A three games-to-one deficit should cause teams to be tense. It should cause teams to acknowledge the pressure surrounding the win-or-the-season-ends consequence.
The Devils are facing that scenario heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at the Prudential Center. Instead of feeling pressure, they are embracing the opportunity to make NHL history.
“Why not us?” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer asked rhetorically when the topic of becoming the second team in NHL history to win the Cup after falling behind 0-3 in the Stanley Cup final was brought up during his media availability Friday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
“Our focus hasn’t wavered,” DeBoer said. “Our guys believe we can win three or four games in a row. We’ve had [three- and four-game winning streaks] — I think — from kind of the midpoint of our season on. It’s part of our personnel, part of our leadership in our room. A lot of it is on [Martin Brodeur and] how he plays. They believe. We’re not done until they tell us we can’t play anymore.”
The Devils forced Saturday night’s Game 5 by spoiling the Kings’ Cup coronation Wednesday with a 3-1 win. Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk scored for the Devils and Martin Brodeur was spectacular in making 21 saves.
Most importantly, the goals were concrete proof of what the Devils’ coaches have been emphasizing to their players: Shoot the puck and goals will come. Get to the front of the net for rebounds. Get in Kings goalie Jonathan Quick’s line of sight.
The Devils had 45 shot attempts in Game 4. Elias’ backhand rebound goal of Bryce Salvador’s shot 7:56 into the third gave the Devils a 1-0 lead — their first in the series.
“We’re doing good things,” Clarkson said. “We’re getting on the forecheck; we’re creating offense. We found a way [in] the last game to get a couple by him. That’s what we have to do— get it on the net, get in front of him and make plays.”
Added DeBoer: “Even when we’re losing, even when [New York Rangers’ goaltender Henrik] Lundqvist or Quick [has shut] us out, the opportunities [were] there. I think they believe that. But there’s no doubt that a win changes your mindset and relieves that pressure that you’re finally getting rewarded for honest work.”
The Devils also feel that Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise are overdue to break out. The Devils’ three best offensive players finished with a goal and an assist for two points in Game 4. They had nine shots on goal and a plus-three rating.
“I think they’re very close,” DeBoer said. “They recognize that. If they weren’t getting chances, I’d be concerned. They easily could have a couple goals each and Quick is a big factor in that.”
Quick, who should win the Conn Smythe Award no matter how this series ends due to his stellar play throughout the playoffs, has a 1.00 goals against average and a .958 save percentage against the Devils. He has made 91 saves on 95 shots on goal against the Devils.
“It was open,” Adam Henrique said of his game-winning goal Wednesday night. Henrique beat Quick with a shot high to the goaltender’s stickside.
“The puck came across the ice pretty fast,” Henrique said. David Clarkson set up Henrique with a cross-ice pass that the center kicked to his stick blade before whipping the shot that was the rookie center’s third game-winner in the playoffs. “I knew there might be some space, short-side high, and I was trying to get it there. But on our first goal, a rebound, and Patty was right on the ice. So we got to keep getting pucks to the net, bear down on our chances and execute.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman. Metro will bring you complete Game 5 coverage online Saturday night.