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Stanley Cup Final: Devils Pushed to the Cliff's Edge

There's no Clifford on the Los Angeles Kings’ roster.

Therefore, there's nobody to challenge the Devils with the corny gag line: "My name is Cliff -- drop over some time!"

No need for that bit of humor anyhow since coach Darryl Sutter's sextet is taking care of Cup Final business with dispatch, ill-humor and a push of the Devils to an edge of the playoff precipice. Yes, they have nearly been dropped over the side and on Wednesday night it could be finis for Martin Brodeur, Inc. 

The Kings’ 4-0 victory over the Garden Staters at Los Angeles has thrust New Jersey to the edge; one loss away from a sweep and the first Stanley Cup to be captured by the 45-year-old Tinseltown franchise.

A team of Hollywood screenwriters could not have scripted a better storyline than that enacted on Monday night by crack goalie Jonathan Quick and his scorers Alec Martinez, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams.    

Having lost just two games since the postseason tourney began, the Kings are now an immodest 15-2 and well-ensconced at the top of hockey's Believe It Or Not book.

While the Devils are not officially kaput, The Maven was a mere 10-years-old when the one and only team rebounded from a three-game deficit to win Lord Stanley's mug. That was the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs who topped Detroit's Red Wings when the National Hockey League was a mere six-team circuit.

It wasn't that the Devils lacked effort in Game 3. They fought right down to the end, but their chances were deflated by an errant referee's call against them and a power play that was bereft of energy and clarity.

If an aspect of a team could sabotage its own cause, it was New Jersey's power play which went oh-for-six through two periods with precious few truly dangerous chances when the game still was redeemable. Time and again, the seemingly injured Ilya Kovalchuk was unable to make the right play. Meanwhile, the Kings scored on each of their first two power-play advantages in the third period.

"We killed the five-on-three in the first period," said penalty-killing ace Jared Stoll, "and that was the difference. If we play our game on Wednesday, we can take them."

Based on play in Game 3, Stoll could very well be right. But clearly, the Devils got a bad break on the Kings’ first goal. Martin Brodeur made three saves in succession on the play and had the puck safely under his pads. It merited a whistle, but referee Dan O'Halloran failed to halt play as was warranted in such a situation. Martinez then jammed the puck free and the Devils were behind to stay.

"I'd like to get an explanation for it," said DeBoer clearly miffed over the whistle that never was blown at a critical 0-0 point in the game. "It's not that our guys aren't trying; the pucks are just not going in."

One formula for winning -- at least in the original pair of contests at The Rock -- was to score the game's first goal. New Jersey enjoyed a five-on-three first period one-minute advantage, but immediately blew their chances on a lost faceoff to Stoll. By the time they finally got into sync, the Devils took a penalty and destroyed a magnificent chance to go ahead for the first time in the series. 

Careless passing, wide shooting and a good Kings penalty-kill turned a Devils threat into a devilishly wasted chance to assert themselves. After watching one period and a wasted Devils pass that should have been a dangerous shot on goal, Hall of Fame witness Wayne Gretzky said it succinctly, "If you want to win, you've got to shoot the puck."

The Devils have no one to blame but their abject lack of execution. All things considered, it was an ignominious opening period for the visitors, allowing LA to exit without any goal damage and a zip-all tie which, all things considered, Sutter was happy to accept. 

"Our penalty-kill won the game for us," said Sutter.

The scoreless first 20 minutes gave way to a middle frame featuring a concerted Devils attack almost completed by fourth-liner Ryan Carter and then Stephen Gionta. Brodeur next was under siege, but gloved a puck that nearly went over him and into the twine. 

For the first few minutes, New Jersey kept pace with their opponents. Dainius Zubrus was at the doorstep, but his shot was low and easily blocked by Jonathan Quick who followed with a point blank stop on David Clarkson who failed to go high against the on-his-knees goalie. It was the key Devils miss that was game's turning point.

On the counterattack, the Kings went ahead after Brodeur made successive saves and appeared to have the puck covered under his pads -- worthy of a play-stoppage -- when Martinez whacked the covered puck into the net resulting in a long Brodeur beef with the zebras but to no avail.

"We tried to bounce back," said Steve Bernier, "and we did try, but we couldn't beat Quick."

Another Devils power play was exploded by the Devils themselves, as they failed to gain meaningful control until the advantage expired because the visitors continued to shoot low making life easier for Quick. 

Given yet another power play in the middle of the period, the Devils called a timeout to try a new look via the drawing board. All it accomplished was a brief faceoff win, but after that the Devils did just about what they've always done on the Double P -- miss-plays followed by easy Kings clears; and not even one dangerous assault. 

As the second period wound down, all signs suggested that DeBoer's boys needed another tank of gas or if they were running an electric car; a big bolt of electricity. Sure enough, a Parise attack fizzled and an LA counterattack resulted in Kopitar's killer goal after the Kings ace outskated the Devils captain who was trying to hustle back in time.

If ever a single play summed up the entire Final series this was it; Devils miss on offense; Kings hit on the return trip. Nothing about New Jersey's striking force put fear in the LA defense. A Kings penalty late in the period produced a disheartening -- sound familiar -- Devils disappointment. The confidence factor just wasn't there anymore for New Jersey.

The third period offered no solace to the Devils, who at least continued pressing in pursuit of a blank-breaker before Los Angeles drew its first power play and first PP goal, thanks to a Jeff Carter conversion from ten feet out. It was quickly followed by a second PP and in no time at all Williams converted a rebound for an insurmountable four-goal lead.

Left with one more opportunity to get off the schneid and return to New Jersey on Saturday, DeBoer could accept The Maven's idea which I proposed before Game 3. Insert fresh legs. Henrik Tallinder, Adam Larsson and Petr Sykora. All are healthy and available. Certainly, the lineup presented for three games has produced only two goals.

Nothing ventured; nothing gained -- especially when your club is one push away from playoff extinction. 

DeBoer believes in his players and their effort but they must find the air behind Quick.

The bad news? They’re down 0-3.

The good news? They're not out yet!


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