Had the Kings pulled off the win, the last of the requisite 16 for them to take the cup, they would have finished their 2012 postseason road slate at 11-0. That would have meant one more road victory than the 10 New Jersey attained en route to the first two titles in their franchise history.
The Devils will need to safeguard their share of space on the NHL record book once again if they want to add a fourth banner to go with 1995, 2000 and 2003. And they will need to steal one more win from the Staples Center on Monday before they start thinking about protecting their Newark mansion again.
Don’t think it can’t happen, and don’t think the ostensibly trivial road record aspect will not fuel anybody in the New Jersey franchise circles. We are talking about a team that has been run by Lou Lamoriello for the last quarter of a century and has been backstopped by a seasoned, learned and ornate goaltender in Martin Brodeur for nearly two decades.
Brodeur and Lamoriello are the only two holdovers from that first championship team in 1995, which swept the championship series against a heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings team. As of the final buzzer of New Jersey’s 4-0 Game 3 loss in Los Angeles, this year’s situation was practically the same, except in this case there are no losses to spare.
So far, though, the Devils have proven themselves undaunted, claiming back-to-back victories to whittle the deficit from 3-0 to 3-2.
In the words of New Jersey’s own Bon Jovi, they are “halfway there.” And dare one proclaim they will “make it, I swear”?
There’s no way for a mortal to find out until after Monday and/or Wednesday night. But three-time champion Brodeur is 3-0 when playing in a Game 7 his team forces, and this edition of his team is indubitably keen on giving the potentially retiring 40-year-old a chance to skate away in triumph.
The only time Brodeur has fallen short in a cup final series was in 2001, when the opposition was trying to give another future Hall of Fame 40-year-old, Ray Bourque, a triumphant swan song. And whether they have won a title before or not, similar stories like those of Dave Andreychuk (Tampa Bay, 2004) and Mark Recchi (Boston, 2011) are sufficient evidence that sentimental motivation has a tendency to come through.
In each of those cases, by the way, the eventual victor initially trailed the championship round, three games to two.
From a strict between-the-boards standpoint, the Devils are perking up in all positions at the 11th hour. After a 4-0 loss put them on the precipice of being swept, they finally began to reap rewards from the first line of Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac, as well as veteran blueliner Bryce Salvador.
All four were making ripples during the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs, but had yet to solve Jonathan Quick through three consecutive losses in the finals. But out of five goals in back-to-back victories, Parise and Kovalchuk have each scored one, Zajac has assisted on two and Salvador has had a hand in three.
In addition, Parise’s icebreaker on Saturday was New Jersey’s first power-play conversion out of 16 tries against the Kings. Meanwhile, Los Angeles, which had resuscitated its plebeian power play in Games 3 and 4, took four vain hacks at Brodeur over three man-advantages in Game 5.
Shortly after killing a carry-over penalty to Salvador to start the third period, Brodeur repelled six unanswered shots in a span of five minutes to sustain the 2-1 lead. In the remaining 14:32 of game action, the Devils confined the Kings to three more shots on net, including none in the final 6:17.
Sure looks like a team willing and able to defend a man whose mask has been the face of the franchise since the mid-90s. And it sure looks like one keen on adding to its history while keeping another team from usurping its own place in history.
If they apply the same approach twice more in the coming week, the Devils should append a fourth banner to their ceiling and a fourth ultimate playoff series comeback to the NHL record book.