The New Jersey Devils did not win their fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history. The New Jersey Devils did not become the third team since the 1945 Red Wings to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Finals. The New Jersey Devils did not become the second team since the 1942 Maple Leafs to win the Cup after being down 3-0. The Devils were eliminated tonight by the Los Angeles Kings in Game 6 in a 6-1 blowout loss. The Devils simply melted down from early on and never got it together. The Kings win the series in six games and are the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.
As the score suggests, the Devils were just so very, very, very bad tonight. From the first few minutes, the Kings had a handful of loose pucks around the crease that the Devils somehow scrambled to get. The turning point of the game was a nasty, dangerous, and reckless hit from behind by Steve Bernier on Rob Scuderi. Not only did Scuderi get blown up into the boards, blood was drawn - making it a five minute major and a game misconduct. A completely deserved penalty for a completely mindless play by Bernier. Their penalty killing woes torched them early and it ended up deciding the game in the first period as the Kings scored three times. Should we blame Bernier for putting the Devils in that situation or the penalty killers for getting picked apart? The answer is both. Feel free to disagree, but either way the Devils ended up down 3-0 with five minutes left in the first period. Their response? No shots on net except for a Patrik Elias attempt on a rebound in the slot that got the goalpost.
If that seemed like a lame response to you, then you'd be right. The Devils would follow that with even worse play. Less than 90 seconds into the second period, the Kings gain the zone and Anton Volchenkov runs into a linesman, who's in the way. That sucked, but that wasn't the play. No, Jeff Carter coming off the bench got a free pass to the high slot, rifled a high shot (possibly ramped up by Zach Parise's stick?) and it beat Martin Brodeur to make it 4-0 just 1:30 into the second. The Devils response to that would be a lot of blown passes, an easy double-minor on Bryce Salvador for high-sticking and cutting Dwight King, the PK unit getting gassed on said power play, a handful of giveaways, and somehow six shots on net. The only silver lining was Adam Henrique popping in a rebound off a Petr Sykora shot for the Devils' lone goal. The Devils got a power play not long after and proceeded to do nothing with it as to help ensure there would be no comeback.
Of course, there wouldn't be a comeback. How can a team comeback from 4-1 without shots on net? How can a team get shots on net without attempts? How can a team get attempts without good passes going forward? How can a team go forward at all without clear stops on defense without giveaways? The Devils struggled at all aspects of the game in all situations as the Kings were just better at everything from puck movement to shooting attempts to getting away with questionable hits. The Kings made it 5-1 with a late empty netter by Trevor Lewis in a last-ditch attempt to make something happen and then 6-1 when Matt Greene floated one past Brodeur. Those goals were just icing on the pile of garbage the Devils brought out in their performance tonight. I don't think they could have done worse even if they tried.
Tonight, the Devils got out-shot 25-18, got no power play shots on net in two opportunities, allowed 3 goals on 13 power play shots by L.A., and only got to positive puck possession values at evens late in the game. The Devils put up a stinker in Game 6 and it doomed them since they couldn't afford one as they were on the brink of elimination since last Monday. The dream run of the New Jersey Devils ended tonight in Los Angeles. Tonight's blowout loss was like dumping a bucket of cold water on someone asleep. The dream ended abruptly and harshly and the target ends up all wet wondering what in the world just happened.
I do have to congratulate the Los Angeles Kings. Without delving into numbers, they were the superior team in this series. They sliced through two excellent teams in Vancouver and St. Louis; they overcame the hot goaltending of Mike Smith of Phoenix; and they out-performed a rolling Devils team. The Devils gave them a tougher fight than their last three playoff opponents, but the Kings prevailed again. They fully deserved this win, their other three wins in this series, and the title of being the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions.
Please visit Jewels from the Crown should you want a Kings perspective, to celebrate their win, or to congratulate them for their team's success. For more thoughts on tonight's loss, please continue on after the jump.
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: Well, these are highlights if you're a Kings fan. Here's the video from NHL.com. Devils fans, you may want to avert your eyes.
