DEVILS SHOWING THAT THEY BELONG IN THE NHL FINALS

10Jun12

What a difference a couple of days make.  After game three, with the Kings leading the series 3-0, everyone began throwing dirt on the New Jersey grave.  I stand guilty of doing the same (see “KINGS UP 3-0 – I TOLD YOU SO!”, dated 6/4/12).  The engraver stood by, ready to begin engraving the names of Brown, Williams, Green, Kopitar, Quick and the rest of the Los Angeles team on to the infamous Stanley Cup. 

Then something strange happened.  The New Jersey Devils figured out how to do something no other team had been able to do this playoff season.  They pushed the series to game six! 

That’s right, they actually have won two games against the Kings.  The Canucks and Coyotes only managed one win each and the Blues couldn’t come away with a single victory. 

Yet here we are, heading back to Los Angeles, after watching the Kings suffer their first road loss of the playoff season. 

Ironically, a lot of experts will immediately switch gears now, saying that the Kings are in a must win situation.  If the Devils pull off a victory in game six, they’ll be favorites to win the whole thing back home on Wednesday. 

I’m not quite ready to buy into that philosophy.  After all, the Devils have not dominated either game that they have won.  Sure, game six saw them leading in the blocks and hits categories, which are categories they must win in order to remain in the game with Kings.  But LA still outshot them 26-19 and the face-offs were pretty much even. 

If not for a couple of mistakes by the Kings and a bit of good fortune for the Devils, this may have ended up a lopsided victory for LA. 

As far as the good fortune, I’m talking about things like a sure goal in the first period for the Kings that hit the glove side goal post and bounced out.  Or the game winner for the Devils that deflected off of LA defensemen Slava Voynov into the net (the second time Voynov has given the Devils an assist this series).  Or even a potential game tying goal for the Kings that was waved off due to it being tapped in by a high stick. 

But good fortune comes and goes.  No professional team should spend any time crying about that, and I’m sure Los Angeles is not wasting a single tear in that regard. 

However, the mistakes are something they can control, and there were two key mistakes that led to their downfall in game six.  First of all, let me state that I have grown to respect the daylights out of Jonathon Quick and believe that he will be regarded as one of the top goalies for years to come.  He has done magical tricks that very few other goalies have been able to do. 

Having said that, the Devils’ first goal lies squarely on his shoulders.  He came way out of the net to track down the puck behind his goal, which by itself is not necessarily wrong.  But when you do that, you have committed yourself to become a great passer.  On this play, he was not.  The pass was weak and did not give him enough time to get back in the net.  As a result, Devil Zach Parise grabbed the puck and tucked it in with a wraparound goal to get the first score of the night. 

The second score, as already described as coming on a Voynov assist, never should have reached the net in the first place.  Give credit to New Jersey’s Bryce Salvador, because he created this mistake.  By being patient and hanging on to the puck for about a second and a half longer than normal, he was able to draw Jordan Nolan out of the shooting lane in front of him, allowing him to put the puck on net, where it eventually careened off Voynov into the net for the game winner. 

Before we go any farther, let’s give the Devil his due.  New Jersey has been playing very good hockey over the last two games.  Whether you believe they have outplayed the Kings or not is irrelevant.  They have earned their victories and deserve to be playing a game six. 

But I’m not about to throw in the towel and say that Monday’s game is a must-win situation for Los Angeles.  Sure, they’d like to win it and receive the Cup on their home ice in front of their home fans.  But if it doesn’t happen, don’t believe for a minute that they should be underdogs in game seven.  After all, they are 10-1 on the road in the playoffs. 

However, after watching the last two games, you cannot deny that New Jersey Devils have shown that they absolutely belong in the Stanley Cup finals.  And we, as fans, should be thrilled to see that there finally is a team that is able to contend with the Kings. 

Can’t wait for game six!!

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