There will be no lights, no cameras, no Game 7 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final at the Prudential Center tonight in Newark. The Los Angeles Kings finally put the New Jersey Devils to rest on Monday night in Game 6 in California, winning by a 6-1 count to claim the first league title in franchise history.
After battling back from a three-game deficit with back-to-back wins against the club that hadn't lost a road game all playoffs until the final, the Devils were undone by a major penalty and subsequent LA power play that tallied three times in just under five minutes to effectively put the contest—and the Cup—out of reach for the red and black.
A run that began in April with a seven-game, double-overtime decider in the first round extended through a surprising five-game domination in the second round and a satisfying six-game triumph over a cross-river rival in the conference finals. But it came to a close after the new Eastern Conference champions had come within one game of forging a tie in the final after being on the brink of elimination.
It was still the furthest the Devils have skated into the postseason since they last won the Cup in 2003, and it's the longest they've survived in the spring since moving their base of operations to the Brick City in 2007. It's also just over a year since they failed to make the playoffs at all.
The Devils always seemed to find a way this postseason, as they had to battle back from a deficit in each of the four series they played.
They needed back-to-back extra-session victories to oust the Florida Panthers in the opening round, with Travis Zajac scoring in sudden death in Game 6 at The Rock, and Adam Henrique writing the first chapter of what could possibly be a very prolific playoff book by wristing home the game-winner in double-overtime in Game 7. It was also the first time the Devils had won a playoff series since packing up and leaving the Meadowlands five years ago.
After falling behind Philadelphia with an OT loss in their conference semifinal opener, the Devils reeled off four straight wins, including both games played in New Jersey, just one round after the Flyers had dismantled the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Devils would drop two of their next three games to the top-seeded New York Rangers, including a pair of shutouts by Henrik Lundqvist—but they again strung together multiple wins to claim the latest Lincoln Tunnel Tangle, as Henrique put home a loose puck in overtime in Game 6 in Newark.
Then there was the battling back in the final against surprising Los Angeles, which had needed just 14 games to lay waste to the top three seeds in the Western Conference. The Kings took the first two games in overtime in Newark and followed up with a 4-0 win at the Staples Center that put them on the cusp of their first-ever Stanley Cup.
The Devils, though, weren't done quite yet. They emerged victorious with a three-goal third period in Game 4 in California and then held on for a 2-1 triumph back home that put them within one win of a 3-3 series, two wins from the Cup.
The wheels finally came off the Devils wagon on Monday night. Steve Bernier over-zealously finished his check and took a five-minute major for boarding Rob Scuderi in the first period. The Kings connected three times on the ensuing man-advantage to effectively put the series away and put the Cup out of New Jersey’s reach for good.
The Devils then couldn't get the puck out of their zone after a linesman got tangled up with Anton Volchenkov and were soon down 4-0 before Henrique scored late in the second period for one final act of Devils’ defiance. Two late LA goals iced matters, and the team that had always seemed to come back this spring didn't have any comebacks left in it.
Some would argue the Devils shouldn't have gotten slapped with a major penalty on Bernier's hit in Game 6, especially after Stephen Gionta had been hit from behind moments earlier with no call. The officiating, though, was woefully inconsistent throughout the entire playoffs—and the Devils penalty kill, which had been such a strength during the regular season, couldn't get the job done, much like the much-maligned New Jersey power play that often passed up shots for another pass or three.
There were still more than few bright spots along the Devils' playoff way.
There was the Prudential Center, resplendent in red for 11 sold-out home playoff games. There was Henrique, emerging as a go-to player in the playoffs with three game-winning goals, including two in sudden death that put away two different series.
There was the fourth line of Bernier, Gionta and Jeff Carter not only performing the yeoman’s work of a standard fourth line, but playing like a first line with the number of offensive chances they generated. They came through with key goals on more than one occasion.
Kudos also to defenseman Bryce Salvador, who turned into an offensive threat by tallying four goals and 14 points from the left point.
There was Ilya Kovalchuk finishing third in overall playoff scoring with 19 points despite recently-confirmed back woes, and Zach Parise adding 15 points in what might have been his Devils swan song if the financially-strapped organization can't re-sign the potential unrestricted free agent. There was new head coach Peter DeBoer making the playoffs for the first time as an NHL bench boss and pushing almost all the right buttons for a team that has been in an almost-constant coaching turmoil since it was still situated in East Rutherford.
Last but definitely not least, there was 40-year-old Martin Brodeur playing like he was 30 again, backstopping the Devils to 14 postseason wins and nearly a fourth Cup while likely adding another year or two to his already-storied career.
The end of the Devils' 10-week postseason journey may have been an ignominious one. The journey itself, which almost brought them back to the top after so long, was surely well worth it.
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