NEWARK — New Jersey Devils head coach Lindy Ruff was flabbergasted by his team’s showing in a Game 4, 6-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night at Prudential Center.
“There’s not a lot I can say about it,” the befuddled coach said. “Tonight was about as disappointing as a game in a crucial game [that I’ve seen].”
After scoring the game’s first goal, the Devils were outscored 6-0 in the final 43 minutes of Game 4, including a four-goal barrage from the Hurricanes that took up just 5:20 of the clock midway through the second period.
Fueling the beatdown was 26 giveaways compared to just 22 shots, which spells certain death against a Hurricanes team that clogs up the neutral zone and thrives on the counter-attack.
“I don’t know where we went. We didn’t skate, we didn’t support, our defense didn’t move their feet,” Ruff said as he began to scratch the surface of his team’s issues. “It’s from standing still and trying to move pucks. Standing still, making east-west plays, not going north, not supporting. Simple as that.”
He even went on to accuse some of his players of going “rogue,” and focusing on individual play more than anything — a byproduct of a team that is making its first real playoff run together.
“You can call that lack of experience,” Ruff said. “There was no support, there was no team effort. We’re a good team when five guys play together.”
That full-team effort was on display in Game 3 on Sunday when the Devils beat down Carolina 8-4 to momentarily halve their series deficit. But for a young squad that’s been thrown into the fire when it comes to learning the pitfalls of playoff hockey, big wins seem to be followed up by the proverbial foot coming off the gas pedal.
It’s a similar malaise that was seen in Games 1 and 2 of the second round in Carolina after the Devils came off an emotional Game 7 win to eliminate the New York Rangers, something that Ruff pointed to when sorting through the rubble of Game 4.
“For me, it’s: Are we having a tough time dealing with a little bit of success?” he asked. “We played a really good game and then we bounced back with a game like that. The playoffs are hard. We didn’t make it to a high enough level to win a hockey game like that tonight.”
Now the Devils’ season teeters on the brink heading into Game 5 on Thursday night down in Raleigh. One more loss and it’s curtains for their season.
“We can’t spend too much time on it,” Ruff said. “We really have to focus on what we need for the next game.”