LOS ANGELES -- You're the New Jersey Devils, looking for answers as you stare into the abyss of failed power plays, a goalie you can't beat, changing forward combinations that aren't generating goals and a 3-0 deficit against the Los Angeles Kings.
Your avowed confidence seems as real as a Hollywood smile. After a 4-0 loss and 22 fruitless shots against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped every one of them, after your third straight defeat in the Stanley Cup finals, what do you do now?
"We played right to the final buzzer," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "I don't care what the scoreboard said. We battled right to the buzzer, and we'll do the same Wednesday night."
There must be more to it. The Devils failed on all six of their power play chances, including a five-on-three during the first period that included a double minor to Jeff Carter for high-sticking.
"The power play is getting some chances," said Devils captain Zach Parise, "but we have to get Quick to move where he doesn't want to. He's seeing shots; he's stopping shots."
Throughout the game, DeBoer moved players on and off the struggling power play. DeBoer kept Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk together for a good chunk of time -- with Kovalchuk at the point. But he also moved Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique onto the top power-play unit, hoping somehow to generate the magic formula to produce scoring chances.
Though Kovalchuk insisted he was not hobbled and that his reportedly injured back is perfectly fine, he has passed up a number of shots from the point and missed the net on several others, yet DeBoer seems reluctant to move him off the point, and Kings defensemen have been able to pack in their defense a little more instead of challenging him aggressively.
"Change nothing," Kovalchuk said. "Work hard, good things will happen. We can be more patient, maybe, but he makes good saves ... I try to shoot the puck, like always. It just didn't go in. I can shoot the puck. I have to."
Parise also acknowledged the Kings have been able to move the puck too easily against New Jersey's forecheck that has been generally successful in its previous playoff series.
"When we've dumped the puck in and run the right routes, their D do a good job of turning it back," Parise said. "We can't give them as much space. We need to get on them quicker. ... We have a lot of end-zone time, a lot of cycles, but we're just not scoring."
That's especially important because the Devils failed to tire out the Kings defensemen who kill penalties. Two of the backliners in L.A.'s rotation, Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez, did not see the ice when the Kings were short-handed.
Yes, the Devils need to be more opportunistic. On their first goal at 5:40 of the second period, the Kings had three whacks at a puck that Brodeur seemed to have tucked under his left pad. He stopped the first two by Dwight King, but not the third by Martinez.
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"I thought it was under his goal stick and he had it there," said David Clarkson, who was on the ice, "but if the ref saw it, that means it's loose. It's not that one play, though. One play didn't cost us the game."
It was several. In nine minutes of power-play time, the Devils managed just three shots. The extra minutes seemed to leave their players gassed. When Dustin Brown fed Anze Kopitar for a conversion in the slot for L.A.'s second goal midway through the second period, both Kovalchuk and Parise were late getting back into the play.
Kovalchuk even looked pained in the first four minutes of the third period, when he tried a cross-ice pass in his own zone that ended up on the stick of Kopitar. The Kings' forward tried a lead pass for Justin Williams cutting through the slot, but the pass led him too far. Shortly after, the Devils were called for their first penalty of the game.
The Kings then broke an 0-for-15 slump between both teams in the finals on the power play. The Devils had a chance to clear midway though the advantage, but Dainius Zubrus sent a weak pass to the point, where it was gloved down by Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell. Soon after Mitchell kept the puck in, Jeff Carter, with a sniper's touch, lifted a free puck in the slot into a sliver of daylight behind Brodeur to make the score 3-0.
Short-handed again a minute later, the Devils made life much too easy for the Kings on their next rush, allowing Drew Doughty to speed up the ice and then letting Mark Fayne split between a pair of Devils defensemen before he snapped a 20-footer past Brodeur, increasing the margin to 4-0.
In the postgame news conference, DeBoer scoffed at a question regarding the ineffectiveness of his stars, Parise and Kovalchuk.
"I'm not disappointed in our team," he said.
But Brodeur's evaluation was more telling. It sounded innocent enough, but in a world where players are careful not to point fingers at teammates, Brodeur seemed to urge his forwards to do better when talking about Quick.
"He's just not seeing great quality chances," Brodeur said.