Thursday, June 7, 2012

Still Fight Left: Devils spoil party

The Devils are a proud group. They're not going to go down easily. Many had written them off headed into last night's Game Four which was supposed to be a Kings party at Staples Center.

It was all set up for them. As it turned out, D Day also happened to be the 45th Year Anniversary since hockey was born in Los Angeles or California you might say. There was no way they were going to lose on home ice with a chance to sweep for the franchise's first Stanley Cup. Someone forgot to tell the Devils, who were only too eager to spoil those plans in Hollywood. There will be a Game Five at The Rock Saturday with the Cup coverage finally returning to NBC. No wonder ratings had gone in the tank following the first two games. Someone should tell the network that.

For forty minutes, nobody scored. From what I heard, the Kings had plenty of chances but couldn't bury one past future Hall Of Famer Marty Brodeur. A prideful 40-year old netminder who's been out to silence doubters during his team's special run. Who believed the sixth seed would emerge from the East? Not even our own Jersey resident thought it was possible. And I'll bet most Kool Aid drinkers as well. After showing tremendous heart against Florida in a much tougher first round, they crushed the Flyers and then outworked the Rangers to avenge Brodeur's most bitter defeat. One the New Jersey side of the Hudson rivalry will never have to hear about again. They did it because the three-time Cup winner, four-time Vezina recipient and all-time winningest goalie still had something left. It was Henrik Lundqvist who buckled the final three games.

Brodeur has done it all. From delivering in the clutch to make the Devils one of the NHL's best teams to winning Olympic Gold for Canada, he knows how to win. Was it any shock that No.30 was on his game when they needed him most? We know better. Yes, the shot totals were low but Marty faced a few odd-man rushes and shut the Kings down. Even if he'd allow a power play goal to Drew Doughty following a dubious call that allowed LA to tie it after another experienced champion Patrik Elias' goal a minute later, Brodeur was the story- refusing to allow his team to go down without a fight.

In their franchise history, the Devils have never been swept. By getting the last two goals on previously impenetrable Jon Quick for a 3-1 win, that didn't change. Once again, Adam Henrique played the hero when he took a Marek Zidlicky cross ice feed and beat the Conn Smythe front runner high stick side. A money shot from a player who no longer is a rookie. Instead, he is leading the Devil charge. Without Henrique's heroics in the first round and Conference Final, the Devils probably aren't here. Pretty amazing how Jacob Josefson's injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes, you luck out. I was a staunch supporter for Gabriel Landeskog winning the Calder, edging Henrique and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Based on the playoffs, Henrique deserves it. It should be a very close vote.

Right now, awards are the furthest thing from his mind along with teammates. Their eyes are still on the prize. What would be the defining moment for the Devils as a franchise. I've said before that if they somehow won a fourth Cup, it would be much better than any of the other three combined. It's because nobody expected this. Even if I had the Devils as my Eastern darkhorse and felt their size would be too much for the Rangers to overcome which unfortunately played out, it still as impressive. Taking out two of three top seeds and a fifth who beat up the Pens. Now, the No.6 is trying to make history against the No.8 in the lowest seeded Stanley Cup Final in league history since they went to this format.

By now, everyone knows the Kings aren't an eighth seed. They were this close to winning their division which Phoenix pulled out. But they got revenge in the Conference Final. This is a team that took apart the top three seeds. Nobody's ever seen anything like it. Los Angeles is still in the driver's seat when the series returns to Newark. They'll put their perfect 10-0 road record on the line for a chance to skate the Cup in enemy territory. Following Game Four, they know it won't be easy.

The Devils will fight tooth and nail to try to extend the series again. If they can satisfy their home crowd two days from now, the pressure will squarely be on the Kings. Pressure is something they haven't had to deal with. But winning that final game can become a giant weight. Ask the Canucks. Heck. When the Rangers won in '94, a Garden party was expected for Game Five. Instead, the seventh seeded Canucks had other ideas, taking them to the brink in one of the most nerve racking Game Sevens there's ever been. Goal posts help.

The Kings are the stronger team. They're fresher with their best players playing like it. Anze Kopitar has dominated this series, finally letting the hockey world know how good he's always been. Jeff Carter has done damage along with Mike Richards. Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner have wreaked havoc. Doughty has shown why he's one of the premier young blueliners. And then there's Quick, who continues to be a monster in net. The Devils' three goals were one more than their entire series output entering Wednesday's game. Maybe they created some doubt.

The extra day off can only help banged up Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, who's clearly not himself. Even Travis Zajac has been quiet. If the Devils are going to make it interesting, they'll need production from their top three. You can't expect Henrique to do it all. One way or another, Saturday has become a must watch. Expect a fight.

1 comment:

Hasan said...

Yeah even I could tell watching on and off at the bar that Brodeur was on his game, a couple of those saves were really scary chances. There isn't much left to say about him at this point, other than he clearly ended all the criticism this year - can't win without Stevens/Nieds, was a system goalie, etc.

Agreed with this being better than the first three if it were to happen (especially now with the 3-0 Finals deficit), although long-time fans will probably still put the '95 Cup first no matter how many we win subsequently.

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