of a home crowd. Expect a better effort, and hopefully some more fans in the seats.

“It was a tight game both ways, no one wanted to give an inch,” Staal said. “It’s no fun losing in overtime at home, but we’ll prepare for Game 4.”

The usually candid Gleason didn’t have any quippy one-liners after the game tonight, but he summed up the ‘Canes mental state.

“We’re not going to just sit around and think about this game,” Gleason said. “We’ve got another home game where we can tie this thing up.”

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