All it took for the New Jersey Devils to win a game in the Stanley Cup Finals was the chance that another loss would end their season.
New Jersey denied the Los Angeles Kings a cup-winning celebration on home ice, defeating them 3-1 Wednesday night at the Staples Center. Los Angeles leads the series, 3-1.
The teams remained scoreless through two periods, with Martin Brodeur and Johnathan Quick trading saves. The teams erupted in the third period, with New Jersey finally finding it's scoring touch. Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk all scored in the win. Drew Doughty scored the lone goal for Los Angeles.
New Jersey returns home for Saturday's Game 5, once again needing a win to avoid elimination. The Kings, winners of ten straight road games, could win the Stanley Cup and set an NHL record for road wins in the playoffs Saturday.
Here is what went right, what went wrong in the Game 5 win:
What Went Right
Brodeur made this postseason a huge statement, one that's shut out critics and proved the naysayers wrong. He stopped 21 of 22 shots tonight, most of them with his "Brodeurian" flair, and was once again the best Devil on the ice. He twice stopped Dustin Penner in the third period, shutting down the Kings winger on two one-on-one rushes. His diving poke check took an opportunity away from Trevor Lewis. Time and time again, Brodeur bailed out the Devils. They finally rewarded him tonight, and gave the 40-year old goalie his first win in these Stanley Cup Finals.
Henrique followed up his outstanding rookie season with an absolutely fantastic postseason. He's scored four goals during the playoffs, three of which are game-winners. One of those came tonight, when he took a cross-ice feed from David Clarkson and buried a wrist shot high to the blocker side of Quick. Henrique, who played for a Windsor Spitfires team that climbed out of an 0-3 hole to win the Memorial Cup in junior hockey, knows what it takes to come back in this series.
With his game-winning goal, Henrique tied Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk for the most postseason game-winning goals from a rookie. It must be the power of the moustache.
Devils coach Pete DeBoer made two changes to the lineup tonight, and Tallinder proved to be a smart one. Despite not playing since January after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot in his calf, Tallinder logged over 19 minutes of ice time. Playing mostly with Marek Zidlicky, he recorded two shots and looked strong on the ice. He moved the puck quickly, made nice plays in his own end and generated a few opportunities along the blue line. It's no easy task to be inserted into the lineup for an elimination game. Tallinder made it look easy.
Execution of the Plan
The Devils will be the first to admit this wasn't their best game. The team allowed too many odd man chances during the second and third periods, and it continued handing Los Angeles the chance to grab momentum on home ice. But when New Jersey did execute, it was a thing of beauty. The forecheck frustrated the Kings at times, and sending players to the front of the net helped disrupt Quick and get those crucial second and third chance opportunities.
What Went Wrong
The Defensive Lapses
The second and third period saw Los Angeles collect the scoring chances, at one time holding a 2-to-1 advantage in that category. As New Jersey pressed for offense, the Kings found opportunities for odd man rushes. The biggest lapse came early in the third period, when Doughty dove at a loose puck near his own blue line. He chipped it past a pinching Anton Volchenkov and sent Penner in on Brodeur. The Devils goalie turned aside the attempt, but New Jersey was caught time and time again on the wrong side of being aggressive. They'll need to tighten up to beat the Kings on home ice.
Clarkson's Third Period Penalty
It almost became the penalty that sank the Devils season. After taking their first lead of the season, New Jersey found themselves shorthanded after Clarkson "boarded" Dustin Brown. Safety issues are always at the forefront in National Hockey League games, but this was a weak call. Brown was nowhere near a dangerous area, and admired his dump attempt into the Devils end. Clarkson, who did hit Brown in the back, didn't try and run him over or violently ride him into the glass. It was a shove, and one that didn't send Brown down to the ice. But the referee called Clarkson for boarding, and Doughty scored just six seconds into the penalty to tie the game, 1-1.
Officials won't always make the right calls. In a Game 4, with one team playing for its life, they need to get it right.
Ilya Kovalchuk's Injury
Kovalchuk took his game to another level in this postseason, evidenced by his continued presence among the playoff leaders. He hasn't looked great in this series, though, and continues to labor on the ice. The left wing picked up an empty-net goal tonight, but the issue with his back will be front and center. Kovalchuk lunged at pucks tonight, and missed several opportunities he's usually all over. He still recorded 20:28 of ice time, leading the team. He can't be removed from the lineup. But if his back injury continues to get worse, DeBoer and company will need to determine whether they can ride him throughout the rest of the finals.
The Devils once again failed to score on the man-advantage, despite getting some good looks late in the final period. Making the Kings pay for taking penalties will grow more important with each passing elimination game. For the second straight g