As a fan, I want articles about the Devils to have enthusiasm and passion. Lately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve read many “preview” articles about this season that have already written the Devils off. They read something like this…”I wouldn’t be surprised if the Devils didn’t make the playoffs.” This pessimism, as well as excuses for the disaster they predict is shameful. Perhaps it’s a case of setting the bar low so no one will be disappointed, but I believe that we should be expecting more from this Devils team. With good reason.
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.
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.