Already trailing the visiting L.A. Kings 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, New Jersey knew it couldn’t afford to fall into an 0-2 hole — but that’s just what happened at the Prudential Center on Saturday night, despite the home team coming within inches of victory.
When we look back on the death of the Devils’ season, L.A. center Jeff Carter’s game-winning goal 13:42 into overtime Saturday — a low, hard shot under the right pad of a well-screened New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur — will have been the fatal blow.
In fumbling away Games 1 and 2 on their home ice by identical OT scores of 2-1, the Devils put themselves in the position of needing to win four of the next five games against what’s looking like a team of destiny — a team led by the league’s hottest goaltender, Jonathan Quick.
It simply isn’t happening.
The eighth-seeded Kings now are 14-2 in the postseason — and a remarkable 10-0 on the road, not that they’re necessarily going to be playing there any more this spring.
Games 3 and 4 are Monday and Wednesday at Staples Center. If the Kings win both — and do you really believe they can’t? — they will capture their first Stanley Cup.
They won’t say it, of course, but the 2-0 series lead they bring back to Hollywood gives them every reason to feel confident they’ll be celebrating.
They won’t say it, so let me say it for them: This series is over. Los Angeles will be the Stanley Cup champion — and sooner than later.
”I think we have to reset, refocus,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “We have to go back to L.A. as if the series is just starting. We have home-ice advantage and have to take the first two at home.”
The Kings struck first Saturday night, with 12:11 left in the first period, as Doughty put on a stick-handling clinic, weaving through traffic in the Devils’ zone before unleashing a wrister past Brodeur to put L.A. up 1-0.
For the next 35 minutes, the Kings rode Quick, their 26-year-old star in net, who made save after improbable save as the Devils failed to break through. In all, Quick stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced.
“That’s what a Vezina candidate and a Conn Smythe candidate does — he comes up big in those situations in a game and those moments that you need him to,” said Kings left winger Dustin Penner.
“I think we take him for granted a bit. We’re just used to him making those huge saves. He makes them look easy, and he was as good as he’s been all year, if not better.”
New Jersey finally scored on Quick with 17:01 left in the third as Ryan Carter redirected a Marek Zidlicky shot into the net to tie the game up at 1-1, sending a jolt through a crowd that, at that point, felt resigned that this just wasn’t their series.
But just as quickly as the elation of Carter’s goal filled the building, repeated misfortune sucked air back out of it with a number of near-misses late in the period — the most painful, Ilya Kovalchuk’s shot off the crossbar with 14 seconds left in regulation.
Both teams looked like totally different groups in overtime, each coming up with some of their best offensive looks of the night. The Kings, however, looked particularly strong, forcing Brodeur to make a collection of timely stops — he finished with 30.
But finally Jeff Carter circled from behind the net and slid the game-winner past Brodeur to send the Kings back home up 2-0.
“(I was) just looking for anything, really,” Carter said.
“Playoff hockey, you put it on the net as much as you can. It’s usually a cheesy goal. But (Penner) did a great job of getting right in front of Marty there. To be honest, I don’t even know if (Brodeur) saw around Penns, or if he saw the shot.”
Saturday marked the first time in 61 years that Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final were decided in overtime, and the Kings now are 4-0 in OT games this postseason, while the Devils dropped to 4-3 in such games.
”Yeah, it’s tough.” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. ”But, you know, you can’t feel sorry for yourself. We played a much better game (than they did in Game 1). I knew we would respond. We did it the right way. You know, came up one goal short.”
Devils captain Zach Parise seconded that emotion.
”They are a great team, but it’s not like we got blown out the last two games,” Parise said. ”It will be really hard, but we will give it our best shot.”
Penner doesn’t expect anything less from the three-time Cup champs.
“They’re going to come into L.A. with the mindset that they’re going to take the next two, so you’re going to have to be prepared for that,” Penner said.
Unfortunately for the Devils, history isn’t on their side. All-time, 11 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final with two road wins to start the series, and nine of those teams have gone on to lift the Cup. Only the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1966 Canadiens rallied from down 0-2 to win.
Additionally, of the nine teams to win Games 1 and 2 on the road, eight have gone on to win in five games or fewer, with seven of those series wins coming in sweeps.