Ilya Kovalchuk is confident for Game 5. Very, very confident. Will the Devils pick up his positive vibes for tomorrow's important game. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Tom Gulitti has been especially on point today, and this opening to this post from Fire & Ice pretty much sets the stage for the New Jersey Devils in Game 5 tomorrow against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The time for talking is over. The Devils know that.
They know what they say today to the media—or even to each other—will do them little good when the puck is dropped Thursday night for Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
They trail three games to one in the series and know that if they don’t win Thursday their season is over. A loss Thursday will make it three years in a row that they’ve been knocked out in the first round and four years in a row that they’ve been eliminated on home ice.
Too true. However, this makes quotes from the Ilya Kovalchuk today and even after Game 4 stand out even more. For example, here's what Ilya Kovalchuk said as when Rich Chere asked him about his immediate future:
When I asked him today, Kovalchuk said he isn't thinking about the fact that this could be his last game in a Devils sweater.
"No. Because we're going to win tomorrow," he said.
Wow. Uh...that's all I got: wow.
Good answer, I suppose. Update: Upon further reflection, I love this response.
If you're not familiar with how poorly the Devils played in Games 3 and 4, I kindly point you in the direction of my recaps for both the 3-2 OT loss to the Flyers and the recent 4-1 loss to the Flyers. Yet, here's what Kovalchuk had to say after Game 4 per Gulitti:
"The real fans they have to believe in us," Kovalchuk said. "We’re not in an easy position right now and we really need them. It’s going to be a huge game in our building and I hope, not hope, I’m sure we’re going to come back here (for Game 6 on Sunday)."
"You don’t expect it, but we’re still here," Kovalchuk said. "We’re going to take one game a time now and, yeah, we’re going to face elimination, but now it’s a real challenge for us."
"We’ve got a great group of guys here and we really believe in each other," Kovalchuk said. "We’ve just got to take one game at a time and I’m sure we’re going to be in good shape."
Mind you, this comes after suffering their biggest loss in the series. The negative way to look at this is, "How come no one else in the room has this swagger? This hope?" The positive way to look at this is, "After what he was a part of, he's still thinking the highly improbable can be done."
Truth be told, the fans aren't happy about this and a look at the comments in the Game 4 recap say it all. But this one by user Jago
I am probably going to use this word excessively, yet I firmly believe the key word has been mindset. The Devils have not displayed much confidence on the ice. Not much intensity. When we see a situation where we think the team could be inspired to perform better - like after the second period in Game 3 or after the first period in Game 4; the Devils haven't acted to expectations. No, they've unraveled and the Flyers took advantage every time because their mindset wasn't in form. They seemed defeated even before they stepped onto the ice. We know how talented the Devils are but it'll never be effective without the mental part of the game being in the right place. Very little resolve, not a lot of confidence, misplaced aggression, and so forth, plagued their mindset. As a result, they didn't skate as hard, they didn't make the best decisions, and they just couldn't handle a Flyers squad that felt good and more importantly, felt confident as a team.
The mindset problems that I perceive are a big reason why I called out Jamie Langenbrunner on Monday, since he is the captain, surely he plays a big role in motivating the mindset of the team and seeing to that it gets applied on the ice.
Only in Game 2 did they show something resembling resolve and a positive mindset and I don't think it's an accident that was the one game they won so far. Basically, negative thinking will all but guarantee a loss on Thursday night. Positive thinking really is the way to go here, even if you think Kovalchuk's words as being too bold or brash.
To that end, I'm heartened by Kovalchuk's words to the media. To be fair, he certainly was putting in an effort in Game 4. An inefficient effort with more shots blocked (7) than shots on net (6); but he did get the one goal and while avoiding taking stupid calls as well.
