When the Kings took a 3-0 lead, this series looked like it was over. When the Devils won Game 4 to make it 3-1, it looked like they had saved some face but the Kings were still due for a date with the Cup. Now that the Devils have won two games in a row (something no one else has done against the Kings this postseason), however, we have a Game 6 Monday night in L.A.
If New Jersey wins that one, suddenly we've got a winner-take-all Game 7 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night. All of this begs one simple question.
Can the Devils actually do this?
The first three games of the Stanley Cup Final this year just seemed like more of the same for L.A.'s postseason. Whenever the Kings have needed a big goal or a big save or a big penalty kill, they always got it. In Games 4 and 5, however, it's started to roll the other way. Now the Devils are starting to get the breaks and one has to wonder if they're starting to feel what the Kings felt at the start of the series.
Personally, I don't think the Devils are thinking about winning the series. You can't think about winning the series. Kings assistant coach John Stevens said this weekend that both teams are in the exact same boat. The Devils are trying to win one game and the Kings are trying to win one game. The Devils aren't trying to win four games. You can't do that. They're just trying to win one. The Kings are the same way. They're not trying to win the Stanley Cup. They're trying to win one game. The mentality is exactly the same on both sides right now.
As far as the Devils actually coming back to win the series, it's only happened once in the history of the League that a team has rallied back from 3-0 down to win in the Stanley Cup Final. And that was 70 years ago. It's obviously very, very rare and the Devils know that, but as coach Peter DeBoer put it this weekend, it's going to happen again, so why not the Devils? Why can't they be the next team to do it?
There are some very compelling reasons to think they can. For one, they're already halfway there. For another, the Devils have been great late in series this postseason. This team is 10-1 in games after Game 3 in the 2012 playoffs. As good as L.A. has been on the road, the Devils have been just as good in deciding games or other big games. Do they have the heart to do it? Yes. But it's really, really, really hard to beat a really good team four times in a row. Just look at the Kings. They weren't able to beat New Jersey four times in a row. It's hard to think New Jersey will now beat L.A. four times in a row.
So can they do it? Of course they can. But it's only happened once before in the Final and the Devils are the first team to so much as force a Game 6 down 3-0 since 1945, so it really doesn't look good.
If I were the Devils, I would be particularly concerned with the play of my top forwards. Granted, this is a series in which goals in general have been hard to come by because chances have been rare and even when you get an offensive chance you have to beat one of the best goalies in the world in either Jonathan Quick or Marty Brodeur. But the forwards have still struggled and Zach Parise, his goal in Game 5 aside, is a key example. It's not like Parise isn't playing hard and the one goal he has is emblematic of his effort, but he's New Jersey's best player and he's only scored once in this series. Can you win a series without your best player scoring more than one goal? I don't think you can. For L.A., Kopitar has been scoring, Doughty has been scoring, Brown hasn't scored but he's made a difference with his play. Can New Jersey really seriously think about winning without Parise playing a huge offensive role? I don't really think so.
What's more is the top players for New Jersey have been minus players for most of this series, and you can't have that. I've always said your best players have to be your best players this time of year and if you look at Doughty, Kopitar, Richards, Carter, those guys are all putting the puck to the net and playing pretty well. When you look at the Devils, most of their top players -- Parise, Kovalchuk, Zajac, Elias -- they're all struggling offensively. That can't continue if the Devils are going to pull this off.
That said, there is clearly a lot of pressure on L.A. This is the first time this postseason they've really had to play a game that has truly mattered. They've been so good that they haven't had any pressure on them and they haven't played a game yet that they absolutely had to win. The closest they've come is Game 5 against Phoenix and Game 5 against Vancouver. Now we're going to see it and we're going to see how they respond. I'd like to see what they're made of Monday night and see how they handle a game they have to win like this.
Ultimately, though, I think it ends Monday night with the Kings winning the Cup at home. It's just really hard for me to see the Devils winning four in a row against L.A. with Quick in net. You'd think Quick alone would steal one of the last four games in the series. The Devils are taking a good shot at history, but the numbers just don't bear it out. I know hockey is a game of passion and a game of character, but in the end, the numbers just don't bear it out that you can count on coming back from three games down.
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