The New Jersey Devils danced down a tightrope during a wild final minute Saturday night to stay alive in the Stanley Cup final.
They held on as the Los Angeles Kings stormed their net with an extra skater to get a 2-1 win and cut the Kings' lead in the NHL championship series to 3-2. Game 6 goes Monday night in Los Angeles.
Led by goaltender Martin Brodeur, the Devils finally dealt the Kings their first loss on the road in this year's playoffs, breaking their NHL record winning streak at 10 games. It was also the first time the Kings lost two games in succession in the post-season.
"We haven't done anything yet," said Brodeur, who posted his 17 career win in the Stanley Cup final. "I'm enjoying this. They're fun games to be a part of. It's tough mentally but I'm enjoying this ride and will until we're done.
"We could have packed it in two games ago. That's the bottom line. We have some resilient guys."
Devils head coach Peter DeBoer fretted he is running out of ways to sing the praises of his goaltender.
"Yeah, I wish I was that eloquent that I had more ways to phrase it for you," he said. "I mean, what else can you say? His performance speaks for itself.
"It's the timing of it. You know, I think the fact we're 9-1 or 10-1 in Games 4 through 7 in a series is a testament to how he enjoys that type of pressure."
Now it is the Kings who finally have to sweat a little, although they brushed aside the question of pressure. Of the 25 times in NHL history a team took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Cup final, 20 of them won in a sweep. No team has won in Game 6 after letting its lead slip to 3-2, one team (the 1945 Toronto Maple Leafs) went on to win in seven games and one, the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, blew a 3-0 lead and lost in Game 7 to the Maple Leafs.
Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was almost as good as Brodeur but unlike the first three games of the series the Devils got some bounces in this one and capitalized on them. Kings head coach Darryl Sutter agreed.
"Well, [Brodeur] played well, very well, the last two nights," 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 it is.
"We hit a couple posts again tonight, and you hope one goes off the post and in."
The first 40 minutes were the most entertaining periods of the Stanley Cup final and possibly since the first round of the playoffs. Instead of an orgy of shot-blocking, there were hits, up-and-down action and lots of skating, perhaps because there was a second off-day between Games 4 and 5, which allowed for fresher players. Most of all, there was great goaltending from Brodeur and Quick, who each faced 16 shots in the first two periods as the Devils took a 2-1 lead.
It did not take long for some emotion to enter the affair as well, with the hard feelings ratcheted up early in the first period when both sides dished out a number of hard body checks. Kings defenceman Matt Greene, for example, raised the ire of Devils winger Patrik Elias and the sellout crowd of 17,625 at the Prudential Center at 8:30 of the first period when he knocked Elias into the end boards. Elias was down on the ice for several minutes and had some things to say to the Kings bench when Greene was not issued a penalty.
Brodeur held the edge in play over his counterpart Quick, but only because the latter made a rare mistake on the Devils' first goal. Otherwise, Quick was spectacular, making like a gymast a couple of times in the second period in doing the splits to rob the Devils shooters.
Quick's mistake came at 12:45 of the first period on a Devils power play. He tried the clear the puck around his net and fired it at the end boards. But it bounced to the side of the net where Devils forward Zach Parise was waiting. He had just enough time to tuck the puck into the side of the net while Quick tried to get back to his crease.
It was the first power-play goal for the Devils in the Stanley Cup final, coming after an 0-for-15 stretch. It was also Parise's first point of the final, even though he has been one of the Devils' most important players.
After the Kings tied the score early in the second period on a goal by Justin Williams, who was helped by a timely screen by linemate Dustin Brown, the game took another step up in entertainment and nastiness. There was a succession of line rushes both ways and some solid hits.
David Clarkson, another of the Devils' scorers who has gone silent in the final, charged up the crowd when he leveled Brown. Then he played an important part in the Devils' go-ahead goal even though he wound up without a point.
Devils defenceman Bryce Salvador made a nice play when he had the puck at the point. When a shooting lane did not open up immediately, he waited and then, as Clarkson moved to the slot and was picked up by Kings defenceman Slava Voynov, fired the puck at Quick. Clarkson tried to deflect the puck with his stick and missed but it hit Voynov and bounced past Quick at 9:05.
It was Salvador's fourth goal of the playoffs, keeping his (relatively) hot streak going. He did not score a goal in the regular season and has a mere 23 in 692 regular-season games. This was a jumping-off point for Brodeur, who got off a good line about his teammate.
"We were waiting for him to score all year," Brodeur said. "He's peaking at the right time."