Hartnett: Underdog Devils Fighting Back Off The Ropes
‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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When you’re up against the ropes, you fight back. If you’re an athlete, it’s a natural reaction. When your mettle is tested in the face of elimination, you fight back like there’s no tomorrow because there might not be a tomorrow.
That was the scenario for the New Jersey Devils as they entered Staples Center on Wednesday night. The home crowd waived their broomsticks, expecting the Los Angeles Kings to close out the series and parade the Stanley Cup around the ice after the final buzzer sounded.
Somewhere in the bowels of the Staples Center, Martin Brodeur stared in the mirror before Game 4, knowing it might be the last time he ever represented the Devils — the only professional organization he’s known since he was drafted in 1990.
He’s been on the fence about retirement all season, but Brodeur’s competitive juices were flowing at maximum level on Wednesday.
Brodeur’s internal fire burned deeply in Game 4. He was up to the task as he saved 21 of 22 shots on goal, even if he had a little help from his goalposts.
“We’re pretty happy to live another day. There’s no doubt about that. We just wanted to play well, give everything we had, and see where that’s going to bring us,” Brodeur explained during his post-game press conference.
The legendary Devils’ net-minder made a number of key saves over the course of the Devils 3-1 victory. None was more important than the breakaway stop on Simon Gagne at 15:10 into the second period. Brodeur coolly stuck out his left pad to deny the Kings’ veteran marksman.
“He’s got so much speed,” Brodeur said about Gagne. “He was coming hard. I just held my ground there, made a pad save there, gave up a rebound in the middle of the slot. All our players were there.”
Later in the third period, Brodeur again frustrated Gagne who thought he set-up a Kings’ goal. Brodeur made a risky diving poke-check on Trevor Lewis who looked destined to score. His risk turned out to be the Devils’ reward as the puck went wide.
Dainius Zubrus reached the Stanley Cup Final as an 18-year-old rookie member of the 1997 Philadelphia Flyers who lost the Red Wings in a four-game sweep. It took him 15 years to get back to the finals. Considering his long journey back, he didn’t want to get swept again.
At 33, Zubrus’ window is closing. Same goes for Bryce Salvador (36), Marek Zidlicky (35) and Henrik Tallinder (33) who are all experiencing their first visit to the finals. Patrik Elias (36) and Petr Sykora (35) twice lifted the Stanley Cup, but this might be their last crack at doing so again.
It was appropriate that three of the Devils’ old guard contributed to the third period goal at 7:56 that gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead.
Zubrus’ strength on the puck kept the play alive. He slid a pass toward Salvador at the point who uncorked a heavy shot that resulted in a juicy Jonathan Quick rebound. Elias was positioned on Quick’s doorstep and scooped the loose puck into the net.
Do you remember the epic fight between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV? Rocky is getting pummeled by Drago all fight but lands a right hook that cuts Drago below his eye. That’s when the fight turns in the opposite direction.
Rocky’s trainer, Duke later tells Rocky in his corner, “You cut him, you hurt him, you see, you see, he’s not a machine, he’s a man!”
Quick performed like a machine up to that point during the Stanley Cup Final and the Devils finally dented Quick’s armor. He entered the third period with a shutout streak of 130 minutes and 43 seconds. The Kings’ goalie went into Game 3 with the best save percentage and goals against average in the finals since Montreal Canadiens’ legend Jacques Plante in 1960.
Suddenly, Quick appeared to be human. Suddenly, the Devils believed.
With 5:31 remaining in the third period, Adam Henrique rushed down the wing and received a pass from David Clarkson that he received with his skate and nudged it toward his stick. Henrique’s game-winning shot elevated past Quick’s glove.
Zach Parise, the captain and heartbeat of the Devils has waited his entire career to reach the Stanley Cup Final. With free agency looming, Wednesday night could have been the final time he pulled on a Devils’ sweater. He didn’t want his potentially final memory in a Devils’ uniform to be the misery of experiencing a four-game Stanley Cup final sweep.
It wasn’t a classic performance from Parise, but he did his part by testing Quick with a team-leading four shots on goal.
Did you think these guys were going to go down without a fight?
“We keep playing. There is still a chance and that’s all that matters right now,” Sykora stated following the Game 4 victory.
Win or lose, the Devils had to catch a flight back home. Brodeur was happy to drag the Kings back across the country for Game 5 at the Prudential Center.
“I think we wanted to make them jump on a plane and come to New Jersey,” he mentioned post-game. “We had to go anyway, might as well get a game over there. But I think it’s a tough situation, you know, for us to be in. We pulled it off, one game.”
He continued, “We’ll take it one game at a time. But, I’m sure they’re not happy to make that trip. I’m sure they’re not happy to make that trip. We’ll try to make it miserable for them again.”
Is this the beginning of an improbable Stanley Cup comeback? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.