Right now, Hurricanes want to win more

Updated: May 11, 2006, 5:30 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two Saturdays ago, the Devils were the ones holding the broom.

This Saturday, they could find themselves in the dustpan.

Martin Brodeur
AP Photo/Bill KostrounMartin Brodeur made 21 saves in Game 3, but again was outdueled by Carolina rookie Cam Ward.

Yeah, things can change pretty quickly in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the home locker room, after Wednesday night's 3-2 Game 3 loss to the Hurricanes, the Devils looked despondent. They knew exactly where they were in the series. And they didn't like it.

They sat quietly, half-dressed, wondering where all that good karma had gone. They came into this Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 15-game winning streak. Now, just five days into it, they're dealing with another kind of run. They've lost three in a row. If it goes four, they'll have all summer to try to figure out what went wrong.

Of course, the answer to that question might be as simple as this: The Hurricanes are better.

"It's no accident that they finished second in the East," Devils left winger Patrik Elias said. "They've got a good, fast, competitive club."

If the Hurricanes aren't better, they're definitely working harder. From the opening faceoff of the series, the Hurricanes have been quicker to the puck. They haven't hesitated to drive the net. And if they just happened to slam into Martin Brodeur, so much the better. To this point, the Devils haven't answered the challenge.

Still, on Wednesday, the Devils talked about bounces. They talked about the game-winning, power-play goal that pinballed off three different players en route to the net.

"Sometimes you can't catch a break," Devils center Scott Gomez lamented.

"The puck hit three different people," said Devils GM/head coach Lou Lamoriello, speaking about the game-winner. "What can you say?"

Some would say that you make your breaks (and bounces) in sports. In the first three games of this series, the Devils haven't really deserved too many good bounces.

They did get a great bounce in the final 20 seconds of Game 2 in Raleigh, when Zach Parise's slapper deflected off Gomez's stick and two posts before dropping over the goal line behind Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. That bounce should have been enough to even the series.

But the Devils couldn't handle their good fortune.

Now, the Devils are facing elimination. And they're way too smart not to know what they're up against.

"We're in a pretty big hole," said Brodeur, who was fooled by Matt Cullen's backhander that tied the game at 1 at the 8:16 mark of the first period. "Tonight, we had a good opportunity to get back into it."

But they didn't. They didn't skate hard enough. They didn't hit hard enough. And, in a game that came down to a bounce, they didn't work hard enough to get that break.

So they're left with the usual clichés.

"We have to take it one game at a time."

"Saturday is our Game 7."

"We just need to get a win."

As you went around the Devils' room, you heard every single cliché associated with a 3-0 series deficit.

In the minutes after such a disappointing loss, the Devils weren't ready to accept the truth: The Hurricanes want it more than they do. At least, that's the truth through three games.

As the dressing room emptied out, one reporter asked Devils center John Madden if he thought he and his teammates were up for the challenge of a dramatic comeback.

"We'll find out Saturday," Madden said.

If they aren't, they'll find out what the other end of the broom feels like.

EJ Hradek covers hockey for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ej.hradek@espnmag.com. Also, click here to send EJ a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.

ALSO SEE