With the current 3-1 deficit, the 2000 series has been brought up as a point of reference and hope for the Devils faithful. A veteran from the 2000 Devils that came from a 3-1 series deficit to knock off the Flyers, Patrik Elias revealed the importance of a positive attitude in this Gulitti post:
"You know about the situation when Larry came into the locker room and he didn’t have to do that because we knew that we hadn’t played our best games and I think from that point we started thinking about just what we have to do. Don’t worry about them and just play and trust the game, trust each other that we can get it done," Elias said. "There was a lot of positive attitude."
Elias believes there is reason to have that same positive attitude this time around too. Why?
"We have a team that we feel that we can beat them, so it’s the same thing," Elias said. "We’ve got to make sure that we believe in it. We’ve go to go out and just worry about – as it is, you can’t worry about the end result. You’ve got to go and do your job every shift and believe that we’ll get it done."
Get that? It wasn't just "Kick a garbage can + yell a lot = wins." The mindset of the team was collectively inspired by the actions. The players bought in instead of just saying "Yes" without showing any practical changes if any. It's no wonder that with the team improving their mindset, the performances followed suit.
As much as we see pro hockey players as professionals doing their jobs on the ice; the reality is that they're people too If a worker's mindset is down or where it needs to be or their confidence is shattered, then they aren't likely to do a good job regardless if they are playing in the premier hockey league in the world or just mopping up floors. I know, millions of dollars and playing a sport and all that, but they aren't robots. Just as Elias said, back in that fateful 2000 series, the team didn't have a negative attitude - they couldn't afford to get down on themselves and beat themselves before the Flyers did it on the ice. No, the inspiring speech by Larry Robinson would have been all for nothing if it wasn't for the attitude.
Therefore, I praise these type of comments going into Game 5. I'm certain a Flyers fan or a Devils-hater may see all of these as ripe for the bulletin board. Then again, the Flyers are up 3-1 in the series. Worrying about adding bulletin board material is rather pointless at this juncture. Besides, Jamie Langenbrunner sums it up well with this quote reported by Gulitti:
"We’ve talked about it all day today: Win one hockey game," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "That’s our only focus, our only concern. I’m saying it for the last time. We have to win one hockey game."
That's the only sensible approach. The time is for talk is nearly over, will the Devils make it happen? Here's hoping. It couldn't hurt to mimic Kovalchuk's approach for us, the fans. Devils fans are most likely expecting the worst tomorrow but some are truly hoping for the best and that's admirable given how Game 4 went. Here's user Jago with this comment in the Game 4 recap:
Why is everyone giving up?
Here are a few things to be hopeful about (to preserve your sanity, if nothing else):
1. The Devils have done this before. They have climbed out of a 3-1 deficit to the Flyers. Who was in net for them? None other than Brian [B]oucher.
2. The Devils have shown they can play dominant hockey against this particular Flyers team. The problem comes when the buzzer sounds to end the first period. If they can find the solution, NOW, to that problem, they will have a good chance.
3. 2 of the 3 possible games are home at the Rock. If they can somehow use the next game to gain momentum going to Wachovia and bring game 7 back to the Rock, they’ll have a very good chance.
4. Martin Brodeur, regardless of what boxscore #$%^&‘s are saying, is playing out-of-this-world Vintage Marty style of play. He can steal games for us, but he shouldn’t have to. Let’s hope the rest of the Devils decide to reward him.
5. Gagne and Carter are both out for at least game 5. While they have been quiet for most of the series so far, they’re still very dangerous threats, and the Devils should be glad they’re eliminated.
Can probably come up with more, but those should be enough to give you some hope for more. What I DON’T want to see, are Orange t-shirts and jerseys for Game 5. GO to the Rock, and support the damn Devils!
I'm certain the fans will do their job. I've seen it myself in Games 1 and 2 and taken part in them.
As for the players, well, the time to act is now. I'm convinced that a team mindset that seems depressed, defeated, or despondent about what's happened recently will only lead to a certain loss; positive thinking is the way to go for Game 5. I don't see what else could carry them forward. Let's hope more on the team are thinking like Kovalchuk on Thursday night.