Behind a goal from Bryce Salvador, New Jersey's overnight offensive juggernaut, and the impressive play of goalie Martin Brodeur, the Devils have taken what was shaping up as a clean sweep and transformed it into a series.
FARBER: BARELY A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEVILS, KINGS
With their Game 5 win, they are now 10-1 in games 4 through 7 this postseason, a mark that probably has as much significance as the Kings' 10-1 road record -- that is to say, not that much. But it may point to New Jersey's toughness.
"We could have packed it in two games ago," Brodeur said. "That's the bottom line. But you see we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup. We're not going to give up."
Midway through the second period of a tied game, with the Devils' forecheck sustaining pressure in the Kings' end, defenseman Salvador drifted to the boards and took a shot from just inside the blue line. The puck deflected off of Kings blueliner Slava Voynov, who was jockeying for position with Devils forward David Clarkson in front, and got past Jonathan Quick for the eventual game-winner. The goal, Salvador's fourth this postseason, put him in a tie with Kings defenseman Drew Doughty for points by a blueliner, a statistic all the more surprising given that Salvador had zero goals and nine assists in 82 games this season.
"He peaked at the right time, if you ask me," Brodeur said, smiling.
It wasn't the prettiest goal. It was more of an unlucky bounce for Los Angeles, which suffered its second straight loss, the most sustained disappointment the Kings have faced during this postseason. In three rounds, they hadn't dropped more than one game to any opponent.
"You know, we're probably saying what they said after Games 1 and 2, where we got breaks and now they did," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "That's how even it is."
Indeed, for the first three games of the series, the Devils believed they were on the right track, that their hard work was just not being rewarded, a sentiment personified by their captain, Zach Parise. Although he has remained, as coach Pete DeBoer says, "the heartbeat of our team," the 27-year-old winger came into Game 5 without a point and was minus-2 for the series.
"I don't measure his game on goals and assists," coach Peter DeBoer said before Saturday's game. "He's creating opportunities. They're eventually going to go in."
Midway through the first period, however, it was Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick who created the opportunity. With his team shorthanded, he came out and tried to backhand a dump-in off the endboards behind his net. But he didn't get enough of it or he misread the angles, and the puck ended up at the far side of an empty net, where Parise was able to slip it in and break his scoring drought.
Though the Devils' captain has insisted during the last two weeks that he isn't frustrated, he pounded his fist against the glass like a player who has been waiting for a goal.
Parise's score was also the Devils' first power play goal in 16 opportunities, and the first time they had beaten Quick in the first period. But virtually no Devils lead this spring has been safe. Recall earlier in the postseason they had given up 3-0 leads against both Florida and New York. And early in the second period, Kings winger Justin Williams evened the score. He rushed down the right boards, cut into the middle and with Devils defenseman Mark Fayne screening, snapped a high shot to Brodeur's blocker side. It was the only soft spot for the Devils netminder, who looked sharper than ever.
At 40, Brodeur deflects the expectations of ageists as well as he deflects shots. Even though there have been times during this postseason that Brodeur's sharpness was called into question, such as when he was pulled in Game 3 of the Devils' first-round series against Florida, he has been better as the games have gotten more important. Saturday night, he made the timely saves, and moved post-to-post with ease.
In the second period, with the game tied 1-1, Brodeur stuffed Kings winger Dustin Penner, who was looking to go wide on a breakaway. Brodeur was smothering loose puck near the blue paint, and of course, using his unparalleled stickhandling skills to disrupt the flow of the Kings' offense. In his 20th season, the certain Hall of Fame netminder has said that he feels less pressure now than he had in years past.
"Now, I sit back and I don't feel I need to make a difference every single game," Brodeur told SI earlier this spring, after the Devils dismantled the Flyers in the second round. "I just want to go out there and be solid for these guys.... For whatever reason, I'm less nervous now than I was, maybe, five or six years ago. I just feel fortunate to be in this position at my age. Because for me, that could be it -- not to play, but to be in the situation to do something great in the playoffs."
The Devils still have a long way to go, but as this series goes back to Los Angeles, they at least have a chance to do something great: to push this series to a decisive seventh game.
Unlike a few days ago, that possibility now looks a lot more likely..