If the Devils want to pull off the biggest Stanley Cup Finals comeback since 1942, the team needs to focus on the age-old mantra - "one game at a time."
"We haven’t talked about the statistics of the situation we’re in," Devils coach Pete DeBoer told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "We feel we don’t belong in the hole we’re in right now based on the way we’ve played, but we are and we’ve got to stick with it and win one game. That’s where it starts."
New Jersey needs to start by scoring the game's first goal. The team has yet to get that critical first score, and it's given the Kings a decided advantage in their three wins. Los Angeles has scored in the first period of two of the first three games, while New Jersey has posted a goose egg in each of those games.
The Devils could also use a few breaks to go their way. The puck seems out of reach of Devils forwards on long rebounds from Jonathan Quick, and each open opportunity found some way to miss the net. From Mark Fayne's miss in Game 1 to Ilya Kovalchuk ringing a shot off the crossbar near the end of regulation in Game 2, the Devils have failed to bury their opportunities. Combine that with a bad break in officiating in Game 3, and the Devils find themselves looking for a miracle.
But this team has exceeded expectations throughout the season. Despite playing in the toughest division in the NHL, New Jersey finished with over 100 points and clinched a playoff spot. They survived the upstart Florida Panthers in the first round, and moved on to dispatch their division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers. In both those series, the Devils were the underdog. And, in each one, they rose to the task and proved the critics wrong.
Now the mountain seems the highest. The Kings are a juggernaut, entering tonight's elimination game with a 15-3 record. They haven't let a series go more than five games, and took down the Western Conference's top three teams before winning three straight over the Devils.
New Jersey captain Zach Parise, who will be an unrestricted free agent in less than a month, said his team can't worry about evening the series in one game.
"We’ve said all along we’ve had fun this year playing together, playing for each other," Parise told Gulitti. "Now, we need to do it more than ever. Now, we need to know that the guy sitting next to us is going to do whatever he can do to help us win this game, just this one game. That’s our approach. We trust each other to play great and we have to."
Petr Sykora and Henrik Tallinder will make their debuts tonight, a new wrinkle DeBoer hopes will help his team take the series back to New Jersey.
For a team that exceeded expectations, the opportunity to make history sits in front of them. They can take that first step tonight, and climb slowly back into this series, one game at a time.