On Bernier: A lot of fans are mad at Steve Bernier right now. I can't blame him. I don't have any sympathy for a guy who sees the opposing player's numbers and decides he needs to crush him. Yes, prior to that hit, Jarret Stoll hit Stephen Gionta from behind. Yes, the refs missed that. That does not excuse nor does it absolve nor does it necessarily prevent Bernier from doing what he did. Normally, a boarding play that draws blood will be given a five minute major. It was true when Colin White did it two seasons ago in a dreary game against the Islanders, it was true tonight. Moreover, it's the kind of hit that hurts people and it's the kind of hit that shouldn't belong in the game. It was absolutely worth an ejection.
Did the Bernier penalty guarantee three power play goals allowed? No. But he put his team in a very bad situation given that the Kings started off the game with their legs and with several attempts on net. I'm not saying the guy should be put in stocks on Mulberry Street so fans can throw tomatoes and eggs at him. I know he was part of a fourth line that got the team some important goals. However, he royally screwed up tonight and that has to be said.
On the PK: The Devils were very, very sloppy in their own end tonight. While the Kings only got 25 shots on net, they made 57 total attempts. A little over half of those shots on goal, 13, were on the power play and the major penalty to Bernier burned them. The Devils were chasing the Kings around and the next thing they knew, Drew Doughty fired a puck through the slot to Dustin Brown for an easy goal on Brodeur's flank. A little later, the Devils can't win a puck from Mike Richards on the end boards and Brown gets a pass into space. He curls around, fires a mid-height shot that gets deflected up by Jeff Carter. A little later after that (and a non-call on Stoll laying on Ilya Kovalchuk because that is legal somehow), Dwight King torches Mark Fayne, lays the puck off Brodeur's pads and as he tries to go glove it, Trevor Lewis pots the loose puck in. The PK has been spotty throughout the postseason and they were just abysmal during the Bernier major.
It was a near miracle that the Kings didn't score on the other power plays they got. They weren't so bad on their first one, given due to Volchenkov hooking Anze Kopitar after he started process of beating Volchenkov. In the second period, the Kings had Elias, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Henrik Tallinder, and Volchenkov pinned and absolutely gassed during Salvador's double-minor. The Kings were doing whatever they wanted and they just kept misfiring. The only PK effort that wasn't hard to watch was the last one, given because Ryan Carter figured after a rare Devils shot on net, he needed to plow into Jonathan Quick. Brodeur made stops on whatever he could, but the Kings power play just swarmed it up. I had a feeling going into this series that special teams would make the difference. Tonight, they certainly did.
I'm sure there will be a lot of questions as far as what went wrong after a superb regular season effort. My short answer for now: what comes up must come down.
On the Big Names: The Devils had little answer for the Kopitar line all series long. Kopitar, Brown, and Justin Williams threatened in nearly every game and they came through on the power play. They had answers for the Richards line for most of the series, but not tonight. Jeff Carter got two goals, Richards got two assists, and Dustin Penner helped them keep going. The Kings' top six were positive in Corsi even with the score effects skewing New Jersey's way. They were great.
The Devils' top six were not at all great tonight. Ilya Kovalchuk was ineffective. Captain Zach Parise was straight up invisible for most of the game. Travis Zajac got beat up and took a knee-on-knee hit that I'm sure made Bryan Marchment nod his head knowing his legacy continued in the NHL. Dainius Zubrus wasn't the "Big Z" the team needed as they struggled just to get pucks in deep on the Kings. Patrik Elias was just all out of sorts from shot generation (only one shot on net, only two attempts) to faceoffs (3-for-12! Ugh!). I can say Petr Sykora did more tonight than he did in his last two games with one shot on net out of four attempts along with an assist. There's that at least. Though, he also turned a double-minor on Brown into a single one because he shoved him in the face after getting charged along the boards.
