Thursday April 16th, 2009

The New Jersey Devils, an organization that for so many people can be summed up in one man, couldn't have hoped for a better all-around team effort in their opening game of the playoffs. As a result, they skated away with a 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes (BOX | RECAP) in a game that was as dominating as playoff hockey gets.

"The whole five-man unit was moving up and down the ice better," Devils center Dainius Zubrus said. "The separation between the defensemen and forwards was pretty tight. And when we move as a unit and the defense get involved, it makes it a little harder for [the other team]."

It was very hard for the Hurricanes to establish much of anything, especially since they barely touched the puck. By the end of the second period, New Jersey had outshot Carolina 30-13, and in the end by 20. They came from everywhere. Forwards Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and Patrik Elias led the Devils with five shots each -- and all three had a goal to show for it.

But beyond the top two lines, which accounted for two-thirds of the Devils offense during the regular season, New Jersey was getting plenty of looks throughout its lineup. Brian Rolston and Brendan Shanahan each had four shots; in fact, all but one Devil put a shot on net during the game, a testament to the team's offensive effort from top to bottom.

"Through and through, I thought we got contributions from everyone," Devils coach Brent Sutter said.

Defenseman Colin White was the only Devil not to get a shot off on Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, but he did more than his fair share on the other end, virtually silencing Carolina's top line of Erik Cole, Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. That threesome, which combined for 23 goals since the trade deadline, got just four looks at Martin Brodeur. That's saying something, considering that Staal shoots more than anyone in the league not named Ovechkin.

"If you play them physical and don't allow them to spend too much time in the offensive zone, they get frustrated," White's partner Mike Mottau said of covering the Hurricanes' top line. "You can just tell by their body language [that they were frustrated]."

Hurricanes head coach Paul Maurice said before the game that he wasn't worried about the "So, now what?" factor, which can happen when teams make it a goal to simply make the playoffs. When they actually get there, they find themselves looking around and saying, So, now what?

"I don't get that sense from this team because we've played very well for two months," Maurice said. "We actually didn't have to go on the emotional roller coaster that most of those teams do because we were winning and kept the confidence."

But after Wednesday night's game, he may have to reevaluate his sense.

Kwak's shots

• Filmmaker and New Jersey icon Kevin Smith was in the house. He was very excited to be at The Rock to see the Devils win their first postseason game in the two-year-old arena. Remember that last year, the Devils dropped three at home against the Rangers, whose fans flooded in from across the river and made the Prudential Center their home away from home.

• At the morning skate, Eric Staal remembered the days when he used to play Parise in youth hockey tournaments in Thunder Bay, Ont., where Staal grew up. Primarily, he says, he remembers Parise's team always winning and the young Devil getting all the MVP awards. Er, sounding a little familiar ...

• Hurricanes center Matt Cullen, who's been out since March 23 with a lower-body injury, played in his first game and looked sharp. In almost 13 minutes of ice time, the forward earned an assist on Carolina's only goal of the night.

• Officials called the game pretty loose. Only six penalties. Both teams did practice a good deal of discipline. That's pretty normal for the Hurricanes, who committed the fewest penalties during the regular season. But still, amen to letting them play.

• Not only did the Devils show a lot of muscle, they used it to their advantage. Two goals came as a result of a player directly outworking their 'Canes counterpart on the puck. Parise, checked on the boards, kept Staal down to beat him to the loose puck and score in the second period, and Elias wouldn't have had that one-timer had New Jersey's Brian Gionta not battled on the boards and won the battle.

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