By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
Lose the first three games in hockey and you really do have a chance.
In basketball, forget about it. In baseball, it happened once. When the Boston Red Sox turned an 0-3 deficit against the Yankees and turned it into an American League pennant in 2004, it was as if a full-fledged miracle had occurred.
In hockey, there seems to be a real belief among teams that dig themselves an 0-3 hole. It has happened three times, most recently two years ago when the Flyers climbed out of such a deficit to beat a Boston Bruins team that used the embarrassment of that experience to fuel last year’s Stanley Cup run.
The Devils are in that kind of hole and they fulfilled the first step in making such a comeback by beating the Kings 3-1 in the fourth game of the Stanley Cup finals. It’s still unlikely at this point, but at the least, the Devils have annoyed the Kings in two ways. They must take another cross-country flight so they can try to clinch the Cup in Newark on Saturday night and they must spend at least three more days under the leadership of humorless Darryl Sutter.
If you thought the Rangers’ John Tortorella was a tough guy to work for, just imagine working for Sutter. He acts as if a smile would cause his face to crack in pieces and it’s simply all business when you play for him. Actually, Sutter has relaxed a bit from his earlier coaching stints in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary when he was known for his indecipherable mumbling and his rigorous and painful skating drills.
In the world of sports mind games, a good case be made that the Devils have already planted a seed of doubt in the Kings and that the whiff of confidence is now in the New Jersey locker room. With the win in hostile environs now under their belt, they can truly wake up the Kings by playing their best game on home ice and somehow recording a second straight win.
The Devils didn’t exactly light it up in Game 4, but they did match the Kings hit for hit in the first two periods. This time they managed to get on the board first when Patrik Elias found himself with time and space as the puck landed on his backhand in the third period. Elias had an opening to shoot at and he got rid of the puck quickly. The puck was in the back of the net before goalie Jonathan Quick could react and Elias raised his stick in celebration.
The New Jersey bench was palpably relieved to have the lead for the first time in the series. It wouldn’t last long as the hosts were the beneficiary of a shaky bit of officiating when David Clarkson was called for boarding less than a minute later. Drew Doughty’s slap shot from the point found its way under Marty Brodeur four seconds after the penalty call and the game was tied.
But this time, the Devils wouldn’t give the Kings a chance to let their heavy forecheck game turn the game in their favor. They kept pressing and when Clarkson skated with speed over the blue line and fired a cross-ice pass to Adam Henrique, the Devils had had their chance. Except for one thing – the pass was in Henrique’s skates.
The clever rookie maneuvered the puck from his feet to his forehand without losing a step and from there he fired a seeing wrister that hit the near post, the support in the back of the net and then the far post for the go-ahead goal with less than five minutes left. Ilya Kovalchuk put it away with an empty-net goal with 20 seconds remaining.
In terms of hockey legend, the Devils can dream of joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the aforementioned Flyers. In reality, they have to stop a very powerful Kings team that has dominated for three-plus rounds in this playoff season.
It’s very unlikely that the Devils will win another game. But if they do, the heat on the Kings will increase dramatically and closing out the Devils will become a torturous experience.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).
Think the Devils can somehow take this series? Be heard in the comments below…