Devils' focus on winning Game 4, not tall task ahead against Kings
The math is bad in New Jersey. No, it has nothing to do with the environment, the tax rates or delays in the ferryboats across the river. Even the Path trains are running on time. But the 3-0 deficit the team faces in the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings seems much bigger than the numbers themselves.
"It's a lot to make up, if you think about it like that," New Jersey forward Zach Parise said, "so we don't."
Yes, one at a time. That's the mantra.
"I don't even like that," said forward Ilya Kovalchuk. "You can't win one game in four games. I think about the next period or the next shift. If you win that one, you have a chance. Four? It's too much."
With a potential season-ending fourth game looming Wednesday night, the Devils spoke from the floor where the NBA's Lakers usually practice, surrounded by championship trophies peeking out through windows and retired numbers hung up on walls. They could draw some solace from the fact that while basketball has no such historic precedent of a series rally from 3-0 and baseball has only the 2004 Red Sox, hockey has three teams that have been down 0-3 and won their series: the Maple Leafs who came back against the Red Wings in the 1942 finals, the Islanders, who trailed Pittsburgh 3-0 in 1975; and, most recently, the Flyers who bounced back from 0-3 down in their Eastern series against the Bruins in 2010.
"I grew up in Ontario," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer. "I heard a lot of stories about the Leafs. I think '42 is a little far back for anything I remember ... We're down 3-0. I don't think we feel we deserve to be in the hole we're in. I think we played better than the situation indicates."
Yes, those Leafs, with Turk Broda manning the pipes and a pair of defensemen named Bingo (Kampman) and Bucko (McDonald), are a historical footnote.
DeBoer knows it can be done now, but so does his rookie star Adam Henrique. He was playing junior hockey for Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League two years ago when his Spitfires lost the first three games of their series to the Kitchener Rangers.
"We felt we were much better," he remembers. "Then we were saying, 'Guys, what are we doing, here? C'mon, we can do this.'"
That may work in juniors. It did work in juniors. The Spitfires won that series and 12 straight games to win the Memorial Cup, as Henrique took home the Wayne Gretzky Trophy as MVP. Now?
"Well the competition is a lot better," he said. "My teammates are better, too, so you know especially with the guys in this room that nothing's impossible."
Sure, but 3-0 in the Stanley Cup finals?
"If you look that far ahead, it's a pretty high mountain to climb," says Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. "We've dealt with adversity all season. This is high adversity."
If you're looking for possible changes from the New Jersey camp on Wednesday, veteran forward Petr Sykora practiced on a line with Dainus Zubrus and Patrik Elias Tuesday afternoon. Jacob Josefson skated as the extra forward, indicating he might be a scratch for Game 4.
"He's an option for us," DeBoer said of Sykora. "We're going to consider him. We haven't scored. He's a guy who doesn't need a lot of looks to stick one in the net. That's what he does best. So he's definitely an option."
It's an especially appealing option for New Jersey's struggling power play, which has failed to score in the series. In 1,017 NHL games, Sykora, 35, has scored 111 of his 323 career goals when his team has been up a man.
Elias also hinted at a couple of details his club needs to work on.
"We've been cycling the puck pretty well," he says, "but we cycle way too long. We don't challenge these guys -- I mean their [defensemen] -- enough. At times you tire yourselves out when you don't get the puck on net. We need to attack, not move it around so much."
Elias also suggested the Devils might do well to rethink their breakout strategy against the Kings.
"We played the Rangers and they get on you all the time, so you have to move the puck quickly," he said. "A lot of times we have more room than we think [against the Kings]. We can afford to try and come out a little cleaner, try to make some plays. We don't always have to paddle it out. We're worried about turnovers at our blueline, but with their patience, they make you turn it over in the neutral zone, even at their blueline. We need to make them step up and come after us."
Without a good bounce or a better recipe, the Devils have to face to futility. They have just two goals in three finals games, and those numbers are only the start.