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LOS ANGELES -- The New Jersey Devils will board a cross-country flight back to Newark, battling the bitter pangs of defeat, but no player will quite understand the devastating effects of the team's season-ending 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings like fourth-line forward Steve Bernier.
Bernier couldn't even bear to watch his team try to climb out of a three-goal hole after the was ejected from Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals for a hit that will be remembered in team history as one of the costliest ever.
After showering and dressing in an empty locker room, Bernier was left to distinguish the team's ever-growing deficit with each deafening cheer that erupted as the Kings capitalized on L.A.'s five-minute power-play with three goals.
|The game got away from the Devils after Steve Bernier delivered this hit on Rob Scuderi.|
"I didn't watch it. I stayed here, tried to listen to the crowd, but it was very hard, for sure," Bernier said. "I wish I could take that play back."
Bernier was one of the first Devils to appear in the dressing room after the loss and he dutifully answered every question about his harrowing role in the game-changing play.
He crushed Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi into the boards 10:10 into the first period and was slapped with a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct. After Bernier was tossed and a bloodied Scuderi left the ice -- he returned to begin the second period -- the Kings rattled off three power-play goals in a span of 3:58 to saddle the Devils with a crippling 3-0 deficit.
"I'm going to finish my hit on that play," Bernier explained. "I thought he was going to keep going with the puck on his forehand. He turned back, so I feel very bad, but it's a fast game out there and it ends up being a bad play.
"I'm not the type of player that wants to hurt this team. I want to help them. And tonight I got five minutes and they scored three goals in that five minutes."
The early lead sparked a frenzied crowd at Staples Center and the game was irrevocably changed. Veteran forward Patrik Elias hit a post with less than a minute remaining in the first period and rookie Adam Henrique tallied late in the second, but the Devils could not resurrect the resolve that helped them rally from a 3-0 series deficit to force a Game 6.
No one allowed Bernier to shoulder the blame.
"You can't fault him for that. That's not his (fault)," Zach Parise said. "That's how he's gotta play and I feel for him."
Goaltender Martin Brodeur said he was thinking of Bernier while he was on the ice and trying to comprehend the anguish he must've felt with each goal.
"He's going to have to live with that," Brodeur said. "And I don't think that's a fair thing."
The play -- one Devils fans are likely to rue for decades to come -- changed the game and ultimately spelled the demise of the team's stunning season.
The Devils, who last season missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, bounced back to defy expectations while knocking off each of their first three playoff opponents.
It was a remarkable run for a Devils squad that garnered little respect or optimism at the season's outset.
There were concerns about whether Brodeur could still play at an elite level, whether Parise would stay or bolt. There were injuries to the team's top two centers and doubt about a back end with little pedigree.
But Brodeur, 40, delivered a stunning postseason performance that belied his age. Henrique stepped up like a seasoned veteran with three thrilling game-winners. Parise, a free agent this summer, led the team with a relentless work ethic, regardless of how it reflected on the scoresheet.
It was a season few could've predicted but one to be proud of, and that's what made the Game 6 loss sting so much more.
"We never gave up, we believed in each other the whole time," David Clarkson said. "There are a lot of great leaders in this room that have helped us to get where we have. We're proud of each other. It's a good feeling, even though it's one of the worst we've ever had. It's been a fun ride, it's just too bad it's over."
No one understands that better than Bernier, a call-up player who became a valued member of the team's heart-and-soul fourth line.
His postseason productivity and contributions will be eclipsed by a mistake that threatens to haunt him for the rest of his career.
"To finish on that note, that's not fun for sure," Bernier said. "But there's nothing you can do now."