Monthly Archives: June 2012
From missing the playoffs in 2010-2011, to making it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-2012, there’s no shortage of things for us Devils fans to be proud of after this season. On the ice and off the ice, this has been one of the most thrilling seasons for me. Whether it was work, school, or family, no matter what was troubling me on a daily basis, I knew I could go home, turn on the Devils game and everything would be alright.
When I sit back and try to think of a favorite highlight from this season, a few come to mind.
“Hey Chrissy, what are you doing tonight?”
“Watching the Devils game.”
Whether I was in a seat at Prudential Center or on a bar stool, I was watching the game. Even while on a family vacation, I (and a handful of other Devils fans) made their way to the sports bar on a cruise ship to watch a few games of the finals against the LA Kings in the middle of the Atlantic. The Devils took over my life this past season, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How do I even begin? This season has been unbelievable. This team has far exceeded my expectations for the year. Individual players have blown me away with their displays of talent. Coach Pete Deboer and the rest of the coaching staff have really out done themselves, taking a group of guys who seemed lost and unable to perform as a unit a little over a year ago, and turning them into a true TEAM. Lou, brilliant as always, seems to have collected all the right players, with all the right talents and attitudes to make the system WORK.
The 2011-2012 New Jersey Devils season will be one I will never forget. From a fan’s perspective, I watched my beloved Devils defeat two of our biggest rivals (Flyers, Rangers) and come within two wins of a 4th Stanley Cup. Off the ice, I also got my first taste of the business side of sports working and writing as a Devils Army General. It was a great experience for me to interact with other fans who are just as passionate about the team as I am. This is something I definitely want to continue doing for future seasons.
This isn’t the way I was hoping to prepare my final recap of the season. I was hoping that we’d be celebrating something incredible on Wednesday night, but clearly, it was not meant to be this season. After a pair of hard-fought victories by the Devils in Games 4 and 5, their season and the NHL season came to an abrupt halt on Monday night, as the Kings won their first Stanley Cup championship in their nearly half-century of existence. Here’s how it all went down on Monday.
3rd star: Justin Williams (Goal)
2nd star: Bryce Salvador (Game-winning goal)
1st star: Martin Brodeur (25 saves)
The recipe for success in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals has been pretty simple for both teams: score the first goal, win face-offs and out-hit the opposition. That’s easier said than done, of course. For the second straight game, the Devils were able to accomplish all three of those things en route to their second win of the series. They’re back in it now, though still down 3-2 to the Kings. The Devils’ 2-1 victory in Game 5 makes them just the third team in the history of best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals series to win at least two games after trailing, 3-0.
Pete DeBoer was hoping that his team would get off to a good start in Game 5, but that wasn’t the case early in the first period. Instead, it was the Kings who controlled play and had a majority of scoring chances early on. The game started off at an incredible pace, and the visitors nearly took a lead. After a turnover by Dainius Zubrus in his own zone, Justin Williams hit the post behind Martin Brodeur and Stephen Gionta’s diving effort broke up a chance for Slava Voynov. That’s when Willie Mitchell was sent off for a questionable penalty call, and the Devils went on a power play.
They nearly scored on a tic-tac-toe designed play, as Zach Parise fed Travis Zajac in the slot. Zajac’s shot trickled through Jonathan Quick, but sat on the goal line before the Kings cleared the crease. Parise then missed a pass directed at Patrik Elias, but Jonathan Quick, who tried to get the puck to his defenseman, but turned it over to Parise, and the Devils’ captain stuffed it past Quick for a 1-0 lead. The goal seemed to spark the Devils, as their overall play elevated after the goal was scored.
The Devils played a better second period, as they started to control the puck for longer periods of time. However, early in the second period, Williams split the Devils’ defense and wristed a hard shot from the slot stick-side on Brodeur to tie the game. Williams nearly scored again on the ensuing Kings’ power play, but Brodeur warmed to the task. Halfway through the period, the Devils got back on top. Alexei Ponikarovsky skated up to the right point, and fed Bryce Salvador on the left side. Salvador hesitated, then released a long wrist shot, that re-directed off Voynov’s body, through David Clarkson’s screen and past Quick, who overplayd the shot. The Devils took a 2-1 lead and held off another Kings’ power play to close out the period, as well as a Jarret Stoll attempt that was tipped into the net with a high-stick, therefore washed out.
