NHL Playoffs: New Jersey Stays Alive

The New Jersey Devils stayed alive in the Stanley Cup Finals last night with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings, a victory that moved them to within 3-2 in the series, and sent a clear message that the words “Game On” now apply to the Cup Final after Los Angeles first came in as the favorite and then won three quick games. That’s the basic storyline. What’s not noted is that the Kings have not been playing well the entire series.

In TheSportsNotebook’s game-by-game coverage of the final, it’s been repeatedly noted that small volume of shots being taken by Los Angeles’ core offensive players, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner. I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the same problem is still happening five games into the series. Kopitar, the team’s presumed best player, took zero shots at the net last night. Zero shots! And we’re shocked they can’t seem to score anymore? The consequences of this are that Los Angeles has never had a game where they put sustained pressure on New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, instead winning two overtime defensive struggles and another game where Brodeur simply played badly. New Jersey was never getting schooled at any point in this series—not the way Los Angeles took it to St. Louis and Phoenix in the previous two rounds, for example. And now the series is reflecting that.

The odds are still obviously with Los Angeles to wrap up the Cup on Monday night for Game 6. And they’re doing plenty right on the defensive end themselves. Last night wasn’t a great game, but at 26 shots allowed it was still good enough, when you have Jonathan Quick as your goaltender. But the Devils need Ilya Kovalchuk more involved in the offense if they’re going to get the one game they need where they can really beat Quick for three or four goals. I say “one game” because I think if New Jersey’s going to win four in a row, one probably has to be fairly easy. Otherwise there’s too many chances for some bad luck to beat you, as it nearly did last night when Los Angeles’ Justin Williams scored a tying goal in the second period on a shot that clipped the crossbar.

Who can get sustained offense first? By that I mean, who can open up and get 30 good shots at the goalie, with the key players mentioned here getting anywhere from 3-5 apiece? That’s what I’m looking for from one of these teams, and the one that answers will hoist the Stanley Cup, either Monday in Hollywood or on Wednesday back East in the Meadowlands.