By Steve Silverman
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New York, NY (WFAN) – It was not supposed to go this way.
With losses in their first three games, the Devils had all but faded away and the Los Angeles Kings had seemingly guaranteed their first Stanley Cup championship.
But that’s no longer the case. The Devils’ spasm in Game 4 forced a cross-country trip for a fifth game that would surely be the one where the Kings would skate around the Rock with the Stanley Cup. After all, they had won 10 consecutive road playoff games. They had played physical hockey, driven to the net and maximized their scoring opportunities. That’s what championship teams do.
But even though the memo was printed, proofed and placed in an envelope, it has not been delivered to Peter DeBoer and his players. By winning the last two games, they have transformed the Stanley Cup Finals from a coronation to a full-fledged battle.
The Devils have followed a familiar formula to get back in this series. They have scored the opening goal. The team that scored the first goal of the game has won the first five games of this playoff series and that strategy has been dominant throughout this entire playoff season.
This time, previously impenetrable Jonathan Quick played a key role in helping the Devils score the first goal – this time in the first period. New Jersey was in the final stages of what appeared to be another unsuccessful power play when the puck was dumped into the Kings’ zone. The confident Quick retrieved the puck and tried to rim the puck around the boards but instead banked it off the backboard with very little mustard on it. Zach Parise, racing into the zone to forecheck alertly retrieved the puck and put it on his forehand. He then slipped it into the back of the net before Quick could do anything about it.
That goal not only gave the Devils the lead, it allowed Parise to get on the scoreboard for the first time. He is the Devils’ best player and likely the best skater on the ice. He been playing hard, tough hockey for the first four games and had nothing to show for it. The goal gave him that little bit of a surge that all great players need in a crucial series.
The Kings steadied the ship and tied the score early in the second. After taking a pass from Matt Greene, Justin Williams skated up the right side until he crossed into the Devils’ zone. At that point, Williams kept the puck on his stick and moved to the center of the offensive zone –unimpeded by the Devils’ defense. Williams took advantage of his time and space and fired a wrist shot to the top corner by Martin Brodeur to tie the score at the 3:26 mark of the second period.
That goal did nothing to dampen the Devils’ enthusiasm. They carried the play throughout the majority of the second period and the most unlikely hero of all struck at the 9:05 mark. Defenseman Bryce Salvador wheeled and sent a puck towards the Kings’ net with the hope of getting a deflection or a rebound and setting up a scoring opportunity. He got what he wanted. The puck deflected off Kings’ defenseman Slava Voynov and by Quick. The Los Angeles goalie had no chance to stop it.
The Kings put the pressure on Brodeur the rest of the way and when Jarrett Stoll’s deflection got by Brodeur, it appeared they had tied it up. However, Stoll’s skillful move came on a shot that was head high and the rules don’t allow it. The goal was immediately waved off and the Kings had no legitimate argument with the call. Stoll was also stopped on a breakaway by Brodeur and that allowed the momentum to stay with the Devils.
Now it’s a different kind of Finals. This had been a playoff season that had been dominated by Los Angeles. Despite their 8th seed status, the Kings had put together a playoff run as if they were the 1977 Montreal Canadiens or the 1988 Edmonton Oilers.
Now, seeds of doubt have been planted and tended by the Devils. Instead of playing to win their first championship, the Kings are playing to prove they don’t belong with teams like the 1942 Red Wings, 1975 Penguins and 2010 Bruins – all teams that blew 3-0 series leads. The Red Wings are the only one of those teams to blow the big lead in the Finals.
Give credit to the Devils for stopping this L.A. express and taking the momentum themselves. They’ve got two wins now and are in a position to create some history of their own.