NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils were buzzing early in Game 4.
After blitzing the Carolina Hurricanes in an 8-4 win in Game 3 on Sunday, the Devils had whipped the Prudential Center crowd into a frenzy with Jack Hughes’ first-period goal just 1:55 in Tuesday. And they were hunting for more.
The Hurricanes, losers of nine of their past 11 road postseason games with each defeat coming by two-plus goals, were in danger of being run out of the building again.
But as Carolina goalie Frederik Andersen stymied New Jersey’s chances, both before and after Hughes’ goal, Carolina discovered its game, tying it before the first period’s end.
Then, the Hurricanes took command of the series with a five-goal, second-period onslaught where four different players beat beleaguered New Jersey goalie Vitek Vaněček in a span of 5:20, en route to a 6-1 win.
“We knew [the Devils] were going to come hard, and they obviously did,” Andersen said. “The goal we scored obviously got us some time to settle in and take a couple of deep breaths and get our game going, and I think that was the big difference from Game 3 to Game 4.”
Andersen credited Martin Nečas’ goal for righting the ship. Yet, the Hurricanes can also thank Andersen for some goaltending stability. They have lacked that critical element over consecutive second-round playoff flameouts and were in danger of another goaltending debate when Andersen was pulled after allowing four goals on 12 shots in Game 3.
But Andersen made seven of his 21 saves in the first period of Game 4. There were two tough chances before Hughes redirected Timo Meier’s shot past him, then four between the New Jersey goal and that of Nečas.
“Freddie was solid for us, especially early,” Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal told The Game Day Hockey. “Obviously, [it was] a good night for him, and a nice rebound game for him.”
Andersen’s saves calmed Carolina, and it methodically started to turn the tide.
“I don’t think we gave him much of a chance in Game 3. We were not good, and we hung him out to dry a lot,” said Carolina forward Jordan Martinook, who had a goal and two assists in Game 4. “For Freddie to calm us down and get us back into it, that was huge. Then we slowly tried to take over the game.”
Many in hockey circles wondered how Carolina would score in the playoffs without injured star forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Max Pacioretty, and Teuvo Teräväinen, but its underrated forward depth, including Martinook, Nečas, and others have chipped in.
But coach Rod Brind’Amour’s goaltending usage became a story when he chose Antti Raanta, who made just 27 regular-season starts but went 6-5 with a .922 save percentage in 13 playoff games in 2022, over Andersen for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Islanders.
“Goalies get all the attention — it’s probably overdone when you win and gets heaped on when you lose — but I think it’s part of the job. It’s big-boy hockey,” Brind’Amour said. “[Andersen] understands that really well. It looks like nothing bothers him.”
The Danish-born veteran bided his time and fought off an illness before playing lights out by stopping 33 of 34 shots in Carolina’s series-clinching 2-1 overtime win over the Islanders in Game 6. He followed that by outplaying New Jersey goalie Akira Schmid, the breakout star in New Jersey’s seven-game series win over the New York Rangers, in Games 1 and 2 then outplaying Vaněček in the pivotal Game 4.
“It looks like he’s in a preseason game sometimes, and if you watched him in [Game 4] it looked the same,” Brind’Amour said. “I think he has a great ability to just kind of move on and try to do his job.”
It’s been a long road to this point for Andersen, a veteran who made his 58th career playoff start Tuesday. He has backstopped Anaheim, Toronto, and now Carolina to the playoffs, but has never reached the Stanley Cup Final, yet is now five wins away.
Still, to Andersen, team success trumps that of the individual, and he simply hopes to keep helping the Canes win.
“I think we’re all glad we’re doing it as a team,” Andersen said. “That’s how we’re able to win, and I think we’ve been harping on it for a long time that we do this as a team and that’s how we’re successful.”