Hard to blame Martin Brodeur for the Devils' failure to win their first Cup since 2003. The Devils wouldn't have gotten out of the first round if not for Brodeur's play. Consider that the first two games of the finals went to the Kings 2-1 in overtime and Brodeur was instrumental in both Devils' wins in the finals -- especially in Game 5. His play even earned him some Conn Smythe consideration heading into Game 6. In the end, Brodeur's play throughout the Devils' unexpected playoff run belied his age -- he turned 40 this spring -- and did little to dissuade anyone from believing he can come back next season and play at a high level.
The Devils' no-name defense stood up quite well to a formidable, balanced Kings attack. The Devils' woes in this final series were not related to their defensive play as they allowed only eight even-strength goals. Bryce Salvador was a revelation the entire spring with his strong play at both ends of the ice and he challenged for the lead among all NHL defensemen in scoring. Marek Zidlicky exhibited some ups and downs in the final series as he committed a number of key turnovers, including an ill-advised pinch in Game 1 that led to Anze Kopitar's overtime winner. But overall the defense corps played with an edge, constantly jumping up in the offensive zone in an effort to try and generate offense. Against higher profile defensive units all spring, they more than held their own.
Well, in the end, the inability of the forwards corps to generate more offense cost the Devils a championship. Credit to the Kings' elite team defense and the play of Jonathan Quick in goal, but still, the Devils will spend a long offseason wondering at some of the chances they failed to convert in this series, especially in Game 2 when they were the better team but came up on the short end of a 2-1 overtime decision. New Jersey produced a cohesive attack through the first two rounds of the playoffs, especially in going 8-3 against the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. But the Devils' offense went dry against the Kings, registering just seven goals through the first five games and one of those was an empty-net marker. Even when head coach Peter DeBoer mixed and matched his top nine forwards, he couldn't find the spark needed to get his team over the hump. After they were shut out twice in the first three games in the conference finals, they rebounded by outscoring and out-chancing the Rangers the rest of the way. That simply didn't happen in the finals against Los Angeles and even when they narrowed the Kings' series lead it was based more on Brodeur's goaltending than the offense leading the charge. Their failure to score early and/or first in games was also an issue and a stark departure from their strong starts in previous rounds. The first two times they did manage to open the scoring in the finals, they won. Particularly disappointing in the final series was Ilya Kovalchuk and captain Zach Parise, who may have played his final game as a Devil as he can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Kovalchuk had only one empty-net goal through five games and Parise had one goal as well. On the plus side, rookie Adam Henrique was a revelation this spring with three game-winners, and Patrik Elias proved he still has gas in the tank with an inspired final series.
Power play: D-
How many ways can you say stunk? Or is that stink, stank, stunk? If there was one glaring deficiency in the Devils' game in the finals it was the inability to take advantage with the man advantage. Game 3 was the turning point in the series and particularly the Devils' blowing a 59-second two-man advantage. Inexcusable. The Devils were 0-for-6 in Game 3, which they lost 4-0 and doomed their chances of derailing the Kings. Through the six games in the finals, the Devils were 1-for-20. Not nearly good enough. Credit the Kings all-world penalty killing unit that was impenetrable throughout the playoffs, but the Devils' have only themselves to blame for not taking advantage of opportunities that could have made this a very different series. While the power play was a key to victories over the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, it was a key factor in the Devils' failure to beat the Kings.
Penalty kill: C
After a regular season that saw the Devils establish a modern record for penalty killing efficiency, the Devils' struggled at times in the postseason to lock down opposing power plays. They gave up two power play markers to a shabby Kings' power play in Game 3 after they'd fallen behind 2-0 and another in Game 4 which didn't hurt as they won 3-1.
Like the Kings, the Devils boast a very aggressive penalty killing unit that created a number of good chances, although they failed to capitalize on them. All in all, the PK didn't hurt the Devils until the first period of Game 6 when the Kings scored three power-play goals.
Although DeBoer couldn't coax enough offense out of his squad to make a push to a championship, he did an exemplary job in keeping his team on track as they came from behind in all four series. The Stanley Cup finals comeback, of course, fell just short. DeBoer wasn't afraid to make changes both with his lineup -- he inserted Henrik Tallinder and Petr Sykora in Game 4 after benching Sykora in favor of Jacob Josefson earlier in the spring -- as well as mixing and matching his top nine forwards. The results were mixed -- still not sure why Sykora earned a return to the lineup -- but throughout the spring his confident manner was mirrored nicely by his squad, and in his first NHL playoff coaching experience DeBoer reinforced that he was the right hire for the Devils last summer.