By Steve Silverman
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New York, NY (WFAN) - Here’s why Devils fans should still have hope of their team surviving in the Stanley Cup Finals:
The Boston Bruins dropped the first two games of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals to the Vancouver Canucks, the second one in a heartbreaking overtime, and came back to win the series in seven games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lost the first two games of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings and then won the series. In 2010, the Flyers lost the first two games of the series and came back to square the series at 2-2 before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
The point is that the last three Stanley Cup Finals have seen teams overcome early deficits. The big difference in this series is that the Devils lost the first two games at home, while the Bruins, Penguins and Flyers all lost their first two in hostile environments.
That’s not enough of a reason to think the Devils are done. Their second 2-1 overtime loss to the Kings was a much better show than their first 2-1 overtime loss. This time they carried the play for much more of the game, especially after they tied the score on Ryan Carter’s tip-in goal at the 2:59 mark of the third period. Prior to that point, the Devils were searching for answers in trying to solve the riddle of Jonathan Quick. But when Stephen Gionta won a board battle, Steve Bernier was able to gain control of the puck deep in the offensive zone. He feathered the puck back to the right point to Marek Zidlicky who fired a shot towards the net. Carter was in line and used the heel of his stick to deflect the puck downward. It hit the ice and bounced over Quick’s pad and into the net.
The Devils had tied the score and there was a resurgence on the Devils bench. From that point on, they seemed to have the better of play. Not by much, but there was more purpose in their skating and their passes were more accurate. It seemed like it was about to pay off in the final seconds when Ilya Kovalchuk ran into a free one about 10 feet in front of Quick. While the puck was bouncing just a bit, this was the kind of chance any sniper dreams about. Kovalchuk didn’t get all of it as first-game hero Anze Kopitar dove to hinder his shot. However, Kovalchuk got enough of it to beat Quick. Unfortunately for him and his team, the puck rang off the crossbar and the game went into overtime.
The stats say the Kings had the best of overtime because they outshot the Devils 11-3. But while they winged more shots at Marty Brodeur than the Devils did at Quick, the Devils had possession and a chance to make plays. They could not convert and finish chances and that allowed the Kings to survive as the overtime period went past the halfway point. The Devils lost some of their edge at that point and that’s when former Flyer Jeff Carter took over. He came through the neutral zone with speed and was flying when he came into the offensive zone. From his spot on the right wing, he tried to make a back door pass to Dustin Penner on the far side of the goal. The two just missed making a game-ending connection.
But Carter did not stop or even slow down. He skated around the back of the net, retrieved the puck and approached the game’s best scoring area. As he got between the faceoff circles, he fired a quick wrister on Brodeur, who had moved just a few inches off the short side. The puck found the opening and the Kings had another overtime win and a 2-0 series lead. They also had a shocking 10-0 road record in the postseason.
If the Devils didn’t know it before the start of the series – and they should have – the Kings are no ordinary eighth-seed team. They have top-level goaltending, an excellent skating and puck-handling defense and the ability to score in the clutch. They are a very good team playing at their best.
However, they are not the Guy Lafleur Canadiens, Wayne Gretzky Oilers, the Mario Lemieux Penguins or the Nicklas Lidstrom Red Wings. They are not that kind of team and they can be beaten. The Devils have their own weapons to do it. As good as Kopitar and Dustin Brown have been for the Kings this playoff season, Zach Parise can be better the rest of the series and turn into the best player on the ice. If Parise rises to championship level, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Kovalchuk can follow his lead.
Going on the road has been the Kings’ formula for success this spring but it has also been kind to the Devils (6-4). Though they are bleeding and damaged, they are still alive. They can take heart from what the Penguins and Bruins did and they can build off their Game 2 showing to get back in this series.