Sunday, June 3, 2012

Devils' double-barreled OT problems put them on the brink in LA

There are few times where the saying 'deja vu all over again' applied more than in the first two games of the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Finals. After losing two straight 2-1 OT decisions, the Devils are on the brink of becoming just another prop in the Kings' story of their first-ever Stanley Cup. In what's already been a bizarre NHL playoffs, the Kings' 10-0 road record (tying the number of road wins we had in 1995 and 2000, though with a better record since they don't have any losses yet) and the fact they might just win a Cup without being seriously challenged in any series might be the most unfathomable thing of all. Who would have thought an eighth seed would have a roll through the playoffs as dominant as the '80's Oilers?

Do I think this series is over? From the standpoint that I still believe the Devils have win(s) up their sleeve, no. It wouldn't shock me if the Devils won multiple games in LA. Problem being, I actually give us a better chance of getting two wins in LA than winning the two potential remaining games here. Let's face it, our home-ice advantage of the first three rounds is kaput. After eight games where we went 6-2 and started out mostly every game with a two or three-goal blitz, the Kings have come out exactly the way they wanted in the first period of each game. Get an early goal, take the crowd out of it and throw the team off kilter.

At least last night, the Devils got it going quicker and managed to pressure Johnathan Quick more than in Game 1, but for the second straight game our top offensive players all but dissapeared. Even changing around the lines in the third period and reuniting Zach Parise with Ilya Kovalchuk did little to spark the top nine. Amazingly, it was the golden fourth line that got our only goal last night when Ryan Carter scored off a perfect deflection from a Marek Zidlicky shot 2:59 into the third to tie up Game 2. For the rest of the period, the Devils tried but couldn't turn their snowball of momentum into an avalanche. Even when two straight minor penalties were called late in the third period giving the Devils a power play in the final minute, that only led to more frustration when Kovalchuk got a wide open chance in the slot with just under twenty seconds remaining...and banged it off the crossbar.

Right there, I got a sickening feeling our best chance had passed. Even more so in the OT when Danius Zubrus had an open net and all he had to do was deflect the puck home. He did deflect the puck...and it died inches in front of him, another frustrating near-miss. Unlike our best players though, their best players have been taking advantage of their opportunities. Drew Doughty scored a highlight-reel goal in the first period, deking out three Devils and firing a low (possibly screened) wrister past Martin Brodeur and once again putting us being the eight-ball just minutes into the game. And after Anze Kopitar won Game 1 with a breakaway, former Flyer Jeff Carter would get the winner in Game 2 - beating Andy Greene down low and getting a rebound off his own shot past Brodeur at 13:42 of OT, continuing his playoff torment of the Devils from his Flyer days.

While the Devils have done some good things in the series and you could say the series should be 1-1 based on how play went in the first two games, there were moments where we were lucky not to be down more than one goal. Brodeur's been on his game the first two nights, making some highlight-reel saves in the second period to keep us within one. Maybe Chico Resch wasn't so goofy when he said nobody protects a deficit like Brodeur. Still, it wasn't enough. Plain and simple, we need more than Brodeur to win this series, especially when Quick hasn't given up a clean goal yet. After Anton Volcheknov's magic bullet goal in Game 1 came Carter's perfect deflection last night.

Just look at the goal-scorers for this series though...Carter, Kopitar and Doughty have three of their four goals and a fourth-liner and third-pairing defenseman have ours. Whatever tricks Pete DeBoer has up his sleeve to get the top three lines going, he'd better use it now. Yes, the team looked a lot better territorially in Game 2 but let's face it, Kovy looks again like the guy who was carrying around an elephant late in the first round and early in the second round, with only two even-strength goals in the entire postseason. Clarkson's reverted back to his former self, Elias has been unfathomably bad in the last three rounds and Zach Parise's all but dissapeared with a goalie in net. It could just be that some of the above are spent, injured, whatever. A lot of people are this time of year, though I'm sure it's helped the Kings in the respect they have four and five-game series with plenty of time to rest up in between. We've had two wars and another intense (if short) series with the Flyers.

Whatever you want to attribute our 2-0 series deficit to, let's face it...this series has been exactly the same tone the Kings set in the first three series. Win the first two games away, get the hammer down quick. Maybe we should have requested the NHL start the series in LA? Make no mistake, the Kings have talent and underachieved offensively for most of the season, but since acquiring Carter they've been nothing short of a machine. Maybe this is the year an eight seed completely throws away the book and wins four stress-free rounds on their way to a Cup. I still can't fathom such a thing could happen, with anyone. Even the '95 Devils who went 16-4 had moments where they were tested...behind 1-0 and tied late in Game 2 at Pittsburgh, 2-2 against the Flyers and tied late in Philly in Game 5 chief among them. This Devils team needs to find some way, any way to avoid the Kings again holding to script and getting a 3-0 lead for the fourth straight series on Monday.

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