The New Jersey Devils won Game 4 by a score of 3-1 to avoid the sweep. Tonight, the New Jersey Devils made history with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. For the first time since 1945, a series where one team was up 3-0 has been extended to six games. This has only happened twice in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals, and it is the first time to happen in the modern, post-expansion era. As interesting as that may be, the fact that the Devils will play in a Game 6 at all is impressive enough.
The most impressive Devil tonight was Martin Brodeur. From beginning to end, he was on point. He read plays well, he got his body in front of everything, and he had his usual share of bailout saves ranging from a Jarret Stoll breakaway to Justin Williams right at the crease on a one-timer to the last minute or so of desperation from the Kings. Los Angeles attempted 60 shots on him, 26 got through, and Brodeur stopped all but one. The lone goal allowed definitely wasn't one to be ashamed of. It was a perfectly-placed wrister by Williams in the high slot to the top corner past a moving (screening?) Dustin Brown in addition to Brodeur. Other than that, Brodeur was doing everything he could do to keep the Devils in it. His play in Game 5 was clearly his among his best performances of this year's playoffs, such as Games 4 and 7 against Florida and Game 6 against New York. He was sensational.
Thankfully, he was sensational since the Devils were outplayed for most of the game. Again, the Kings got 26 shots on net and 60 total attempts. They cut down on the misses to 14, though they got blocked more than they did in Game 4. The Devils paled in comparison. They only attempted 38 shots on Jonathan Quick and only 19 got through. It was no-contest at even strength. The Devils' Fenwick (all shot attempts without blocks) ended at -14, their Corsi ended at -20, and in just shots on net, it was 15-22 L.A. It's very hard to win hockey games when getting out-done on offense and in possession. It requires some good luck (e.g. posts, a goaltender coughing up the puck behind the net) and some excellent goaltending; and the Devils had both tonight.
New Jersey struggled to get into the Kings' end and get set up on offense. Sometimes, they had to go for a dump-and-change. Sometimes, they had problems moving the puck through the neutral zone. Sometimes, a bad decision was made. To be fair, the Kings were very well organized on defense, which gave the Devils problems. However, five games in and you'd think the skaters would know how to go against them. Tonight, only one line seemed to get it: the Travis Zajac line, with six shots at evens. And even they had some problems. that aside, if the offense struggles to consistently attack, then the other team is going to take advantage. The Kings did exactly that for most of all three periods, especially the third period where they out-shot the Devils 9-3. To be blunt, the Devils stole this victory.
I'm perfectly fine with that for now. After all, this the Stanley Cup Finals and the Devils are on the brink of elimination. Getting the result is paramount. That said, we really can't be confident in the Devils going forward if their overall offensive performance and the team's possession doesn't improve and fast. They don't necessarily have to dominate them, but keeping pace would be a huge step forward given the last two games. Fortunately, they have a chance to improve and a legendary goaltender who basically proven to the world that he can still be counted on with his performance tonight.
For the opposition's point of view, please check out Jewels from the Crown. Should you want more details, please continue after the jump for further thoughts about tonight's win.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: See all three goals and a lot of saves by Brodeur in this highlight video from NHL.com:
The "C" Word: I'm sure between now and Monday, we'll see a lot of the "C" word: clutch. That Brodeur has proven that he can be clutch. That at age 40, Brodeur can turn up his game as if it was a switch which is ever so wonderful.
Don't listen to that. Pay it no mind. Brodeur played very well tonight and deserves a lot of praise. Especially to those who feel he's just washed up or too old or whatever the criticism is now. However, he's been very good in the playoffs. His even strength save percentage was right up there with Quick's going into the Stanley Cup Finals. He has only been beaten by more than two goals in a game once in the Finals. We know he's been more than solid since the All Star Break. We know he's had a lot of success in the postseason, too. I don't think Brodeur "turned it up" so much as he "kept on keeping on." Throw in a few posts and flubbed shots by the Kings and there's your performance. It was great, I can agree he stole a win, but let's not use the "C" word.
