Adam Henrique encapsulated the New Jersey Devils’ collective mood with two words.
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"It sucks," the rookie center said after Jeff Carter’s goal 13:42 into overtime decided Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. The Devils lost to the Kings 2-1, and now trail the best-of-seven two games to none.
Game 3 is Monday night at the Staples Center.
The Devils spent two-and-a-half days vowing improvement over their Game 1 performance, and they were better in Game 2. New Jersey had more shot attempts (67-53) and more shots (33-32) Saturday night while possessing the puck in the Kings’ end of the ice.
"I thought we were much better tonight," Stephen Gionta said. "I thought we did a pretty good job getting in on our forecheck and supporting the puck, which is the biggest thing that we needed to do. It did create some chances for us."
Yet for all of the Devils’ enhanced play, the fact is they have been outscored 4-2 in the two games because their skill players have been non-existent. Whether it is due to the Kings or injury or the stage having neutered New Jersey’s top players is up to debate.
"A little bit of both," Henrique admitted when asked if credit was due to the Kings or if the Devils deserved criticism for the chasm New Jersey finds itself in. "We had our chances. We have to find a little extra push."
Finding additional reserves may be a quixotic undertaking. According to Pete DeBoer during his media availability Saturday morning, the Devils "redlined" against the Panthers, Flyers and Devils. Perhaps it is as simple as the Devils’ emotional tank is on empty.
"I’m not sure there’s another level of emotion or compete in our group. It’s just been consistently bringing that to the rink every night. If we hadn’t brought or redlined our complete level through those other series, we wouldn’t have survived them," DeBoer said. "If the compete level isn’t at the highest point it’s ever been during your career or during the season, then there’s a problem. I don’t think that’s an issue."
What is an issue is that both of the Devils’ goals in the first two games have been scored by Anton Volchenkov and Ryan Carter. Carter’s goal 2:59 into the third last night tied the game at 1-1.
Yet, at this stage in the playoffs, it is the high end players who have to lead. The Devils have not gotten that. Ilya Kovalchuk finished with seven shot attempts, the most dangerous of which was a shot that hit the crossbar with 7.7 seconds left in regulation. Despite being credited with six shot attempts, Zach Parise was mostly invisible in the 22:54 of ice time he skated. Travis Zajac had one shot in 24:47.
DeBoer put his three most dangerous offensive players together for the third period in order to generate offense and get the trio going.
"We decided at the end of two periods to shuffle some lines. It wasn’t necessarily to put those three 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," DeBoer said.
As he had been in the first three rounds, Jonathan Quick was been impenetrable in Games 1 and 2. The Conn Smythe front-runner made 48 of 50 save opportunities in the first two games of the series. But for as good as Quick has been, the truth is the Devils simply have not created enough traffic in front of Quick.
"Yeah, I think we need to keep getting traffic to the net," Gionta said. "We need to keep getting pucks to the net and hopefully the bounces go our way."
It feels, though, that the Devils are hoping against hope.
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