Commentary

Devils' star players need to step up

Updated: June 3, 2012, 2:33 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

NEWARK, N.J. -- The stark reality of the situation for the New Jersey Devils is that the best opportunity by their elite players to score through two games of this Stanley Cup finals might have been when captain Zach Parise threw the puck into the net for a disallowed goal in Game 1.

Further, in the wake of the Devils' second straight 2-1 overtime loss to the seemingly invincible Los Angeles Kings, it is patently clear the Devils will not only will lose this final series unless Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson et al. suddenly find the back of the Kings net with some kind of regularity, their chances of winning even a single game are slim.

Oh, to be sure, the Devils' effort in Game 2 was far better than it was in Game 1 when Anze Kopitar scored the overtime winner on a nifty deke. But at the end of the night, when Jeff Carter swept around the Devils net and iced Game 2 through a crowd of players 13:42 into overtime, the simple fact remains the Kings' best players are rising to the occasion.

It was Drew Doughty, a former Norris Trophy finalist, who opened the scoring for the Kings -- who have now scored first in 10 of 16 postseason games and are 9-1 in those games -- and then it was Carter, the big trade-deadline acquisition, scoring the winner with his first postseason overtime goal. Throw in Kopitar, and three of the Kings' four goals in this series have been scored by their go-to guys.

Doughty has 10 points in his last nine games (3 goals, 7 assists) and went pretty much end-to-end before ripping a shot that glanced off netminder Martin Brodeur and into the net to give the Kings a 1-0 lead before the midpoint of the first period Saturday.

"Made a great play. You know what, a 200-foot play, right? One of those coast-to-coast things," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Win or lose, that's a great play."

The Devils?

Not so much.

They have two goals and their lone goal in Game 1 was an Anton Volchenkov shot that went in off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. The other goal was a deflection by Ryan Carter early in the third period of Game 2.

Through the first two periods, that fourth line of Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier were as good as any on the ice.

They happened to be on the ice for both Kings goals but let's not quibble. They earned their keep.

At some point, some of the other Devils are going to have to engage in some heavy lifting.

This isn't about heart or will or effort.

No one is suggesting that the Devils' top players aren't trying or they don't care. That's not the point.

And if the Kings were running away with these games, if they were obviously the better team as was the case through most of their run through the Western Conference, well, maybe the view would be different.

But they're not.

The Kings have managed to get key contributions from key players at key times.

The Devils?

Kovalchuk, who was credited with two shots in Game 2 to go with his one shot in Game 1, had the game on his stick with 19 seconds left in regulation. The puck was fluttering off a Dustin Brown giveaway but Kovalchuk got enough wood on it to send a rising shot that went off netminder Jonathan Quick's shoulder and then glanced off the crossbar.

Kovalchuk and Parise, reunited late in the game by head coach Pete DeBoer, had a couple of strong shifts in the third period and Parise had a decent chance on a wraparound. Likewise, Kovalchuk had a decent look in overtime.

But the cold hard facts are, it's not enough.

The Devils power play, on which those elite players factor mightily, went 0-for-4 in Game 2 and is now 0-for-6 in the finals. The unit generated just three shots on goal with the man advantage Saturday night.

"It's embarrassing the way we play. We've got to work harder on the power play. We just think it'll be easy but they got a great penalty kill for a reason," Kovalchuk said. "We've got to be sharp. We've got to work. Support each other everywhere because I don't think we got a shot on net in three power plays."

Kovalchuk appears to be laboring and he did miss a game in the second round against Philadelphia with a bad back. He seems to lack the signature acceleration that makes him one of the game's most dangerous wingers.

But these are not the days for rationalizations.

"You can find all kinds of excuses but we just have to prepare ourselves for Game 3 and we know that it'll be do or die for us," Kovalchuk said. "There's no way we can lose three in a row. It's just unbelievable. We work hard, we create chances but couldn't capitalize."

As for Parise, who was so dynamic in the latter stages of the Eastern Conference finals, he has worked hard but that ever-present work ethic has yet to yield results.

He politely declined to assess his own play in the last two games.

"It doesn't matter what I think. We're down 2-0, so it doesn't matter. We all need to do a better job generating offense. Everyone needs to be better," he said.

In the quiet Devils room after Game 2, it was hard to determine if it was simply disappointment or resignation that permeated the air. Maybe a little bit of both.

History suggests the task facing the Devils is nigh on impossible. Of the 11 teams that have dropped the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals at home, only two have gone on to win a Stanley Cup.

The last time it happened was in 1966.

"It's not as if we got blown out the last two games," Parise said. "We had opportunities to win both of them. Unfortunately, we're down 2-0. It'll be hard, it'll be really hard but we'll give it our best effort."

At this juncture, though, it's not really about effort for the Devils but simple results, results that have been absent through the first two games of this rapidly disappearing Stanley Cup finals.