The Devils find themselves in a familiar position- down one game to none- in another series, although the stakes in this one couldn’t be higher. They lost Game 1 of both the semifinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers and conference finals against the New York Rangers, storming back to beat the Flyers in five games and the Rangers in six. Devils head coach Peter DeBoer guided the team through those somewhat troubled waters in the early rounds, so he’s not going to press the panic button now, even if it’s the Finals.
“The good news is, we started in the same hole against Philly, we started in the same hole against the Rangers and we responded to the situation in the right way, and I expect the same,” DeBoer said after the Game 1 loss on Wednesday night. After channeling his inner John Tortorella, DeBoer added: “We had multiple issues. I can’t box this up and wrap this in one nice little package for you. We had a lot of issues. Some you give credit to them for what they did, some were self-inflicted. We’ve got to fix them all up.”
So, what do the Devils need to do to regain momentum and tie the series on Saturday night in Newark?
“I think our group does a good job of self-analyzing. Looking at the game and realizing, both individually and collectively, where we have to get better. We’ve got two days to do that, so we’ll be better on Saturday night,” DeBoer said.
DeBoer gave the team the day off from practice Thursday, as he and the coaching staff began to analyze exactly what went wrong in Game 1, but to many, it was obvious. When asked what his team needs to do better in Game 2, Devils captain Zach Parise was brief and blunt:
“Just play better. Be smart. Smarter with the puck, that’s it. We have to be better. In all areas. It wasn’t our best game.”
So, in addition to the all-encompassing “play better,” what do the Devils most need to improve on in Game 2? For starters, their forecheck, a strength throughout this playoff run, looked off balance against the Kings. With so many scoring chances generated by that aggressive style of play, it’s no wonder that as the forecheck goes, so go the Devils.
“The timing wasn’t there,” said Patrik Elias. “For seven or eight minutes, it was the worst hockey we played in the playoffs so far.”
The Kings physical style is something the Devils haven’t faced so far in the playoffs, but for Goaltender Martin Brodeur, who turned in another gem of a performance in Game 1, it was the general unfamiliarity with the team that threw the Devils off their game.
“When you play the Western Conference, you don’t know much about them,” Brodeur said after the loss. “It was a feel-out game for both clubs.”
With two days to prepare, define exactly where the breakdowns occurred, implement a game plan to change the tempo of the matchup and tie the series, DeBoer and his staff are sure to be very busy over the next 48 hours.