NHL Playoffs: New Jersey’s Defense Keys Game 4 Breakthrough

The New Jersey Devils kept their focus and kept playing the solid team defense that’s characterized their work in these Stanley Cup Finals and it finally paid off with a victory as the pulled away from the Los Angeles Kings in a 3-1 win at the Staples Center Wednesday night. With the Kings still needing just one more win in the next three games it’s almost certainly just a stay of execution, but it was something Jersey could feel could about and it’s pointed to areas Los Angeles needs to improve if they’re close out this championship without giving their fans a heart attack.

Game 4 was scoreless through two periods, with neither team doing a lot as far as getting shots. Finally, the Devils got 13 shots in the third period and for the game overall, both Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk got four cracks at Jonathan Quick. The only goal of the eight shots was Kovalchuk’s empty-netter in the final minute, but the increased involvement from the key players spelled good things.

It was Patrik Elias who broke through the scoring barrier with twelve minutes to play, but the Kings countered with a goal from Drew Doughty. The defenseman has played very good hockey in the Finals—indeed, throughout the playoffs—but in the championship round Los Angeles has gotten too reliant on him. While the offensive trio of Dustin Brown, Dustin Penner and Anze Kopitar were a little more active this game than any point in the series, it was hardly a sustained assault. Brown and Penner combined for five shots while Kopitar, merely the team’s best player, did not attempt a shot in a game to try and win a Stanley Cup. Combine this defensive effort with the fact Martin Brodeur came up with a solid night for New Jersey in goal and it spelled a win for the Devils, as Adam Henrique scored with just over four minutes left and Kovalchuk locked it up on the empty-netter.

My comments on the Kings are harsh, given this is a team almost certain to wrap up the Stanley Cup, but I do believe this is the least impressive of their playoff series and that a combination of some good breaks and the superiority of Quick to Brodeur is the only reason it’s 3-1 in games for the Western Conference champs. Of course if Kopitar gets in the game on Saturday night for Game 5 back in the Meadowlands and Quick turns in another lockdown effort, none of the flaws matter anymore. But Saturday’s game is really the last pressure-free game the Kings will play. If they don’t close it Saturday night, it’s suddenly a series again and that’s the last thing anyone in Los Angeles even wants to think about.