Los Angeles picked up their game in the third period, and Brodeur played his best as well. The Devils did some good things, as they played well in their own end and eventually got some strong forechecking from Gionta’s line and Zajac’s line. Most importantly, they kept the Kings off the scoreboard. Alec Martinez had a chance on a rebound that got a piece of the goal post early in the third period. Momentum shifted a bit when Dustin Brown held Henrik Tallinder’s hockey stick, putting the Devils on a power play. They didn’t score, in fact the Kings nearly did, but Marek Zidlicky eliminated Mike Richards to negate the scoring chance, and then Quick made a strong glove save on Ilya Kovalchuk at the other end.
Late in the third period, Dustin Penner and Ponikarovsky went off for coincidental roughing minors in the Kings’ zone, so the Kings had a chance to tie the game, 4-on-4 and then once they pulled Quick, a 5-on-4 advantage. They came close, but the Devils survived and took Game 5 by a 2-1 score.
Brodeur’s strong play consisted of much of the talk from the Devils’ perspective after the game. In every series, there’s always at least one game that the goaltender needs to steal. Perhaps Game 5 was that game for Brodeur and his Devils. DeBoer acknowledged that the first period especially wasn’t how the Devils wanted to play, but they got the job done and won the game.
Bryce Salvador’s offensive emergence in the playoffs continues, as he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs after not scoring at all in the regular season. Salvador is tied with Drew Doughty (yes, that Drew Doughty) as the highest-scoring defenseman in the playoffs this year. Alexei Ponikarovsky has also come up big for the Devils. He set up Salvador’s eventual game-winning goal, making it the fifth point on a game-winning goal for Ponikarovsky this postseason. Henrik Tallinder also recorded nearly 20 minutes of ice time in his second game back from his blood clot.
(headline by @radametz)
Three stars of the game:
3rd star: Martin Brodeur (21 saves)
2nd star: Drew Doughty (Goal)
1st star: Adam Henrique (Game-winning goal)
There’s been a theme in these playoffs for the Devils: resiliency and clutch scoring from Adam Henrique. Those two factors surfaced once again, as the Devils fought off elimination and beat the Kings, 3-1. They now trail the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, 3-1. Both teams will now travel 3,000 miles for Game 5 in New Jersey on Saturday night, where the Devils will look to end the Kings’ dominance on the road. Here’s how they got it done on Wednesday night.
The Devils didn’t get off to the start they were hoping for, as Zach Parise took a penalty just three minutes into the game. The Kings’ power play had been dormant until Game 3, when it produced a pair of goals. Martin Brodeur and the Devils stood tall, as Marty juggling, yet held onto a point shot from Alec Martinez. Brodeur was forced to make three saves on the Kings’ first power play. Shortly after, the Devils had just about four minutes of power play time, on two separate penalties by the Kings. They couldn’t get anything going on the first chance, but started to get some chances on the second power play.
Jonathan Quick matched the Devils, shot-for-shot and save-for-save. His best save of the period came as Petr Sykora, back in the lineup for Game 4, cut into the slot and fired one glove side, but Quick snatched it. Quick then stopped Ilya Kovalchuk’s wrist shot and Zach Parise’s rebound at the side of the net. He later made another glove save on a shot by Alexei Ponikarovsky. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Justin Williams nearly gave the Kings a 1-0 lead late in the period, but his shot rang off the goal post behind Brodeur. It was a rare display of luck going in the Devils’ favor in the series so far, and it kept the game scoreless after one period.
