Devils confident despite long odds
The Devils wore wide smiles and laughed easily.
They had a collective swagger and espoused their belief in themselves.
If you didn't know better, you'd swear it was the Devils who have a three games to one lead in the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, they enter Saturday night's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at the Prudential Center trailing the Los Angeles Kings three games to one.
"Someone said the '42 Leafs," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said when asked about the possibility of coming back and winning the Cup after falling behind 0-3 in the Cup Final. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to do have done that, beating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to win the Cup. The 1942 Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers are the only teams in NHL history to win any playoff series in which they trailed 0-3.
"You know it's going to happen again," DeBoer added. "So why not us? I think that's the approach. You're not going to go 200 years without someone else doing it. It's been long enough, so it might as well be us.
"We're not done until they tell us we can't play anymore."
What gives the 2012 Devils confidence they can add themselves into the league's history books is that they have been increasingly successful as their four playoffs series have progressed. The Devils are 4-8 in Games 1-3 of their series so far this postseason and 9-1 in Games 4-7. In those games, the Devils have outscored their opponents 32-17.
"You get better and better as you get used to each other," Devils right wing David Clarkson said. "Both teams. I think they had a good game, too. So I think at the end of the day, we've got to find a way to get pucks by Quick. To do those little things: Pressure, keep the same type of hockey we've been playing."
New Jersey generated 105 shot attempts in the two games at Staples Center. They had 101 in Games 1-2. The biggest difference is that the Devils pierced Jonathan Quick for two goals on 23 shots and Ilya Kovalchuk added an empty-netter in the 3-1 win in Game 4.
"We're doing good things. We're getting on the forecheck, we're creating offense. We found a way [in] the last game to get a couple by him," Clarkson said when asked if the tangible statistical results made it easier for players to believe in what the coaching staff preaches. "That's what we have to do: Get it on the net, get in front of him and make plays."
The Devils also pointed to Kovalchuk's empty-netter as a harbinger of good things to come. DeBoer created a top line of Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise midway through the 2-1 overtime loss in Game 2 in order to jump start his three most dynamic offensive players. The trio has a goal, an assist, two points, a minus-four rating and 28 shots on goal in the first four games.
The top line combined for a goal, an assist, two points, a plus-three rating and nine shots on goal Wednesday night.
"I think they're very close," DeBoer said. "You just have to stick with it. It's frustrating. It's pressure. [The media] talks to them on a daily basis; you write about that, you know that fact. That's the pressure of playing at this point of the year. They recognize that. If they weren't getting chances, I'd be concerned. They easily could have a couple goals each, and Quick is a big factor in that. We've got to find a solution."
Quick has been the question none of the Kings' four playoff opponents have found an answer for. He leads all goaltenders in wins (15), goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.948) in the playoffs. Quick is tied with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist and the Coyotes' Mike Smith for the most shutouts in the playoffs with three, while his three losses are the fewest amongst all playoff goaltenders.
Quick has limited the Devils to four goals on 95 shots in the series. He has a 1.00 goals against average in the Final along with a .958 save percentage.
"We have to create room in the offensive zone," Martin Brodeur said. "One way of doing that is [bringing] defensemen to the goalie. We've been doing that. Drive a lot of guys to the net; bring a lot of people so it creates more room. It's important for us to get a little more offensive success.
"[Traffic] created a big goal for us at the time," Brodeur added, alluding to Patrik Elias' backhand rebound goal 7:56 into the third period that opened the scoring in Game 4 and gave the Devils their first lead in the series. "I'm sure we're going to have to do a lot more of that."
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman