NEWARK – There is absolutely no doubt about it. The pressure in this Stanley Cup final has shifted in a big way to the Los Angeles Kings. The New Jersey Devils are loose and confident, secure in the knowledge that all they have to do now is give it the old college try. But for the Kings, it is their Stanley Cup to lose.
Should the Devils be able to pull out another victory in Game 5, the dynamic of the series changes dramatically. It’s something the Kings want to prevent, the way they have in two of the three series they’ve won in these playoffs. There certainly isn’t a sense of overconfidence with the Kings. In fact, most of them feel they’re extremely lucky to be in the position they hold going into Game 5.
It’s funny how a productive run can change a team’s perspective. If someone had told the Kings just after they slipped into the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference that they’d have a 3-1 lead going into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, they would have been thrilled. Even though they’ve won three and the power play has finally come to life, the Kings are still looking to be better.
“We’re happy we’re up 3-1, but we’re certainly not satisfied with the way we’ve played,” said winger Justin Williams. “We don’t feel we’ve showed the Devils what we’re capable of doing.”
To be sure, the Devils have had control of the puck in the Los Angeles zone far longer than the other way around, but it hasn’t exactly translated into the Devils creating a bunch of great scoring chances, or capitalizing on the ones they do. With the exception of Game 4, the Kings have killed the Devils on the transition game and have been able to dictate the pace largely because they’ve scored the first goal of the game in each of their victories.
“There’s two great teams out there and you’re not going to do exactly what you want on the ice every single time you’re out there,” Williams said. “There’s another team battling for the Stanley Cup just as hard as you are. They’re not going to just let us play our hockey game. We have to find it and impose it on them.”
As both coaches have pointed out, the margin between the two teams has been razor-thin in three of the four games in the series. That the Kings are in a position to win the Cup Saturday night is a testament to their goaltending and ability to make big plays at crucial times in the game. But as far as some of the other areas of the game that might not be evident to the casual eye, they feel they can be much better.
“We know how we’ve played in the playoffs and in this series it hasn’t been good enough,” said Kings center Jarret Stoll. “We see that we can be way quicker, way stronger and we can win more battles. I don’t think we have gotten to Brodeur as well as we’d like.”
The same could have been said for the Devils and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick until Game 4. For all the possession time they had in the Kings zone, the Devils were unable to get Quick out of his comfort zone and took far too many shots that hit him directly in the crest. That changed in Game 4 when the Devils were able to penetrate the zone much more effectively, in part because they decided to start making plays at the Kings blueline, but they were also much more net directed. In fact, they were a little too net-directed on the Patrick Elias goal that opened the scoring in Game 4, according to Quick.
“You’d like to see the calls go both ways,” said Quick, perhaps lobbying to the officials to be more vigilant about goaltender interference. “Sometimes they don’t. It’s a quick game, stuff happens.”
Both teams are looking at Game 5 as an opportunity to make something special happen. The Devils are eager to close the gap in the series and make things very, very uncomfortable for the Kings, while the Kings are looking to end any semblance of hope the Devils might have. For the Devils, it would be another step toward climbing out of what has been a daunting, but not impossible hole.
“Someone said the ’42 Leafs (the only team in history to come back from an 0-3 deficit in the final),” DeBoer said. “You know it’s going to happen again, so why not us? You’re not going to go 200 years without someone else doing it. So it’s been long enough, it might as well be us.”
The Kings, on the other hand, can look at the situation just as fatalistically.
“If we have to get on a plane and go to L.A.,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown, “we might as well take something with us.”
TIME TO FOCUS
DeBoer had the undisputed line of the day on Friday. When asked about his team’s focus, he said that it couldn’t have possibly been tested more than in Game 4, when Taylor Stevens, a Toronto-born adult film actress, was seated in the first row behind the Devils bench.
“Focus? I thought that question was going to be about the lady behind our bench last game,” he said. “You saw my 100 percent focus on the game. That’s discipline, I’ll tell you.”
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.