The Devils had to kill off a carry-over penalty on Bryce Salvador to start the second period, but they did it with ease. Immediately after the successful penalty kill, Ilya Kovalchuk almost scored at the other end. He saw a puck bounce away from him, and he fanned on the shot right in front of the net. The Devils put some pressure on Quick in the opening minutes of the second period, but still couldn’t get anything past him. The Kings started to warm up offensively, and it looked as if the Devils might be in trouble. Luckily, Brodeur was up to the task and had another strong period. Unfortunately, it was still tied after two periods.
In the third period, the Devils controlled most of the play offensively and finally started to forecheck in the Kings’ end consistently. A strong shot from the left circle by Zach Parise nearly beat Quick, as he looked behind him, but he trapped it. Parise appeared to be shaken up later, as he leg got caught in a pile-up, but he shook if off and remained in the game. Eventually, they finally managed to beat Quick. The play started with the forecheck, and eventually Bryce Salvador got his point shot on Quick, and the puck rebounded to Patrik Elias, who backhanded it home for the Devils’ first goal since Steve Bernier’s deflection early in the third period of Game 2. The puck got through the attempted shot-blocking of the Kings, and because they tried to block the shot, they left Elias wide open near the net. It was Elias’ fifth goal of the playoffs.
The lead, the Devils’ first of the series, lasted all of one minute. David Clarkson was whistled for a very questionable boarding call on Dustin Brown, and the Kings went back on their power play. Four seconds and a face-off win later, Drew Doughty’s one-timer found a way through traffic and into the back of the net. The Devils’ lead was gone, and it meant that they would need at least one more goal to force a Game 5. They got that goal with under five minutes remaining in the third period. Mark Fayne pinched along the neutral zone to prevent the Kings from an offensive shift. Ponikarovsky backhanded the puck up the ice and David Clarkson threw it across to Adam Henrique high in the offensive zone. The pass went off Henrique’s skate right to his stick, and he beat Quick stick-side under the crossbar. The pass from Clarkson would have been intercepted had it been aimed for Henrique’s stick. It was either fortunate or a very skilled and intelligent play by Clarkson to aim for Henrique’s skate and just as much on Henrique’s part to shoot the puck. Let’s go with skill over luck.
With under three minutes remaining, Willie Mitchell, the former 8th round draft pick of the Devils in 1996, high-sticked Kovalchuk to put the Devils on a late power play. They didn’t score on it, although they did come very close, including a chance for Travis Zajac on a rebound, but they took two huge minutes off the clock. Following the power play, the Kings pulled Quick, and Ilya Kovalchuk iced the game with an empty net goal, his first career goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. Kovalchuk battled through the apparent injury that’s been bothering him, and had a pretty decent game, in terms of creating offense overall. The Devils won, 3-1.
Henrique is clutch. He scored his third game-winning goal in the playoffs. This one goes along with Game 7 in double-overtime against the Panthers and the overtime series-winning goal in Game 6 against the Rangers. Alexei Ponikarovsky has also been clutch in these playoffs. Four of his seven points have come on game-winning goals. Bryce Salvador, the offensive wizard that he’s become, added a pair of assists of his own in the game. This game, though, as so many other big games before, was made possible by the efforts of Martin Brodeur. The Devils outshot and out-hit the Kings, but the Kings got some quality scoring chances. Brodeur’s finest work in Game 4 came on breakaways by Simon Gagne and Dustin Penner, as well as seven saves overall in the third period to preserve the victory.
The Devils survive another day (three days, actually), as Game 5 will be at the Prudential Center on Saturday night. They’ll look to hand the Kings their first loss on the road in the 2012 playoffs, and force the series back to L.A. again for Game 6. There is genuine belief amongst the Devils that they can keep this going and get back in the series, as there should be. The Devils have come within one bounce and a few inches from winning any or all of the first three games of the series, and outplayed the Kings for much of Games 2 and 3. They held off the Kings in perhaps L.A.’s best effort of the series and won Game 4. Although Vancouver and Phoenix also won their respective Game 4′s to force a Game 5 against the Kings previously, the Devils are confident that this wasn’t just one win to delay the Kings’ party. They’re confident that they have started a comeback.
And after all, wouldn’t that be the perfect Hollywood ending to a fantastic NHL season?