The LA Kings thought it was going to be over. They thought this would be just like Phoenix. A loss in Game Four would only mean a win in Game Five. They believed that so much, their entire families headed to New Jersey for Game Five in anticipation of a Stanley Cup ceremony following the game.
The Devils, on the other hand, had something else in mind.
After their 2-1 win over the Kings in Game Five, the Devils became the third club in history to extend the series to Game Six, and the first team to do it since 1945.
There’s been a lot of talk of hockey in the 1940s these days, including the miraculous 1942 series when the Toronto Maple Leafs came back to win the Stanley Cup after trailing 0-3 in the Finals.
The key to winning the Finals back in 1942 all lay in a change in the lineup in Game Four. The coach took the risk and decided to bench his leading goal scorer and put in two younger players. This change enabled the club to not only change what wasn’t working for the club, but to put forth a new element that allowed the team to go on to win the Stanley Cup.
In a similar move, coach Peter DeBoer doesn’t cite 1942 as the reason why he did it, but he changed the lineup for Game Four. He removed Peter Harrold and Jacob Josefson, two young players, and replaced them with veterans Petr Sykora and Henrik Tallinder.
The reason why Tallinder got the nod…it was what he said to the coach. He believed he was ready and was convincing enough to get the coach to agree to put him in after being out of the lineup for six months.
“I feel good,” Tallinder said after his second game back. “I can’t complain at all… two wins. I feel pretty comfortable out there. It gets better and better with every shift and every period that goes by. I feel pretty good.”
“It takes time,” he said of getting back to the same caliber as his team. “They’ve given me a lot of ice time, a lot of confidence in me. I keep playing a lot, so I guess that means I’m doing something good.”
Tallinder had heard what happened back in 1942, but he wasn’t aware of how it happened.
“I know they came back and won,” he said of the 1942 run. “I don’t know what they did.”
After hearing the story of how it happened, realizing that both he and Sykora had been the similar change, a small smile came across his face. History may be repeating itself once again. That, in essence, gives them hope.
“I don’t know,” he said laughing about the similar lineup changes from the 1942 era. “We are two veteran guys. We’ve been around. [Sykora] has won, so that’s a good experience to have. I haven’t even been thinking about Toronto or 1942, but I heard about it. It’s not something we have in the locker room or associated with, but it’s what we’re trying to do.”
One word that is being repeated over and over again by every single Devils player, their families, and fans is “BELIEVE.” The major key in the Devils comeback is that one simple word.
It’s not just a belief that they can win the Stanley Cup. It has more to do with believing in each other.
“We always believe,” Ilya Kovalchuk said. “That’s why we’re here. We don’t have anybody who quit or said we can’t do it. We just take one game at a time, and we go out there and try to play our best game.”
“That’s what everybody says, ‘Believe,'” Tallinder said.
Is that the motto in the locker room?
“At least for now it is,” Tallinder said.
“I think we still have that same belief level,” David Clarkson said. “We’ve always been a team with great leadership. We never stop believing. I think we’re going to continue to believe until this thing is over. We’re going to show up every night believing in each other, believing in the system. That’s it.”
“I think it’s not a motto,” Clarkson continued. “I think we just believe in each other. We believe in what we’ve been doing. I think it’s just a great ride. If you don’t believe, then being here…there’s no point showing up at the rink. I think we believe in each other and the system, and what’s going on. It’s been fun, we’re going to continue to do it.”
“I think when you get your backs up against the wall, you’ve got to do something,” Clarkson said of going from a three game deficit to winning two games in a row. “We started believing. We started playing our game a little bit better. We believed in those first couple of games. We could have got one of them I think. At the end of the day, we were in a situation to keep pushing.”
There are things that are unsettling the Kings in this Stanley Cup Finals that could ultimately swing the series in the Devils’ favor. It’s not just a matter of believing they can do this, but it’s also a matter of changing the Kings run to the Stanley Cup.
In this series, the first team to score a goal in the game ends up being the winner. That statistic is 5-0 so far in this round.
“It seems like the team that scores first, they win,” Kovalchuk remarked. “It’s happened so far in this series.”
With the Devils’ Game Five win, the Kings lost their first road game in the playoffs, snapping their 10-game streak. This was also the first time the Kings have lost two games in a row, and the first time they would end up playing a Game Six in the playoffs.
After going 0-for-15 on the power play, the Devils finally notched their first power play goal of the Stanley Cup Finals when Zach Parise scored at 12:45 in the first period.
After Justin Williams scored at 3:26 in the second period for the Kings, Bryce Salvador’s slapshot deflected off of a Kings player and went in at 9:05. This marked his fourth goal of the playoffs (4g, 10a). He is the first player to record fewer than 10 points in 82 games during the regular season (0g, 9a), to record 14 points in the post-season.
In a way, Salvador has come into his own…and at the right time. He showed up right when it counted the most.
All of these changes are unsettling the Kings. The Devils have been capitalizing on these upsets. They know that this is getting under their opponent’s skin. They know that the Kings are expecting to just win and hoist the Cup. They thought they were winning Game Four, they didn’t think they would be hopping on a plane the next day back to New Jersey. The Devils capitalized on that.
The Kings thought they would win Game Five, the Devils took that game, forcing both teams back to Los Angeles for Game Six.
As the Devils play on, their chances improve remarkably well. So far, the Devils have posted a 4-8 record in Games One through Three. For Games Four through Seven, the Devils have gone 10-1.
As the Devils make their comeback, it frustrates the Kings even more that they’re not one step closer to winning the Stanley Cup. That frustration could be seen after a scrum in Brodeur’s crease turned into a Kings player pulling Brodeur’s jersey over his head.
If anything, in this year’s playoffs, Brodeur has seen some really crazy stuff from the opposing teams as they became more and more frustrated at being stopped by the legendary goaltender. From being punched in the face by an old teammate (New York Rangers’ Mike Rupp) to having his jersey pulled up over his head, he couldn’t do anything but laugh.
“That’s him,” Tallinder said. “So many years he’s played here. He knows what to do…even if it’s a scrum. What’s he going to do? He can either be pissed or relaxed. I think it benefits for him to be relaxed and he always is.
“Forty years old. Hall-of-famer. He’ll figure it out. There’s a reason why he’s breaking all these records. It’s just amazing to see. It’s something to learn from.”
With the Devils finally unsettling the Kings after it looked like they would take the Stanley Cup in Game Four, they are finally laughing. Why? They have the Kings exactly where they want them.
When asked how Tallinder would write this story of the Devils playoff run this year, he responded, “I think we’ve been spot on. I think we’re really there. We know every series we play, we have got this series where we want it, except maybe the first series.
“As the [first] series went along, we overcame that adversity and won the Game Seven in overtime. After that, I think we just elevated.”
In a sense, that Game Seven in Game One, that’s the wave the Devils are still riding on. They’re taking each game one game at a time. They’re finding opportunities in the most dire of situations. They are playing this like they believe they are winning this.
The Devils are currently writing this tale in the NHL’s history books.
Both teams head to Los Angeles today for Monday’s Game Six. If there’s a Game Seven, both teams head back to New Jersey on Tuesday for Wednesday’s game. That’s a schedule that the Devils know is unnerving the Kings. They plan on capitalizing on that every step of the way.