On the Depth: The line of Jarret Stoll, Dwight King, and Trevor Lewis looked really good late in this series and tonight as well. Sure, they were all even in Corsi, but with a big lead, that's actually quite good. The Devils' bottom six muddled as the fourth line was, well, a fourth line when they were actually playing. The third line saw some flux, but Henrique did OK. Ponikarovsky wasn't totally lost later on, but Clarkson was simply off for most of the series. When the Stoll line started getting good shifts against the Devils' top lines, it was a further sign of how well the Kings were playing. As we know, the depth guys doing well makes it a littler easier for the top guys to do their job and for the team to get the job done.
On the Refs & Discipline: Yes, they missed some calls. Yes, they handed out misconducts to Ryan Carter and David Clarkson that were probably unnecessary - the minor to Carter sufficed and Clarkson should have just received a warning for whatever it was he did. The refs clearly didn't want things to spiral out of control, so I can see why they made those calls. But they didn't cost the Devils this game nor the other three they lost in. You can be frustrated with their inconsistency, but they weren't the ones playing. More importantly, the penalties called on New Jersey were all legit calls. The Bernier major was an incredibly easy call to make. As for the others, Volchenkov really did hook Kopitar; Salvador really high-sticked King; Marek Zidlicky really did pull down Trevor Lewis during a power play; and Sykora really did take a shot at Brown after the whistle as he was about to go to the box. I can sort of defend Volchenkov's and Zidlicky's actions as they may have prevented an opportunity for the Kings to score. The rest were just avoidable and dumb. For the most part, the Devils' lack of discipline was the Devils' fault, not the referee's. Even if I disagree with the last two misconduct penalties handed out.
That said, I do want to point out this one error. The linesman who Volchenkov ran into early in the second period was a big dummy. I know he had to get out of Brown's way along the boards. Pierre McGuire, proof that NBC does show a boob on national television on a regular basis, made that point very clear. I couldn't tell you what was the reasoning for him to skate out about ten feet from the boards and then continue to go backwards to remain in Volchenkov's way. The Carter goal didn't happen because of it, but if Volchenkov was free, then maybe he stops it earlier. He apparently got cut on the hit and had to be replaced. Hopefully, someone advises him that if he has to move to allow a skater to go along the boards, he shouldn't be dropping deeper into the defensive zone.
On the Defense: True, the Kings only got 25 shots on net, but they nearly got to 60 attempts against again. No one pairing stuck out as truly bad, though I suspect there will be a lot of hate for Mark Fayne getting torched on the third power play goal against. However, the defensive effort was just a mess at times. Not even Henrik Tallinder was totally smooth. Guys in white jerseys just chasing Kings around without being able to get the puck. It wasn't uncommon for clearances or even attempted passes in or from their own zone to end up back on Kings' sticks. There wasn't anything heinous like some of the turnovers in Game 4 or Game 5, but the Devils were just struggling with the pace and puck movement of Los Angeles. Darryl Sutter knew that and so the Kings kept pressing even when up by three goals late in the game. Their breakout suffered, which certainly didn't help the offense. They weren't that effective on offense with only five total shots: 2 for Andy Greene, 2 for Zidlicky and one non-magical shot by Salvador. Had the Kings been more accurate with their shooting or the Devils not get in the way so much for block, then I think the subpar defensive play would have stood out.
On the Offense: The Devils had 4 shots on net in the first period, 10 after two, and 18 overall. They got none on their power play and somehow four from their penalty kill. I don't see how a team can hope to stay in a game with so few shots and attempts (38 total) with such a large deficit. After that first period, the message should have been shoot early, shoot often, and when in doubt, shoot. Of course, that would require the team getting through the neutral zone and into the Kings' end with the puck, something the Devils didn't do nearly enough of tonight. It undercut the Devils big; dashing any faint hopes of a comeback big time. It was crushing to see Elias hit the post, but in retrospect, it looks worse that the Devils just did so little to even try and beat Quick.
The Kings didn't exactly shoot out the lights, but they got five goals on Brodeur and everyone contributed to their attack. They had their offense going, they just could have been more accurate and/or judicious with their shot selection.
