June 3, 2012

The Los Angeles Kings took Game Two in overtime to lead the Stanley Cup Finals series 2-0 over the New Jersey Devils, improving their road win record to 10-0. They’ve tied this post-season road win record with the Calgary Flames (2004), who were also coached by Darryl Sutter that year. They’ve also tied this record with the New Jersey Devils (1995, 2000).

Losing game two to the Kings puts the Devils in a very bad corner. Historically, “road clubs sweeping the first two games of the Final have won the Stanley Cup on nine of 11 occasions. In 1942, Toronto lost the first two games of the Final at Maple Leaf Gardens — and trailed the series 3-0 — before rallying to defeat Detroit in seven games. In 1966, Montreal dropped the first two games at the Forum but stormed back to eliminate Detroit in six games.” [NHL]

The Kings have an 82% chance of winning the Stanley Cup after taking the first two games of the series, while the Devils have only an 18% chance of rallying to win the Cup according to historical data. While there is still a chance that the Devils could bounce back, game two was the most important game to win, strategically speaking.

With better ice conditions for Game Two thanks to less humidity and a cooler day in Newark on Saturday, both teams were able to play a much better game than they had in Game One, a game that both teams believed was their worst game in the playoffs. Have the teams seen their best hockey yet? Not yet.

“We just played a much better game tonight,” Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer said. “We spent more time in their end of the ice, got more shots through to the net, got more points shot. It wasn’t an adjustment. That’s our game. We just executed better tonight than we did Game One.”

For the Devils, their first three lines have been finding a difficult time scoring. Ilya Kovalchuk hasn’t been skating up to par and is laboring a bit on the ice. It would appear that his back is hindering him once again. It prevents him from taking shots. In his 27:07 of ice time, he registered only 2 shots on goal, even though he has played on all four power play shifts, registering 6:42 of power play time.

He defined the power play as “disgusting” after the game. But on the same token, one could say that the Kings penalty kill unit has been outstanding as they have completely shut the Devils out, 6-0, so far in this series.

There were only two Devils that were held without a shot. While one of those two players recorded an assist on the Devils’ lone goal during his 11:19 of ice time, the other one’s failure to produce stands out. That Devil is Adam Henrique. In his 21:30 of ice time he did not once register a shot on goal, and held the worst faceoff percentage between both clubs. He went 7-for-19 on the faceoff (37%). This was a bad night for Henrique, and the Devils can’t afford a player to have a bad night in the Stanley Cup Finals.

That other player on the Devils that did not register a shot on goal? That was Steve Bernier and he was on the only line that was working for the Devils…their fourth line with Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta . At 2:59 in the third period, Marek Zidlicky’s shot from the point went in thanks to a redirect from Carter to match Drew Doughty’s first period goal at 7:49. Carter’s goal tied the game to send it into overtime.

Unfortunately also for the fourth line, every goal scored on the ice just so happened to come while they were on the ice, including Jeff Carter’s game winner at 13:42 in overtime.

“Good to see him score, right?” coach Darryl Sutter said of Carter’s goal. “Marty [Brodeur] made some highlight saves tonight against good shooters. So good to see him score.”

While the fourth line has been their best line producing goals, had the most energy, and some of the best executed and effective plays, they have also lost two goals to the Kings that cost the Devils a Game Two win. By the end of the second period, the fourth line had only seen 4:45 of ice time. It wasn’t until the third period that the Devils thought to utilize the third line more.

“They scored the goal for us in the third,” coach Peter DeBoer said of the line. “They did their part. They have the entire playoff. We just have to keep getting efforts like that from them.”

Finding the right combination that will score has been the toughest part of the job in the finals for Coach Peter DeBoer.

“We decided [at] the end of two periods to shuffle some lines,” DeBoer said after the game. “It wasn’t necessarily to put [Zach Parise, Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac] together. That was part of it. But we mixed up and got Elias, Zubrus and Henrique together. I like how they played. It was just a shot in the arm to try to find a goal. We haven’t scored enough, obviously.”

Brodeur also had an incredible night. No one could guess the goalie was 40 years old. He’s still on fire just like he was 15-20 years ago. His age is definitely not showing. He has defied those who said at the beginning of the season that he was done because he was showing signs of ‘age’ and ‘wear and tear.’ Instead, he has only proven that he is still the legend breaking more and more records.

As for Carter’s big game-winner, he had been held without a shot through most of the game. By the time he registered a shot on goal, it was the shot that mattered the most.

“I think this is by far the biggest [goal of my career],” Carter said. “I think it’s my first playoff overtime goal. It’s a huge one. It’s a big one for the team. Gets us a two-game lead here. Gets us where we wanted to be coming in here.”

“I thought it was a hell of a battle,” Sutter said of the game. “What did you think? Were you happy with how our team played tonight? Tough building. You just finished playing a team with the most home wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that played hard.”

While this may be a tough game for the Devils, some of the Kings entering into Prudential Center have a lot of respect for the legacy of the franchise. One player in particular, Doughty, had some fond memories growing up of the plays that made some Devils players his favorites.

“I actually remember [Scott] Niedermayer when he played in New Jersey having a couple end to enders,” Doughty said. “He was an unbelievable player here, everywhere he played. I always wanted to emulate him. He always scored some highlight goals that I remember.”

Both teams head to Los Angeles today for Games Two and Three.

“I think we have to reset, refocus,” Doughty said of the next game. “We have to go back to L.A. as if the series is just starting. We have home-ice advantage. Have to take the first two at home. We’re happy that we got the first two. But going home on the plane tonight, we’re trying to forget about those games. We’re obviously going to learn what we did right and wrong. But going back home, it’s a whole new series.”

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.

Related Posts