The New Jersey Devils are facing a familiar desperate situation.
They enter Game Six tomorrow night facing elimination, and having the benefit of home ice hasn't helped them stay alive. They've lost four consecutive series on home ice, and failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs since 2007.
If New Jersey loses tomorrow night, they'll close the door on a season where they exceeded expectations and made it into the top eight. They'll continue the inglorious streak of consecutive postseason games without back-to-back wins, which sits at 27 postseason games.
The team, however, doesn't want to get ahead of itself. The players and coaches are focused on their first elimination game tomorrow night.
"I guess it’s kind of pointless and adds a little more stress to think about two at a time," Devils captain Zach Parise told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We can’t win them both tomorrow. We have to have a great game tomorrow. And we know Florida is going to be ready. I think the last game was their best game and we weren’t on top of ours. So, we have to be a lot better in areas that we were better at earlier in the series."
Among the issues for New Jersey has been their inability to play a 60-minute game. They almost blew a three goal lead in Game 1, holding on for a one-goal win. In Game 2, the Devils came out sluggish, and couldn't overcome a three-goal deficit. Game 3 followed a similar script, with the Devils jumping out to a 3-0 lead and losing it on home ice. In their third loss, during Game Five, the team was outhustled and outworked by a Florida Panthers team that looked hungrier.
New Jersey has played just one complete game this postseason - the 4-0 shutout in Game 4. Coming back will require that same effort tomorrow night.
"If you look around the league, there’s a lot of surprises," Ilya Kovalchuk told Gulitti. "We know they’re a good team. They’re there for a reason and to win the series, we just have to play our A Game two games. We’ll take one game at a time and see what’s going to happen tomorrow."
If the Devils leave their "A Game" home, they'll be facing another long summer.