June 5, 2012

After a 4-0 win over the Devils in Game Three of the Stanley Cup Finals, the LA Kings are now 3-0 in the series and one win away from a Stanley Cup.

Even though the Devils have an 18% chance of winning at this point, they still have a chance.

According to the NHL, “Teams leading the Stanley Cup Final 3-0 have won the series 24 of 25 times (96.0%) since the League implemented the best-of-seven format in 1939. The only club to come back from a 0-3 deficit to win the Stanley Cup was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit).”

If you’ve watched the Kings’ record so far in the playoffs, it has been stellar. It would appear that they are undefeatable.

BUT, according to the NHL, even with an amazing record like the Kings have had this post-season, they’ve seen something very similar to this before…and that team did not win a Stanley Cup.

“Several clubs had taken a 3-0 series lead three times in one playoff year, most recently the 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins, who took commanding leads in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals vs. Ottawa (won series 4-0), Conference Semifinals vs. NY Rangers (4-1) and Conference Final vs. Philadelphia (4-1) before dropping the Stanley Cup Final to Detroit in six games.” [NHL]

In a way, this is the NHL’s way of saying that even though it seems like one team is destined to take it all right from the start, there are chances (even though slim) that everything could turn around in a blink of an eye. It’s happened before.

The disappointing thing about this series is that even though the Devils have started off slow only to take the series later, they’ve never dropped this far behind before. In this series, they have not held the lead once. They’ve tied with the Kings through most of the series, while the Kings have led each game 48.7% of the time.

They have been dominating, especially in the final period. They’ve outscored their opponents 19-5 (15-5 in the third period, 4-0 in overtime).

Their penalty kill has been stellar, especially in the Finals. The Devils have not scored a single power play goal in this series. So far, LA is 64-for-69 (92.8%) on the penalty kill this post-season. Even when given a 5-on-3 advantage, the Devils have yet to score on the power play.

Not only did the Kings mow over the Devils on the penalty kill, but they had more hits (55-32), more faceoff wins (30-23), more giveaways (16-10), more takeaways (5-4) and more blocked shots (17-11) than the Devils. The Kings even went 2-for-2 on the power play while the Devils went 0-for-6. Throw all of that together, and the Devils were definitely outplayed.

“Our coaches have done an extremely good job,” Justin Williams said. “Really it’s the guys on the ice. You can tell tonight that blocking shots, it’s kind of a motto we had. It’s not an ability, it’s a willingness. Everyone out there is doing the exact same job every night, getting in front of pucks, making sure it doesn’t get to our goaltender.”

With the return of Simon Gagne to the lineup (his first game since December 26, he played a total of 6:39 registering 3 shots on goal and one minor penalty), that appearance really lit up the team and their fans. Goals came easily in the final two periods from Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams. The Kings deserved this win. They outplayed, outhustled and outmaneuvered the Devils in every way, shape and form. The momentum was on their side.

The question is: what are the Devils going to do about it going forward?

Prior to this series, three different Devils players stated that this series would go to Game Seven. If so, what do the Devils have left that they haven’t tried before that can force that statement to become a reality?

Their first priority is to score early. The Kings come alive in the final two periods, never in the first. The Devils always fall apart in the second period. That’s where the Kings have been killing them…during that second period.

“We need to get the first goal out, absolutely,” coach Peter DeBoer said after the loss. “We had some power play opportunities there. We need to score one. Credit to them. You know, their goalie made some big saves early. We couldn’t get one.”

The Devils have also lost sight of playing their complete game for the first 40 minutes, like what we saw in the Flyers’ and Rangers’ series. The Devils, by far, are not dominating like they had in the previous two series. They’re playing the other team’s game…and that is a death sentence. Every team knows it. The trick to winning a game is always to force the other team to play your style of hockey and then see who is better at it.

The Devils have yet to play more than a few minutes of their style of hockey.

One player that should sit out is Ilya Kovalchuk. Unless he takes up yoga in the next 24 hours, he does nothing for the Devils. His hindrance out on the ice is very apparent. Spending a good 21+ minutes out on the ice and registering only 2 shots on goal in each instance does not help the team, it actually obstructs them from their mission.

The last time Kovalchuk sat out, the Devils won in that game. He came back in that next game, perfectly fine after working with specialists and went on to scoring goals again. The Devils should have sat him during Game Three so that he could focus on getting better.

Going into Game Four, this will be the toughest game of all for the Kings. They’ll be up against a team that will be fighting tooth and nail to stay alive.

“We’re a confident group right now,” Kopitar said. “As we all know, the fourth one is the toughest one. We can enjoy it tonight and get back to work tomorrow, refocus, recharge. We want to make sure we’re ready for the start on Wednesday, try to get another win.”

“Since I’ve been here,” Kopitar continued. “Six years now, it hasn’t been the brightest of L.A. being a hockey town. We turned this thing around this year. You want to win for the fans, of course. We win it for ourselves, too, because some of us haven’t done it yet. I think that’s the biggest stage in hockey, where you can possibly play. Certainly a good feeling. Again, the fourth one’s going to be the toughest one, but I’m sure on Wednesday the crowd is going to be just as excited as us to get going again.”

About The Author

Michelle Kenneth has been with Inside Hockey since 2007 as the beat reporter for the New Jersey Devils. She is also part of the IH team covering the New York Rangers. Since 2007, she's covered the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL All-Stars, NHL Awards, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and the NHL in Europe. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @MichelleKenneth and on her blog: michellekennethhockey.wordpress.com.

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