Stanley Cup Finals 2012: 5 Things Must Change for Devils to Win the Cup
With their win Monday, the Kings took a decisive 3-0 series lead against the New Jersey Devils. Wednesday night, they will look to close out the Devils to finish the playoffs with an astonishing 16-2 record in the playoffs.
For the Devils, the outlook is admittedly bleak. After playing two relatively even games, the Devils were handled by the Kings. And now, they fight for their lives.
There's no reason to think the Devils will win the series. They have not demonstrated that they know how to beat the Kings. They have two goals against Jonathan Quick in three games, and one of them was a lucky bounce.
Still, it's a best-of-seven series for a reason, and it's not over until the Kings get a fourth win. If the Devils can get back to the way they were playing in Games 1 and 2, they might win a game, maybe even two. If they play to their capability, every player actually producing like he should, they could maybe even push it seven.
However, this sort of thing rarely happens. Thrice in history, actually: The Maple Leafs came back against the Red Wings in 1942, the 1975 Islanders rallied against the Penguins and most recently the 2010 Flyers crushed David Krejci and, consequently, the Bruins.
However, it's been done. Who's to say it won't be done again? However, a lot of things need to change for that to happen, and some are out of the Devils' control.
Offensive Stars Need to Wake Up
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Just about everything will need to change for the Devils to pull this off, but that starts with scoring.
This regular season, the Devils had three 30-goal scorers in David Clarkson, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. So far in this series, the three have combined for one point. That point came in Game 1 on an assist to Clarkson.
You'd get one additional point when you throw in the Devils' second-leading scorer from the regular season, Patrik Elias. He assisted on the same goal as Clarkson. That's just not acceptable.
Parise is the team's captain and Kovalchuk's their best scorer, while Elias is the only guy on the team besides Martin Brodeur with deep playoff experience. They are rightfully relied on to produce, and when they don't, this is the result.
Kovy was at point-per-game pace when the series started, and Parise wasn't far behind. They need to kick it into overdrive to make up for missed time and start contributing copiously.
Brodeur Needs to Be Perfect
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Brodeur was great for the first two games, giving up four goals on 53 shots. In Game 3, less so, allowing four goals on 57 shots. Even less so in Game 3, when he gave up four on 21 shots, but still, he's played well much of the playoffs.
That's not good enough anymore. Now, he needs to be stellar. He needs to be the Brodeur of his prime, the Brodeur who posted three shutouts in one Cup final.
It's much easier said than done; Anze Kopitar is an elite forward and Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown all have considerable ability. They have severely outplayed the Devils' forwards and defense so far this series, but when a goalie stops every shot, that doesn't matter.
That's the kind of play we need to see from Brodeur.
Solve the Defense
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The Kings' defense has completely suffocated the Devils all series.
Jonathan Quick would seem to be the main threat, but the problem is that their forecheck is so intense and their defense so good at reading plays that the Devils are rarely able to give Quick much of a challenge.
I don't know what the answer is, but part of it is just smarter play. More and more, the Devils seem to be forcing passes when they should be shooting, forcing shots from the point when they could try working it down low.
On top of that, they need to capitalize on the team's speed. The Kings are quite quick, but the Devils have a number of quick skaters as well. More than once this series, Marek Zidlicky has finessed his way into the offensive zone and allowed the Devils to set up there. Once players like Adam Henrique, Brian Gionta and Kovalchuk are doing that too, it will generate a good deal more pressure.
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Last week, I wrote about how important special teams would be to the series. Let's see how they've fared: Respectively, the Kings have gone 0-for-1, 0-for-2 and 2-for-2, while the Devils have gone 0-for-2, 0-for-4 and 0-for-6.
The Devils got very few real scoring chances through the first three games, but many of the ones they did manage came on the power play. Okay, so Quick made a beautiful skate-save on a Kovalchuk-slapper, but still, they need to keep pressing on.
The Devils need a lot less of Patrik Elias skating in a three-foot circle in the corner with the puck and a lot more crisp passing around while Kovalchuk or Zidlicky rove and try to lose a defender.
The Devils' PK has been so bad for so long after being so good. They had a record-breaking regular season, and have since struggled to put up even moderately good numbers.
They didn't give up any goals on three chances in the first two games, and they didn't lose Game 3 because of the PP goals. But that better have been a frustrated team slacking and not a sign that the Kings are creating chances while a man up.
After all, the Kings' power play has been dreadful this postseason. It performing poorly through two games was less a good sign for the Devils and more a given. If the Devils can't silence this quickly, they won't stand a chance when the situations do matter.
Jonathan Quick Needs to Falter
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Jonathan Quick has been almost unbelievably good. In the playoffs, he has a .950 save percentage a 1.36 goals-against average.
Those numbers are quite frankly pathetic compared to his numbers in the finals: a .59 GAA and .972 save percentage.
With him playing like he's playing, no team is going to beat the Kings. He is putting last year's Tim Thomas to shame. And the Devils have barely gotten a taste of him yet.
I was able to see many of the Kings' earlier series games, and Quick was virtually unbeatable. So far, the Devils have struggled so much with defense that they only get to test him two or three times per game.
If the Devils are willing to play their hockey, they'll be able to test him a lot more. They'll open up some odd-man rushes and might find open men more often near the net. But even then, he'll likely be up to the challenge. He is the best goalie in the world right now, and nothing seems capable of throwing him.
...except himself. Quick is playing near-Godly right now, but can it last? History would suggest no, but this Kings team is kind of spitting on history.
If quick lowers his play to merely top-five NHL goalie, that would give the Devils a significantly greater chance of winning game after game. If he stays at this level, though, it's hard to believe any offensive maneuvering will throw him.