Travis Stands Out: Zajac had a far better game than I thought tonight as I watched it. I knew he had a really good chance in the latter part of the second period right in front, forcing a point-blank stop by Quick. I didn't realize he had five shots on net. As one would expect, he led the team in shots tonight. In addition to that, Zajac was a positive possession player. His Corsi was a +2, his Fenwick was a +1, and he was on the ice for only one shot against - the goal by Williams. He did go 10-for-20 on draws, which isn't bad but also not all that good. Still, Zajac had a much better game than I thought.
His line was the team's best at evens tonight - well, sort of. Given the team finished -20 in Corsi, that does not say much. Zajac was positive, Zach Parise got three shots and a power play goal but finished at -8 Corsi, and Ilya Kovalchuk only got one shot on net (a power play shot on net, which forced a flashy glove save) but finished at -5 Corsi. Ideally, I'd like to see better possession numbers with Parise and more shots on net from Kovalchuk; but given how the other lines did, I'll take it. The threesome moved well together as they sometimes gave Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell - their most common match-up at evens - problems. Plus, the three combined for 40% of all shots at evens: 6 out of 15. Compared to the rest of the team, they were good. In general, I want to see more from them.
Cringe-Worthy Performances: The unit of Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, and Petr Sykora started the game pinned in their own end by the Anze Kopitar line. It turned out to be a sign of things to come as the trio managed to struggle with keeping the puck, moving it forward, and occasionally clearing it out of their own zone. Some of their shifts where they were pinned back could have been accompanied by this song.
Zubrus had an awful giveaway early that gave Justin Williams a chance to beat Brodeur, only to be denied by the post. He went on to play like he did earlier in the series: struggling along the boards, seemingly in the wrong place a lot, and so forth. Elias was lost at times and his decision making was all over the place. Sykora showed the Rock why he was scratched in the Eastern Conference Finals with his play tonight. He was just a passenger without the puck and did very little with it. His one shot wasn't bad; but one good moment out of several middling-to-poor shifts simply isn't good enough. Just ask Mattias Tedenby. Like the young winger, Peter DeBoer had to bench him in the third period which led to some new combinations.
That line's play also led to a lot of mixing up of the match-ups. It was almost to a point where I want to say DeBoer just threw up his hands and rolled his lines. As a result, it's not so much that one line picked on them but that almost everyone (I'm going to guess Mike Richards line, which finished negative tonight, somehow) did.
On defense, the Mark Fayne and Andy Greene pairing really suffered tonight. Throughout the postseason, they were like Formula 1 drivers of possession. Tonight, they were swarmed and simply run over. Greene was a -18 in Corsi and Fayne was a -17. They weren't necessarily awful in their own end (though there were miscues); but when they stepped on the ice, bad things tended to happen. The Kopitar and Dwight King lines ate them for dessert. Greene stuck out to be a bit more since he got beat by Williams prior to his shot and his main power play contribution was unsuccessfully flailing at Richards, which helped create a shorthanded rush. That rush was stopped by Marek Zidlicky in an impressive, physical fashion. Nevertheless, Greene didn't look good on either play and as the Corsi indicates, the pairing really wasn't effective as they have been tonight.
Rollercoaster: That reminds me, Zidlicky was all over the place in my view. He was a positive possession player at +3 Corsi, so he was a net positive. However, some of his decisions ranged from brilliant (e.g. going for a hit on Richards to snuff out the shorthanded chance) to completely bizarre (e.g. pick your favorite "across, not up" clearing attempt). I've seen him close out wingers, win a puck from the boards, and then duff the clearance. I've seen him make the right decision to jump up on a play and then somehow not make a sharp-angle attempt at Quick to make the decision mean something. Overall, it wasn't as bad of a night that I thought at the rink.
Smooth Like a Michael McDonald Jam: One of the reasons why Zidlicky may have been a net positive was the work of Henrik Tallinder. I really liked what he did tonight. He didn't panic, he handled the puck well, and he finished with the highest Corsi value on the team with +5. He wasn't just good for someone who hasn't played in months, he was simply good. Hopefully, the other defensemen will follow Tallinder's lead.
