LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: Patrik Elias #26 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his third period goal over goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings in Game Four of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 6, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
The look on Jonathan Quick's face at the end of Game 5 said it all.
The Kings goalie, who made it look so easy when his team took a 3-0 lead in Stanley Cup Finals, stared at the Devils celebrating with wide eyes. His team, some looking, others with their heads down, took a slow walk down the visitor's hallway.
The Kings need just one win for their first Stanley Cup championship. But there's no doubt - the pressure is squarely on Los Angeles heading into tonight's Game 6 at the Staples Center.
Sure, they won't admit it. Kings coach Daryl Sutter denied his team felt pressure, citing a few bad breaks for allowing New Jersey back into the finals. And he's got a point. Los Angeles hit three posts in Game 5, and several other quality chances went wide.
That isn't the entire story. New Jersey has outplayed Los Angeles, winning more loose pucks and establishing its forecheck. The defense is pumping shots on Quick, and the Devils are sending waves of forwards to the crease. The Devils dump and chase quickly, and they've cut down the space with huge hits and smart defensive play.
The Devils only settled in after digging themselves a huge hole.
"I think the hockey world pretty much wrote us off and I think we feel we’ve played with no pressure because of that and I don’t think that’s changed because all of a sudden it’s 3-2 now," Devils coach Pete DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record.
New Jersey is playing with house money. If they don't win tonight, they'll have made a statement in the series, and achieved something no team has done since the 1940s. Even without a championship, the players could hang their hats on coming back and not giving up.
But if they force a Game 7, New Jersey can put on full display how pressure can crack even the best of teams. Los Angeles hasn't played a Game 6 in these playoffs, and the team watched it's record-tying 10-game road winning streak come to a crashing halt.
New Jersey is a loose team, one that sits just one win away from coming back from the depths of elimination. They've been in this situation before. Down 3-2 to the Florida Panthers, the Devils won twice to advance.
With the Stanley Cup in the house once again, the Devils know the pressure is on Los Angeles. It's something Patrik Elias thinks his team can exploit.
"We’re a lot closer to what we want to accomplish than we were a couple games back," Elias told Gulitti. "After being down 3-0, you really don’t have anything to lose. You just try to go out there and do your best. Now, when we won a couple of games and we know we can beat these guys and we do want to accomplish that and that can be very dangerous. This is the time when you have to kind of take a step back and just play the same way we played the last two games. We didn’t change too much. To be honest, we didn’t change anything, but we just got a lucky bounce here and there at the right time and that’s what won two hockey games for us. And Marty (Brodeur) has made unbelievable saves."