The phrase "must win game" gets overused over the course of a hockey season, with sometimes meaningless games getting extra importance.
But when it comes to the New Jersey Devils' Game 4 matchup with the Florida Panthers, the "must win game" label fits perfectly.
For most of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series, the Panthers have looked like the better team. They've battled back from large deficits, found success against the league's best power play and have a look and swagger of a team that's been in the position before. All this from a team that qualified for their first playoff berth in 12 seasons.
On the other side, New Jersey has failed to capitalize on their early success. Twice they've had first period leads of 3-0, and twice they've found ways to allow Florida back in the game. They held on for a Game 1 win, but let the wheels fall completely off on their Game 3 loss.
Now facing a 2-1 series deficit, and the possibility of losing home ice, the Devils backed themselves into a must win situation.
"Obviously, we weren't happy with the end result, but at some point in the playoffs, you have to go through a little adversity," Travis Zajac told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We can grab the series back with a win tomorrow. I think that's our focus - let's get a win tomorrow and not worry about the rest of the results."
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer will keep the same lineup for Game 3, and will put Martin Brodeur back in net for Game 4. Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk said that lineup is still confident, laughing off the thought that losing in Game 3 would rattle them.
"We're a good team and we have to find a way how to bounce back," he told Gulitti. "One game is not going to kill our confidence. It's a good job by them. They didn't do anything crazy or surprising. They were good on the power play and why were they good? Because they were simple. They were shooting the puck from (the point) and a couple good bounces went their way and it went in. So, that's what it's all about. You have to shoot the puck to score goals."
But the end focus, as Zach Parise said, is winning this game.
"Every game is a must-win in the playoffs," Parise told Gulitti. "You have to have that type of attitude. But 2-2 sounds a lot nicer than down 3-1. So, we need to have our best game tomorrow."