Stanley Cup Finals Game 3: NJ Devils at LA Kings

2012 Stanley Cup Finals, New Jersey Devils vs LA KingsStanley Cup Playoffs – Round 4

New Jersey Devils (12-8) at Los Angeles Kings (14-2)

8:00 PM E.T.

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: WFAN 660 AM

The first two games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals haven’t gone the Devils’ way.  That isn’t something that an expert analyst has to tell you.  The Devils dropped Games 1 and 2 at home, both by identical 2-1 overtime finals, with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter scoring goals in the extra period for the Kings.  If you look at the 2-0 series deficit that the Devils now face and the seemingly insurmountable task of defeating the Kings four out of five times to win the Stanley Cup, especially considering the Kings’ 14-2 record in the playoffs, there’s little reason for optimism, but in fact, there is much more reason to believe than those numbers might dictate.  If you’re in the mood for an optimistic view on the series, read on.  If you don’t feel like being optimistic, you probably shouldn’t read on.

The Los Angeles Kings have already won twice as many games in the Stanley Cup Finals this season (two) than in their previous franchise history (one win in a 4-1 defeat in the 1993 Cup Finals).  They’ve only lost twice this postseason, and both losses have come when they’ve led their first and third round series, 3-0 over Vancouver and Phoenix, respectively.  But the Devils have come within inches of burying the Kings in a 2-0 series deficit of their own.  Both games have been so close that one bounce, one shot or one decision could mean win or loss for either team.  Through two games, both teams have gotten superb goaltending, but the Kings have won the game of inches, and for the Devils, it’s time to create some of their own good fortune.

Consider Game 1 of this series.  The Devils certainly didn’t play their best game by any stretch of the imagination, yet they were in a position where they could have won.  David Clarkson missed the net from close range on two separate occasions, chances that the man who scored 30 goals in the regular season usually buries.  Mark Fayne had a puck bounce over his stick, or he’d have had an empty net to shoot at from the right circle.  In overtime of Game 1, Ryan Carter and Adam Henrique nearly combined for the game-winner, but they couldn’t elevate the puck past Jonathan Quick.

Now consider Game 2 of the series.  The Devils played a much better overall game.  They held a decent margin over the Kings in terms of controlling the play and scoring chances.  Even though Quick was outstanding in goal for the Kings, the Devils still flat-out missed chances.  They finally got a goal, when Ryan Carter re-directed Marek Zidlicky’s point shot early in the third period, but they had worked so hard to score their first goal that it seemed like a daunting task to get another.  Still, the Devils had their chances.  They weren’t particularly good on their power play in Game 2, but Patrik Elias did have one strong chance that Quick just managed to fight off.  Then Zach Parise had a shorthanded re-direction attempt that missed the net, and in the dying seconds of the third period, Marek Zidlicky and Ilya Kovalchuk both had chances to score, but Zidlicky’s shot was blocked while Kovalchuk’s shot deflected off the crossbar.

Yes, hockey is a game of inches, and the Kings have gotten the breaks so far.

So what can the Devils feel good about despite the 2-0 deficit?  Well, first of all, as good as Jonathan Quick has been, Martin Brodeur has matched him, save-for-save for the most part.  Brodeur probably should have stopped Colin Fraser’s first period goal in Game 1, but Anze Kopitar is pretty much a slam dunk when he has the kind of time that he did on his breakaway winner in the first game.  Brodeur never saw Drew Doughty’s shot that beat him in Game 2, as Bryce Salvador inadvertently screened his goaltender.  never saw Jeff Carter’s overtime goal in the second game, as Dustin Penner screened him as well.

Now what else can the Devils do get back in the series?  One area that was truly weak in both Games 1 and 2 was the Devils’ power play.  It went 0-for-2 in Game 1 and 0-for-4 in Game 2.  The best scoring chances on the Devils’ power play have come shorthanded by the Kings.  The Devils have to avoid making high-risk passes that the Kings can easily intercept and clear.  They’ve shown some frustration at times, as well.  Just like when Brodeur sees pucks coming his way, Quick will stop everything he can see, and just as the Devils got to Henrik Lundqvist in the previous round, the Devils must keep bodies in Quick’s face and make him feel uncomfortable in net.  If he’s uncomfortable, perhaps the rebound he kicks out will come a little closer to a Devils skater and the game of inches will favor them.

In terms of individual efforts so far in the series, Zach Parise’s work ethic has been tremendous, as usual, but he hasn’t had the puck luck or ability to finish off plays yet in this series.  He’s had his chances, but nothing to show for them yet.  Ilya Kovalchuk has struggled to find his speed in this series.  Perhaps his back injury is bothering him even more in this series, but he’s going to play through it, and because of that, he needs to shoot early and often.  Patrik Elias has also been close, but no goals in the series.  He’s tried to be a bit too fancy at times, so if he and his line can simplify their game, the Devils could generate more offensively.  David Clarkson hasn’t had much go his way in the two games of the Cup Final so far.  He’s missed several high-quality chances that he can’t afford to miss.  It’s one thing for the goaltender to make a save, but there’s no chance of scoring when the puck isn’t on net.

Those are just a few players who haven’t gotten the bounces so far in this series.  The Devils would benefit from getting something going early in Game 3.  The Kings will be looking to go up 3-0 on home ice for the fourth consecutive series, but if the Devils can slow the home team down and manage to take a lead in Game 3, it could throw the Kings off their game.  Los Angeles has not trailed at all in the series so far, which also means that the Devils have yet to take a lead.  Taking a lead and winning Game 3 would put the Kings in an unfamiliar spot: not up 3-0.  And after all, they’re only 1-2 in Game 4’s this postseason.

Kings’ projected lineup:

Brown – Kopitar – Williams

Penner – Richards – Carter

King – Stoll – Lewis

Nolan – Fraser – Clifford

Scuderi – Doughty

Mitchell – Voynov

Martinez – Greene

Quick

Bernier

Devils’ projected lineup:

Parise – Zajac – Zubrus

Ponikarovsky – Henrique – Kovalchuk

Elias – Josefson – Clarkson

Carter – Gionta – Bernier

Greene – Fayne

Salvador – Zidlicky

Volchenkov – Harrold

Brodeur

Hedberg

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Posted on June 4, 2012, in Game Preview, New Jersey Devils and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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