Salvador is Magic?: Explain this one to me: a 36-year old defensive defenseman who's not fast, doesn't drive the play forward (he didn't tonight at -8 Corsi), who tends to take a bad penalty here and there (he did tonight with a high-stick on Simon Gagne), and came into this postseason with 26 career goals and 104 points in 742 regular season and playoff games now has four goals and fourteen points with a game-winning wrist shot from the point. Oh, and he finished tied with Parise with the second most shots on net in the game with three. And he was named the second star of the game by the game's attending media. He's just hot right now to the point where I wonder whether it's simply magical. Appreciate it for what it is, except when he does inappreciable things, I guess.
This Stat Surprised Me: Drew Doughty ended up with only one shot on net. I swore he had more live given that he kept getting the puck open at the point. I guess not. Still, when he gets it, I'm always a little concerned because I know he can either rifle a strong shot on net or make the right decision to an open player for a killer pass. At over 25 minutes of ice time, he was a boss again.
Dasterdly Depth: The Devils' bottom two lines didn't play all that well. The Adam Henrique line had some good moments, but for the most part, they were defending (all negative in Corsi) and not generating shots. In fact, Henrique had one shot on net and that was it for the unit of him, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and David Clarkson.
The fourth line wasn't so bad, but they're a fourth line. Therefore, they got pinned back real bad on some shifts, to a point where all three were -4 or worse in Corsi. We did get to see some interesting sights on others, like Stephen Gionta boxing out Kopitar in the Kings' end for a puck in the third period. They generated the best scoring chance not by the Zajac unit of the night, with Ryan Carter getting a free shot in the slot in the second period. Alas, Quick got a piece of the rising shot to deny a third Devils goal. Still, the fourths got one more shot as a unit than the thirds or seconds with two.
To say it another way, the Devils' offense was bad tonight. Yes, one of the top lines did some productive work. The other three lines didn't and that contributed to the Kings owning the puck and pressing the issue much more often than the Devils. It contributed to why the Devils only got a combined seven shots in the first and third periods; the second period was better in general across the board, but that faded in the third. It contributed why the Kings' best lines in terms of shots and productions were the Kopitar and Stoll lines (Stoll: 3 SOG, King: 4 SOG). It contributed as to why the Devils needed to steal a win.
All Gifts Are Final: The Devils did score their first power play goal of the Stanley Cup Finals. No, it wasn't the result of a great set-up or a great shot or even a breakdown in coverage. It was the result of a big mistake by Quick. Parise wanted to hit Elias, who was on the other side of the ice, with a pass so Elias can enter the zone with the puck. Yes, a carry-in on a zone entry, what a concept. Anyway, Parise missed him but the puck sailed in on an angle. Quick decided he needed to play this puck at the goal line and then figured on dropping it safely behind his net. Instead, it caromed off the back endboards and popped out by the left post. Parise, who was skating really hard as the pass missed it's target, got to the post before Doughty and stashed the puck in before Quick could get his left leg pad across. It was an excellent hustle play off an error by Quick, who's usually good with the puck.
Overall, the power play effort wasn't all that impressive. Sure, they converted the first and got a really good Kovalchuk shot on the second; but overall, it was three shots in about 3:29 with plenty of clearances in between by the Kings. Like in Game 3, they struggled to enter the Kings' end and get set up; though they were better on their second advantage as opposed to their first. They would have had a shorthanded shot if it wasn't for Zidlicky and Richard's bad decision to cut inside with the puck.
At least the penalty kill was more cut-and-dry. Brodeur made four good stops on the Kings' two power plays; the Devils did get a shorthanded shot on net; and they got enough clearances. They could have had more if it weren't for their defenders blocking it with aplomb at the point. The Devils were pinned back for quite awhile on the first one - the delay of game minor for Fayne - but they got out of it eventually. Again, thanks in part to Brodeur.
Frustration Factor: Anyone who wanted to know when the hate would show up in this series got it tonight. As time went on, there were more scrums, more jibber-jabber after whistles, and some more violent plays. It manifested after one big pile on in the third period in front of Brodeur, where King somehow got Brodeur's pad and jersey over Brodeur's head. It showed it was for real when another pile-on happened in Quick's crease, leading to matching minors for Dustin Penner and Ponikarovsky.
This is understandable from the Kings' point of view. They've had the puck more, they've been pressing hard on offense, and they've been playing well. The Kopitar and Stoll lines were doing a lot of good things, Doughty was a boss, and Matt Greene & Alec Martinez were very useful at getting the play forward. The Devils struggled to move the puck and generate offense - yet after all of that, they lost 2-1. Throw in the facts they were losing another chance to clinch the Cup, the possibility to end it all with a perfect road record, and both teams have been throwing their weight around with hits, and the frustration mounted. And so, the Devils responded as well. It's something I hope doesn't become a trend as playing whistle-to-whistle is a smart idea in general.
It may not matter if the refs were as lenient as they were tonight. I can understand not calling a high-stick on Richards for hitting Anton Volchenkov in the face as Volchenkov's face was low and the stick came up on a natural follow through. While Volchenkov was cut, it wasn't going to be a call. I don't understand how Greene got nothing for his hit on Elias into the boards as it was away from the play and he appeared to contact him high. Fortunately for the Devils, both players continued to play after each incident. But both teams got away with hooks, holds, kind-of late hits, and other such infractions. Brad Watson and Dan O'Halloran wanted to let the players play, so they only whistled the obvious such as Fayne throwing a puck over the glass in his own end to Dustin Brown grabbing a stick while on offense. Since they weren't strict, the players had more free reign to do as they felt, and that added to the tension on the ice.
Whether or not we'll see it in Game 6 is unknown. Given Darryl Sutter's press conference after Game 5, I wouldn't be surprised if it continued.
The Pressure Is Not On Los Angeles: One of the common statements I heard leaving the Rock is that the pressure is on the Kings now. After all, they now have lost twice for the first time in the playoffs, they lost their first game on the road and they have squandered two chances to eliminate the Devils. With the series going back to Los Angeles, the onus is on them to perform really well in front of their fans unless they want to really risk an epic choke job. They're now going to six games in this series. They are facing some real adversity. I can see why some would say the Kings are under pressure.
I can't agree with that notion. The pressure remains on the Devils. For starters, they're the ones on the brink of elimination. The Kings can afford to have a game where they don't get the bounces or even a total stinker. The Devils can't, otherwise they're done. In addition, the Devils were not the better team in Game 4 or tonight in Game 5. They came away with wins and as much as I'm grateful for it, the Kings have been performing like a team should want to perform: initiating the play, good puck movement, out-shooting and attempting the other team, and holding strong on defense (19 shots against is really, really good). Outside of regulation in Game 2, I can't say the Devils have been the better team on the ice in this series. They're doing it the hard way and with that comes additional pressure as a single mistake or wasted opportunity can come back to haunt the team. Lastly, history remains on the Kings' side. While only two teams up 3-0 have seen a Game 6, teams that were up 3-0 in the series remain 29-1 and one of those two teams (Toronto in 1945) did win the whole thing despite seeing 3-0 turn into 3-3.
Don't get me wrong. I'm very happy the team won Game 5. I'm even happier the team is playing a Game 6 at all. I'm hopeful for Monday. However, I don't see how the Devils can keep winning like they did in the last two games. They need to improve their puck movement through the neutral zone (I suggest being more direct), get away from dump-and-chase, and to make more attempts when there's a lane to the net, even at sharp angles. The pressure is on New Jersey to perform better than they have been should they want to extend the series one more time.
One Final Thought: But, seriously, why not?
That's my take on tonight's 2-1 win in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Now I want to know yours. What was your opinion of Brodeur's performance tonight? Was he just really, really good or was he rather phenomenal? How about the skaters, how did you think they did? Would you agree that Zajac had a good game? Would you agree that the Elias line was poor? Would you replace Sykora for Game 6 and who would you replace him with? What do you think the Devils should do to get more shots, more attempts, and more possession against the Kings? Can the Devils rebound from this performance and give Brodeur some more help? Will they? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments. Thank you to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.