When a series is so closely matched, it doesn’t take much for the scales to tip to one side.
So it goes for the Los Angeles Kings now that the New Jersey Devils have become the third team in NHL history to win two games in a Stanley Cup final after falling behind 3-0. The 1945 Detroit Red Wings blew a 3-0 lead but won the seventh and deciding game over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Three years earlier, the Red Wings weren’t so fortunate and the Leafs became the only team in the history of the Stanley Cup final to win after falling behind 3-0.
It was only a few days ago that the Kings were seemingly on cruise control, headed to the franchise’s first championship since it joined the league in 1967. The coronation of the NHL’s next great young team was prepared; they were fore-checking the Devils relentlessly and anything that got through their defence was gobbled up by their 26-year-old goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who was going to get the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
Now, thanks to the wheezy old guy in goal at the other end of the ice and fickle luck taking a shine to the Devils, the numbers are being used against the Kings. Now it’s 40-year-old Martin Brodeur being fitted for his first Conn Smythe Trophy. For the first time in this year’s playoffs, thanks to Saturday’s 2-1 loss, the Kings have to contemplate their own mortality.
They lost their first road game after setting an NHL record with 10 consecutive wins. They lost two games in succession for the first time. Even though Game 6 is in Los Angeles on Monday, there was no shortage of folks pointing out to the Kings they may sport a 10-1 road record, but the Devils have a 10-1 record in Games 4 through 7 so far in the playoffs.
Well, okay, winger Justin Williams, the Kings’ best player in Saturday’s loss, said, adding that the team still has a few things going for it.
“We’re a confident bunch,” Williams said. “Nothing’s in our heads. We’re disappointed. We had two chances to close it out, hoist the Cup and accomplish our dream and we haven’t quite gotten it. But we’ve got two more chances to do it and we’re back home.”
Every time a media interrogator would, in so many words, throw the question of the Kings letting the series slip away after apparently having it in the bag, they threw it back that this thing was never supposed to be easy. In four of the five games the score was 2-1. Two games went to overtime. The Devils were the better team but didn’t get any bounces in the first three games. The same thing happened to the Kings in Game 5.
“We’ve been lucky in the playoffs to keep the series to [a few] games,” Kings defenceman Matt Greene said . “Right now we have the advantage going home. We’ve got to look at it like that and get our game going.
“We had some fortunate bounces going our way the first three games. The last couple of games we [hit] some pipes. We just have to keep plugging away, keep getting pucks to the net.”
Even if the Kings do the unthinkable and lose another chance to win the Cup at home, thereby tightening the noose of pressure around themselves, Williams says they will be all right.
“I don’t care where we do it as long as it gets done,” he said. “Sure there’s anxiety and pressure. This is the Stanley Cup final, it ain’t supposed to be easy. This is a grind, they’re a heck of a team with a lot of character, a lot of grit.
“[Saturday] we just weren’t good enough by a little hair. It’s a game of inches. There are battles going on all over the ice just us players see. We’re losing just a few more than we’re winning.
“You can look at that and say, ‘Ho hum, woe is me, if that little bounce didn’t fly away, if the puck didn’t bounce on [Mike] Richards at the end.’ Hey, those are the breaks. You make your own breaks, you make your own luck.”