For the first time in almost two months, the New Jersey Devils are facing elimination from the playoffs. Unlike the first time, it doesn't look like they have a chance of surviving.
The Los Angeles Kings defeated the Devils, 4-0, in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight at the Staples Center. Los Angeles has moved within a game of the organization's first Stanley Cup championship.
New Jersey once again failed to capitalize on early opportunities, and watched the Kings score the first goal in the third straight game. They wouldn't stop there, adding another later in the period and two in the final frame to sink the Devils. Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots for his first shutout of the Finals.
The Devils couldn't help themselves, going 0-for-6 on the powerplay. The team failed to establish any presence and, when it mattered most, took dumb penalties in the third period.
New Jersey sits just one game away from elimination, and the team's title drought that would hit the nine-year mark. Game 4 is Wednesday night. Here now is what went right, and wrong, in the Devils Game 3 loss.
What Went Right
Don't let the four goals deceive you - Martin Brodeur was the best Devil on the ice tonight. Despite allowing those four scores on 17 saves, Brodeur came up big time and time again. He got no help from the referees (see below), and was hung out to dry on several occasions. Since the Finals started, Brodeur has been the most consistent Devil. He's met the challenge, and kept his team in it. But asking him to do it all, with no support, isn't fair. He'll probably end up the tough luck loser in this series, but has dispelled the doubts that he could no longer play at a high level.
What Went Wrong
The First Goal
Once again, New Jersey failed to cash in on their momentum and score the first goal. But, unlike the first two games, the Devils were a victim of an awful officiating call. After a scramble in front of the net, Brodeur held the puck under his pad. Kings forward Dwight King took several whacks at his pad, and eventually knocked the puck loose. With no whistle ending play, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez put home a loose puck. It was a critical moment in the game, one Devils coach Pete DeBoer told Pro Hockey Talk's Jason Brough was momentum-changing.
New Jersey had their opportunities after that score. But to allow a play like that to continue - when Brodeur so clearly had control of the puck - is inexcusable in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Once again, the Devils powerplay failed to do anything. New Jersey put up yet another goose egg, despite having a 5-on-3 for a minute during the first period. It gave them the opportunity to jump on top of Los Angeles, and take away the home crowd early. But a mixture of bad passes, worse decisions and ill-advised shots left the Devils still searching for powerplay success.
Point a finger at any player not named Brodeur on the Devils roster, and they've failed in this series. The Devils have managed to score just two goals in three games. The scoring depth has disappeared. When one of the goals had to find the net off a double deflection in front, there's a huge issue. There's no creativity or imagination in the Devils offense. Against the New York Rangers, each line brought energy and found different ways to score. But no one has brought that determination against Quick and the Kings.
Down two goals to the Kings has been a death sentence this postseason. New Jersey, however, started the period with 30 seconds of powerplay time. Instead of putting on pressure, they continued their jumbled mess of a man advantage. They went on to take two awfully dumb minor penalties, and the Kings scored twice on the powerplay.
Losing in the playoffs is one thing. But losing with class is another. The Devils didn't do that. Instead, they let their frustration show. Instead of competing hard, New Jersey phoned it in with almost an entire period left to play. The players should be embarrassed at their efforts. Quitting in the Stanley Cup Finals is unacceptable.