Silverman: Gritty Devils Thriving Under Pressure
By Steve Silverman
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Momentum is the most nebulous of commodities.
The Devils have it right now as they prepare for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the previously impenetrable Los Angeles Kings.
That momentum will disappear as soon as the puck is dropped and a new chapter is written in this increasingly dramatic series.
The Devils know that they earned victories in Games 4 and 5 just like the way the Kings earned them in the first three games. They can push this series to classic status if they can steal Game 6 and send it to a stunning Game 7 Wednesday night.
Winning two games in a row would appear to give the Devils an edge and a cleaner conscience going into the game. All they have to do is think about matching their effort, grittiness and determination in Game 6 to have an excellent chance to win. The Kings, on the other hand, have much more to consider. They have to consider what went wrong.
Apparently, one of the things that went wrong was concentration. Limos were lined up outside the Staples Center prior to Game 4 as a prelude to a Stanley Cup celebration. Devils coach Peter DeBoer and his players had no problems noticing this and using it for motivation as their team bus drove past those limos on the way into the arena.
That’s what teams do when they are trailing in a playoff series. Especially in hockey. They look for little things to motivate because the talent is often so evenly divided that one little edge can help a team turn probable defeat into victory.
As the Devils feel much better about themselves, the Kings are going through all types of mental gymnastics to get their game back in gear. It is particularly tough on former Flyers Mike Richards, Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. It was just two years ago that they were in the opposite position their team finds itself in right now. In the second round of the 2010 playoffs, the Flyers trailed the Boston Bruins 3-0 and they were offering very little resistance. In the fourth game of the series, the Flyers allowed the Bruins to tie the game in the final minute and it appeared Boston would use that momentum to get an overtime goal and a series sweep. But after giving Boston a couple of hold-your-breath chances in the extra session, Gagne swept home the winner and the comeback was initiated. After two more Flyer victories, the Bruins ran off to a 3-0 lead in game 7 in Boston. The Flyers mounted another comeback and it was again Gagne who scored the game-winning goal in a 4-3 victory seventh game victory.
Now that trio is on the other end of a potential comeback. Two years ago, every move they made through the last four games turned out to be right. This time around, they know that they have failed to play their best in Games 4 and 5 and it will require a major turnaround to get it reversed.
That plays into the Devils hands for this game. The best thing the Devils may have going for them in Game 6 is that Zach Parise has hit the scoreboard and will probably be the best player on the ice. Parise took advantage of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick’s puck handling error to score the first goal of Game 5 and he played with energy and verve after that. It’s obvious the Devils follow his lead and they can pick up on his energy by trying to match his speed and economy of movement.
The Kings have their own leaders in Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Richards, but they don’t quite measure up to Parise. He is a championship player and if the Devils are going to make it all the way to Game 7, it seems certain that Parise will play a key role in making that happen.
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).
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