Left for dead, Devils look alive in Stanley Cup
NEWARK, N.J. — The second the Los Angeles Kings took a 3-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final, fans and journalists all across the country — myself included — left the Devils for dead, calling the series as good as done.
Don't we all look silly now?
The Devils and the giant chip on their shoulder avoided elimination once again Saturday night at the Prudential Center, handing the Kings their first road loss in 11 chances this postseason with a 2-1 win in Game 5.
Once in a 3-0 hole that history said was insurmountable, New Jersey has now put together back-to-back victories — making the league's stingiest goalie look human while leaving the league's hottest team looking vulnerable in the process. And on Monday night it will look to force an improbable deciding game when the Devils return to Los Angeles for Game 6.
"This is the time of year that you don't care what you have to do to be successful," said New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves. "We could have packed it in two games ago, that's the bottom line. But you see we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup."
The Devils' spirit over the last two games has been extraordinary, as they've rallied to keep the series alive when it would have been just as easy to say, "Better luck next year." But that resolve is what coach Peter DeBoer has come to expect from his group in his first year behind the New Jersey bench.
"We've been counted out right back to last summer and the preseason predictions all the way through," DeBoer said of his team, which missed the playoffs last season and entered the playoffs this year as the No. 6 seed in the East.
"One thing about our group is that, you know, they believe that we can win. They believe we can win every game we play if we play the right way. It's just a matter of stringing together a couple more here."
This team seems to play its best hockey in the games that matter most, and Saturday was no different. With the Game 5 win, the Devils improved to 10-1 this postseason in Games 4 through 7 of a series, their only such loss coming in Game 5 of their opening-round series against Florida.
"I think it says a lot about the fight in this team," Devils defenseman Andy Greene said. "The record speaks for itself, and it's just important for us to continue to play our game. It's all we have right now. It's no secret, if we don't get that effort, we're done and they're celebrating."
In Games 1 through 4, luck was rarely on the Devils' side, and the Cup Final truly has been far more competitive than the Kings' original 3-0 series lead would suggest. Truth be told, Saturday's win could have just as easily been a series-clincher for the Devils had a couple bounces in Games 1 and 2 gone their way.
New Jersey finally got a couple breaks in Game 5 — one on Zach Parise's first goal of the series, which was set up by a botched play behind the net by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, and another on Bryce Salvador's game-winner, which bounced off LA defenseman Slava Voynov and in — handing them a critical win that changed the complexion of the whole series.
"The confidence, it's there," said Devils rookie center Adam Henrique. "We felt like we were playing really well early in the series, and it wasn't going our way. Now we're getting a few bounces here and there and guys are feeling good."
The disappointing part, of course, is that those what-ifs are still just that, and there are still two more wins separating the Devils from the Cup — and with no margin for error.
Fortunately for New Jersey, LA failed to show the resilience they displayed in the first and third rounds when they responded to both of their Game 4 losses with a win in Game 5. Now, they too face a must-win situation in order to avoid a return trip to New Jersey for Game 7.
"We'll digest tonight and travel, (and I) expect (Game 6) to be another game like tonight," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "You know, we're probably saying what they said (after) Games 1 and 2, where we got breaks and now they did. That's how even (the series) is."
And should the Devils pull even on Monday, they'll have a chance Wednesday to become only the second team in NHL history — and the first since the Maple Leafs in 1942 — to rally from a 3-0 hole to win a Stanley Cup.
"We're not thinking that far ahead," DeBoer said. "We've got to win another game in order to keep playing. I said all along that our group has a confidence in itself. We didn't feel we belonged in the hole we were in. We felt if we kept playing and got some big performances that we could climb out of it. We're slowly doing that, but we've got some work left to do."
A couple wins and a change in fortune have the Devils believing they can actually pull off an upset for the ages, and at this point — after an entire season of being told they can't get it done — it would be foolish to count them out again.
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner