What a difference a day makes. Barely 36 hours ago, the New Jersey Devils were reeling from a monumental collapse in their Game 3 matchup against the Florida Panthers, in which they coughed up a three-goal lead to lose, 4-3.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur had been pulled in favor of Johan Hedberg, and there was speculation in some circles that perhaps Brodeur should be benched for Game 4.
To his credit, Devils head coach Pete DeBoer stated unequivocally that he fully intended to start Brodeur, and it was obviously the right call, as the stalwart goalie posted a spectacular 26-save shutout performance Thursday that couldn't have come at a better time.
New Jersey was bolstered by a penalty kill that resembled its record-breaking regular-season form, neutralizing all six of Florida's power-play opportunities. It was a much-needed boost for the Devils, who regained the momentum in what has been a seesaw matchup thus far.
DeBoer was especially pleased with his team's special teams. In addition to the penalty-killing excellence, the power play came alive as well, registering two goals.
"It's been the difference in most of the games so far in the series...I knew our penalty killing would bounce back, and it did tonight," DeBoer said in the postgame press conference.
Besides the Brodeur heroics, the contributions from New Jersey's fourth line have been key.
The undersized Stephen Gionta, called up on April 4 from the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany, registered an assist and two electrifying hits in 6:54 of ice time.
Steve Bernier, the former first-round draft pick-turned-journeyman, logged a goal in 9:49 on the ice. He now has a goal and assist in the series, and has contributed big hits and tough play in front of the net.
"He plays a hard game in the corners, on the walls, finishes his hits, goes to the front of the net. To me, he's a playoff-type player," DeBoer said.
The Bernier and Gionta additions, as well as several other moves that Devils GM/president Lou Lamoriello has made this season, are already paying dividends. It's another example of Lamoriello's almost mystical eye for talent, as well as DeBoer's penchant for playing the right players at the right time.
So far in this series, the momentum shifts have been swift and severe. With the win Thursday night, the Devils firmly regained control. Saturday night in Florida, the Panthers will try to force the pendulum in their direction. Regardless of who comes out on top, this is an intriguing matchup for anyone who loves the sport.