NEWARK — A five-goal outburst in the second period from the Carolina Hurricanes, including four goals scored in a 5:20 span, has the New Jersey Devils’ red-hot season on the verge of being doused following a 6-1 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference second round on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
“That is a hard one to explain,” Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. “That is about as poorly as we skated and supported the puck in any game this year.”
The result puts the Hurricanes in the driver’s seat with a 3-1 series lead, meaning one more victory punches their ticket to the Eastern Conference Final and ends the Devils’ campaign.
After Jack Hughes put the Devils in front 1:55 into the game when he tipped home Timo Meier’s wrister past Frederik Andersen, the Hurricanes took full advantage of loose New Jersey play to take over, scoring six unanswered goals and running starting goalie Vitek Vanacek from the game in the final minute of the second period.
“It was five minutes that we got away from our game,” forward Nico Hischier said. “They made us pay.”
The Devils committed 26 turnovers on Tuesday night, including nine in the first period — the most egregious one coming when Michael McLeod turned it over at the Carolina blue line and sparked a Hurricanes break. Jordan Martinook found Martin Necas in front of Vanacek, who tipped the feed over the shoulder of the netminder with 2:20 to go in the first.
“It’s hard to give a goal up that late in the period,” Ruff said. “But you can’t let that bother you. You have to keep playing.”
“They’re a really good forechecking team,” Hischier added. “They’re not making our job easy… if you’re not executing, it can go [off the rails] fast.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
Necas nabbed his second of the night 7:26 into the second when he sparked a lightning-quick counter-attack from the Hurricanes’ zone through the heart of the Devils’ defense, creating a 3-on-1 out of nowhere. Brett Pesce found Necas in front from the right circle before the forward wristed it home.
“We were right where we wanted to be,” Hischier. “And then something like that happened and we dropped the ball and we stopped playing.”
Pesce got his goal 2:25 later when a sleeping Devils defense allowed a rebound off a Jordan Staal wraparound attempt to get back to Carolina sticks. Jack Drury fed Pesce between the dots for a shot that sailed over the screened Vanacek.
Jesper Fast made it 4-1 Hurricanes just 1:16 later with an easy clean-up off another rebound before Brent Burns blasted a one-timer through Vanacek with 7:14 remaining in the period.
Martinook put Carolina up five with 23.4 seconds left in the nightmare frame for the Devils when he snapped a wrister bar-down to finally force Lindy Ruff to pull Vanacek for Akira Schmid.
“I don’t know where we went,” Ruff said. “We didn’t skate, we didn’t support. Our defense didn’t move their feet trying to leave the zone. All the things we did so well the previous game… Tonight was probably as disappointing a game, a crucial game, with the way we skated.”