The New Jersey Devils apparently didn’t get the memo that the Los Angeles Kings were supposed to be coronated Wednesday night as the new Stanley Cup Champion. The Kings who have never won hockey’s biggest prize in their 44 previous seasons will have to wait at least three more nights to skate with Lord Stanley. Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk all scored third period goals as the Devils defeated the LA Kings 3-1 before a full house at the Staples Center. With the victory, the Devils live to fight one more day by forcing a Game Five back at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ Saturday night.
The two teams battled to a scoreless draw through the first two periods as once again the goalies ruled the evening. Through two periods, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick continued his Conn Smythe and Cup quest making 11 saves as the Devils had a tough time bringing pucks to the net, particularly in the second period. Meanwhile, Quick’s counter part Martin Brodeur made 14 saves through two periods to keep the Devils hope alive despite entering the evening in a 0-3 hole. Brodeur’s Stanley Cup Finals experience is now 28 starts, all for the Devils. The win for the Devils also kept one streak alive. New Jersey in their franchise history has never been swept four games to none in any previous playoff series. The last sweep in a Stanley Cup finals was back in 1998 when the Detroit Red Wings swept the Washington Capitals.
The Defenses Never Rest- Through the first three games of this series, the Kings have kept both Zach Parise and Kovalchuk without a point. If the Devils have any aspirations of coming back in the series, they were going to need all hands on deck and for the big names to start producing. Both teams would have early power plays. New Jersey had some open looks on their opportunity with Kovalchuk having a wrister from the slot again turned away by Quick. Petr Sykora would also have a point blank shot on goal turned away at the gate by Quick. Through the first two periods, Quick showed why he’s sporting a .972 save percentage through the first three games of the finals. Brodeur would have a busy night between the pipes for New Jersey, however was also on top of his game early on. One puck did beat Brodeur, it was a hard slap shot from Slava Voynov which hit the post behind the New Jersey goalie and bounced away through the crease late in the first period. LA outhit New Jersey 13-12 in the opening period.
More Muscle Required- New Jersey’s best chance in the second period to take the lead happened just two minutes into the stanza as Kovalchuk had a point blank chance at the LA goal but was unable to jam the puck underneath Quick. Later in the period Simon Gagne gave the Kings their best chance to take a one goal lead as he had an opportunity to beat Brodeur one on one. However, just as the case with Kovalchuck earlier versus Quick, Gagne would be denied by Brodeur who made a pad save of the point blank wrister. Just as with the first period, the defenses were strong and the play was physical. The Devils despite not being able to put together any sustained offensive threats thanks to a stingy Kings defense still outhit LA 17-10 for the period. Though 40 minutes the game was still in doubt.
Staying Alive- With the Cup arriving at the Staples Center (despite the traffic in the LA area) the Devils knew the third period would be a tale of “now or never.” Up until this point, the Devils had never led at any point during these finals. The game would remain scoreless into the third period as both teams again battled for ice and puck possession. Five minutes into the period the Kings had a huge opportunity to take the lead when on a breakaway as Gagne would steal the puck from the Devils Bryce Salvador and lead a rush up ice. Once in the New Jersey defensive zone, Gagne found Trevor Lewis in the open and hit him with the perfect feed pass. Lewis then found himself one on one with Brodeur. Lewis’ wrist shot would slide underneath Brodeur, however the Devil’s net minder got just enough of his stick on puck to redirect it away from the goal. Just a few moments later the Devils caught a huge break when Brodeur’s attempt to clear a puck was blocked by Kings’ Captain Dustin Brown. Brown almost knocked the puck into the net, but missed by only a few inches.
A short time later New Jersey would finally solve Quick after scoring just two goals in over 12 combined periods in the finals. Dainius Zubrus would control a loose puck behind the Kings’ goal and pass it over to the left point. The Devils’ Salvador would get the rubber biscuit and drill it towards Quick who made the save. Quick however was not able to control the rebound and Elias was in the right place to get to the loose puck first. Elias was able to sweep it backhanded past the Kings’ goalie to give New Jersey their first lead of any kind in this series with 12:04 remaining in the final period. The Devils had their first lead in four games, but held it for only 62 seconds. Almost a minute after New Jersey took the lead, David Clarkson was called for a questionable boarding penalty. It only took the Kings six seconds to make the Devils pay as Drew Doughty’s slap shot off of the ensuing face off deflected of of a New Jersey stick and beat Brodeur five hole to tie the game at 1-1.
Three minutes after the Kings tied the game they had a chance to grab the lead as Dustin Penner seized a loose puck that had gotten away from the Devils near center ice for a breakaway opportunity. Penner’s point blank shot on goal would sail wide of the net. With 4:35 remaining in the third stanza, New Jersey’s Alexei Ponikarovsky got ahold of the puck at center ice and passed it to Clarkson. Once in the Kings’ defensive zone, Clarkson fed the rubber biscuit over to Henrique who’s wrist shot from the slot beat Quick top shelf as the Devils retook the lead. The Kings did not help their own cause late as high sticking penalty to Willie Mitchell with 2:50 remaining limited what the LA could do in a way of a comeback. Quick made a huge save to keep the Kings in the game as a he turned away a point blank shot from Elias with just over a minute remaining. After the penalty kill, LA pulled Quick for a sixth attacker however was not able to hold the puck in the Devils defensive zone. Kovalchuk would eliminate any and all doubt as he scored an empty netter with 20 seconds remaining.
The Devils had a hard fought win and successfully have forced a Game Five in Newark this Saturday, where they will try again to deny the Kings a date with Lord Stanley.
Next Up: Game Five- The Stanley Cup Finals moves back to the Eastern Seaboard for Game Five as the Devils at least for the moment have found new life in the series as the Kings missed an opportunity to close out the series in four games. However, the Kings are still very much in the driver’s seat here and are going back on the “road sweet road”. The Devils will try to throw everything they can at the Kings so they can force another trip west next Monday, but first things first. Despite the Kings success in these playoffs, they are now 1-3 in Game Four’s, but the good news for LA is there are no more Game Four’s to deal with. The Kings have proven themselves to be as mentally tough as any team in these playoffs and the Devils know they have their work cut out for them. New Jersey to win the Cup must beat Quick three more times, all in a row. That is still hard to picture now as the Devils have quite the task at hand ahead of them. Brodeur in goal brings a ton of Stanley Cup Finals and playoff experience to the table, and he will have to be at his best from here on out if the Devils are to have any true shot at the Cup. Game Five is Saturday (6/9) at 8pm ET/5pm PT. Stay tuned, this may get interesting yet…
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