I don't know that I've ever seen anything like the end of the Devils' 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes tonight in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at Prudential Center.
It is probably the worst defeat I've witnessed in hockey.
When I talked to Jamie Langenbrunner afterward, he was still at a loss for words. I asked him if he, as captain, said anything in the postgame locker room to his teammates before the room was opened to the media.
"No one did," he said. "It was stone silent in here. I don't think any of us knew what to say, to be honest with you. If you think of something, tell me."
I haven't, yet.
Left wing Zach Parise sat with his head in his hands for most of the time the media was in the locker room. He didn't even look up when I asked him about what he was feeling.
"We're all a little bit in shock right now about what happened, being so close to the second round," he said.
"It's shocking," goaltender Martin Brodeur agreed. "We did everything we could. We worked really hard in this game. Guys performed really well. There's nothing to be ashamed of in losing like that. It's definitely shocking. That's the bottom line,. We had them on the ropes. We had a four-minute penalty with a one-goal lead and we had tons of decent chances..We had a couple of them from the outside, but we had two or three of them right in the goalmouth there and we just couldn't put it in. When you leave a team playing the way they play hanging around they're going to score. They make plays, But it's really disappointing."
The search for reasons why the Devils collasped and gave up two in the final 1:20 tonight will continue well into this summer.
The immediate answers aren't simple, but I'll try to go through them best I can without reviewing the game again, which I'll try to do tomorrow.
It started with the four-minute high-sticking double-minor on Tim Gleason against Parise with 2:40 left in the second period. The Devils ended up with six shots on that power play and could not convert against Cam Ward, who was excellent again tonight in making 33 saves.
Somehow many Devils' fans were cheering the Rangers' loss to the Capitals while their team was wasting its chance to put away the Hurricanes.
Langenbrunner had a couple of chances with about 3:00 left and John Madden had two shots on separate 2-on-1 rushes and Ward stopped them all.
"I was in close. I was in tight. I couldn't get it up," Langenbrunner said. "In hindsight, yeah, it would have been nice to pull it across and maybe deke him. We have some 2-on-1s, that I'm sure it would have been great if they would have gone in."
"We had our chances to put them away," Brodeur said. "We left a team that luck follows them against us hanging around and again the puck bounced on their side again."
The Devils starting sitting back well before Jussi Jokinen scored the tying goal with 1:20 left. Devils coach Brent Sutter said it was the last three minutes.
It caught up to them on that extended stretch when the Devils could not get the puck out of the zone -- though the Hurricanes never pulled goaltender Cam Ward. Niclas Havelid intercepted one pass in front, but sent the puck back to Tim Gleason at the right point. Zach Parise blocked Gleason's right point shot, but Gleason was able to keep the puck in at the blue line.
Finally, Joni Pitkanen made a cross-ice pass to Jokinen for a one-timer from the right circle that beat Brodeur between the pads. Jokinen scored the winner in Game 4 with 0.2 seconds left in regulation.
"We had our chances to get the puck out on that shift," Brodeur said. "They were putting a lot of pressure on us. They were just all over us and they had a hard time getting the puck out and we went running around and they round a lane for a one-timer and [Jokinen] made a good shot, but it just went through my legs, hit the far post and went in."
"Unfortunately, we got caught on that shift there." Langenbrunner said. "When you get caught tired, bad things are going to happen. For whatever reason, we were still reeling there and they shot for the winner."
Sutter called a timeout with 44.4 seconds left after a Devils' icing, but that didn't do anything to settle the players down. Sutter still had his checking line of Jay Pandolfo, John Madden and Brendan Shanahan on with defenseman Colin White and Mike Mottau against Eric Staal's line.
They alllowed Staal to enter the zone with speed on the right wing. With Mottau pressuring him to shoot, Staal let go a wrist shot that beat Brodeur between his blocker and pants.
"Seven hole," Brodeur said. "I was in good position. He made a better shot and beat me. I was right where I was supposed to be. Good players with that much speed. They're going to make some shots."
"That last rush, it wasn't intellegent decisions made in the neutral zone that allowed them to come through with speed," Sutter said. "That was something we took away the whole night. I really don't know what to say. It was a breakdown in the last three minutes of execution -- I guess the last minute and a half. I thought we were on our heels too much in the last three minutes trying to protect the lead and I guess to some degree that's an instinct that you have.
"It's what happens when you get to a Game 7. Anything can happen and it seemed another thing happened."
According to whowins.com, the Carolina comeback in the final 1:20 is the latest by a road team in a Game 7 in NHL history. The 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs held the previous record from the 1993 Norris Division Semifinals in Detroit, when they scored the tying goal with 2:44 remaining in regulation and won on Nikolai Borschevsky's goal 2:35 into overtime.
The latest that a team trailed in a Game 7 and won was with 1:15 left in the third period. The 1979 Monrtreal Canadiens scored the tying goal 1:14 remaining against Boston in the league semifinals and won 5-4 on Yvon Lambert's goal 9:33 into overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.