If you are a Carolina Hurricanes fan, this 4-0 white-washing of the Devils couldn't have gone much better. Everything fell into place and there was little anxiety in this one. After four straight one-goal affairs, the 'Canes stormed the Devils early, never letting up and building a 3-0 lead after two periods. Unlike Game 4, when the Devils erased a three-goal lead before losing in the final second, the Hurricanes weren't about to fritter this one away.
Instead, they came out and took it away from the Devils, and were unrelenting in their skating. The Devils rarely got a good look at goaltender Cam Ward, and when they did he was sound and under control. The speed and determination of the Hurricanes in all three zones meant the Devils seldom mounted sustained forechecking pressure -- the lifeblood of their offense. Without their cycle game, the Devils found themselves chasing the Hurricanes all night long.
But this wasn't about what the Devils didn't do. It was a classic case of the Hurricanes facing elimination and doing exactly what they had to do. The leader was Eric Staal. On his first shift of the game, he led a ferocious foray into the Devils zone, keeping the puck deep with repeated effort in winning one-on-one battles. That set the tone for the evening, as a few shifts later, Staal again rampaged behind the Devils' net and when Colin White and John Madden double-teamed him, Ray Whitney was subsequently alone in front of Brodeur, unchecked, to neatly bat a mid-air rebound home for the first goal of the game.
In fact, Staal centering Whitney and Chad Larose dominated as a unit the entire night. Coach Paul Maurice swapped out Matt Cullen for Staal between the paired wingers last game, and it paid immediate and immense dividends in this one. They were seemingly everywhere, with Staal scoring twice on assists from his linemates. They worked in unison exceedingly well, with Whitney capping off a four point night on a nice cross-crease feed to Jussi Jokinen on a third-period 5-on-3 power play.
Still, this was Staal's night. He was leadership personified. Rod Brind'Amour is still the captain, but make no mistake, this edition of the Hurricanes is Eric Staal's team. He led by example and established the work rate for the entire squad. It was a level that the Devils couldn't match on this night. Maybe it was a case of one team needing to win facing one that would have liked to avoid a Game 7.
There is no avoiding it now. Heading back to New Jersey, both teams are in the same situation -- win and move on; lose and call it a season. The Eric Staal-led Hurricanes passed the test with flying colors. Now the Devils have to find an answer and deliver. That means it's Staal's 24-year-old counterpart Zach Parise's turn to be what he has been all season long -- the Devils' offensive dynamo.
Should be great theater on Tuesday in Newark.