LOS ANGELES -- All the clichés have been, well, clichéd, and now it’s time for the New Jersey Devils to try to stave off what history tells us is the inevitable: a Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup celebration.
Here are five ways they might keep the champagne corks in place and the Cup in its crate.
1. Um, it’s called a goal.
It was interesting to hear netminder Martin Brodeur chide his teammates for failing to score enough goals in this finals series, but he’s the best goalie of all time, so he has more than a little latitude. And he’s right. The Devils have just two goals in three games, and one of them came from offensively challenged defenseman Anton Volchenkov off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
"I try to give these guys a chance to win," Brodeur said. "I've done that in the first three games. At the end of the day, it's hard to win games when you don't score many goals. I try to be perfect. But the other guy [counterpart Jonathan Quick] is a little more perfect than me right now."
So, how to beat the seemingly impenetrable Quick, who is on a collision course with a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP? Apart from the Volchenkov goal, the only Devils marker came on a deflection from Ryan Carter. As was the case in the Eastern Conference finals, when Henrik Lundqvist shut out New Jersey twice in the first three games, the Devils need to find a way to get more of those dirty goals, deflections and rebounds, making Quick move out of position. Easier said than done, but they’ve done it before.
2. Um, it’s called a power play.
The Devils’ failure to score on a 59-second 5-on-3 in Game 3 was a soul-sucker. After coming up empty on all 12 power-play opportunities in this series, the Devils must find a way to connect with the man advantage in Game 4, or they are cooked. It’s that simple. The Kings’ dormant power play came alive at the end of Game 3, scoring twice, so the Devils must answer. Whether that means using different personnel -- why not have Carter or Stephen Gionta out there for a change? -- or just different looks, they have to find a way. And, oh yeah, they'd better not give up a short-handed goal to a Kings team that has five this spring.
3. Captain must be courageous.
This has not been a particularly stellar finals series for Devils captain Zach Parise. In fact, he has gone four straight games without a point. Sorry, as hard as he works, that simply doesn’t cut it. Parise must be more efficient with his effort, create chances and rise to the occasion as we saw him do in the Eastern Conference finals. His play early in the game will be especially important, as the Devils have not had a lead in a Cup finals game. They desperately need to get on the board first, and Parise can provide such a badly needed spark to give his team confidence.
"We've got to score," Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said Wednesday morning. "We've got to try to grab some momentum. We haven't had the lead in a game. We haven't, obviously, won a game. We have to try to find a way to grab some momentum here early."
4. Kovalchuk needs to rise to the occasion.
Everyone assumes that Ilya Kovalchuk is ailing, but the bottom line is that this has been a gruesome finals series for him. The Devils’ leading playoff point producer has zero points in three games and, worse, has committed a slew of turnovers and has not been effective in his own zone. Even when he wasn’t scoring earlier in the playoffs, Kovalchuk was making a hit or breaking up a play. Not so much in the finals. If he can’t provide a positive impact on the game, the chances of the Devils' extending the series go down exponentially.
"If they weren't getting opportunities, it would be one thing," DeBoer said of his hitherto silent big guns. "They are getting opportunities. They know the situation they're in. They deal with that pressure every day. That's what they get paid for.
"You don't pile on when guys are in this situation. They're working for their opportunities. The opportunities are there. They just have to bury one, and I think the gates will open."
5. What the heck, let’s try these guys.
We're not sure what to make of the lineup changes the Devils look to make in Game 4, dropping Petr Sykora and Henrik Tallinder into the heart of the finals series and taking out Peter Harrold and Jacob Josefson. We actually didn’t mind the play of Harrold or Josefson, who replaced Sykora in the Eastern Conference finals. Sykora was invisible earlier in the postseason, and it’s hard to imagine he will be any different against the Kings. And Tallinder hasn’t played since Jan. 17 while recovering from acute thrombophlebitis in his leg. It's hard to foresee these moves having any positive impact, but at this stage, why not?
"The reality is Tallinder was a top-two defenseman for us, was all year," DeBoer said. "He's been out for a long time. This is the first time in the last four or five days where we felt in practice that he was up to game speed and a legitimate option.
"We considered it after Game 2, but our group I thought had played such a good game that I didn't want to change it then. But now it seems appropriate.”