Your Lone Goal Scorer: Henrique was the team's top player on offense with three shots on net and a goal. He was the team leader in Corsi at +7. OK, score effects pulled him up, but it's still another leading number in the game. He was also the only Devils center to finish at 50% or better on faceoffs. He finished exactly at 50% by going 7-for-14. I'd say he was the Devils' best skater in this game.
That doesn't mean a whole lot since everyone pretty much well sucked. It's something to take some solace in; just like the fact that the Devils didn't get shutout.
Poor Marty: Martin Brodeur did more than any single Devil to get them this far in this series. He was good in Game 1, he was good in Game 2, he was great in Game 4, and absolutely fantastic in Game 5. Tonight, he was lit up. He didn't have a lot of support as the defense just looked mindless at times out there. Brodeur couldn't bail the Devils out of the Bernier major as he had no chance on the first, second, or fourth goals. The third goal allowed was questionable and the last goal he allowed was a very soft goal. I just shrug my shoulders at both since the Devils never got enough offensive attempts, much less goals, to make up for it. Of all the players, I feel the most sympathetic to Brodeur. He defied the critics and gave his team a fighting chance against the Kings. He did his job. He couldn't drag the Devils tonight and he'll likely shoulder the blame because that's what happens when you're a goaltender. While I'm personally uncertain on what he'll do (like he has anyone to answer to at this point), I really hope this wasn't his last game.
About Quick: He's really, really, really good. Quick fully deserves the Conn Smythe trophy as he was the common link across all of the Kings' big wins in their 16-4 playoff record. Did he ever really have a bad game among the 20 he played? OK, he made a big error in Game 5, but he was great in this series. I know the refrain on him was to "shoot high," but he was so, well, quick, that it was often a moot point. Just like the Devils had no answer for the Kopitar line and the Stoll line in the last two games, the Devils couldn't solve Quick enough. Just like the Canucks, Blues, and Coyotes. Quick led his team to the Stanley Cup and his name should go down in Los Angeles sports history along with Kopitar, Brown, and Williams for his excellence.
What Now: Well, the Devils' season is now over. Here's a summary of what's to come at In Lou We Trust.
1. Tomorrow evening, I will have a thank you post of sorts that will also plea for you to keep coming back to ILWT.
2. On Wednesday, I will have a playoff in review. I know I didn't do an April or May month in review; I think the playoff run will supplant that. I'll try to summarize everything and put it into some kind perspective.
3. Later, we will dive in head first into the upcoming 2012 NHL Entry Draft and free agency. Yes, the Devils could forfeit their first round pick; so we're focusing on potential second and third round picks. As for free agency, well, he Devils have a lot to work with.
4. So much more to discuss. There's the possibility of new investors (I'm holding off commenting until it happens), CBA talks, reviews of goals for and against the Devils, and all kinds of analysis of 2011-12 throughout the offseason.
The Devils' season may be over, but the Devils blogging doesn't stop at In Lou We Trust.
One Last Thought for the Final Recap of the 2011-12 Campaign: As terrible as the Devils were tonight, I became accepting of the Devils' fate during this Game 6. OK, that wasn't hard to do given how the play went; their fate was sealed fairly early. Still, I kept thinking that the Devils weren't supposed to get this deep after losing the first three games. It's arguable they weren't supposed to get this far in the playoffs. Yet, here they were. When pushed to the brink of a 3-0 series, one just hopes they don't get swept. Well, the Devils not only did that but they snapped the Kings' road winning streak and forced a Game 6 after being down 3-0 for the first time in decades. The Devils escaped Sunrise in double overtime, smashed their second biggest rivals, extracted vengeance on their most hated rivals, and gave the Kings more resistance than any of their prior opponents. Tonight's game turned out to be terrible, but it speaks to the quality of the team that it wasn't a laughable notion that tonight's game was winnable before it began. I don't know about you, but I'm proud of what the Devils were able to accomplish even if it didn't end with a championship.
That's my take on tonight's loss - the last loss of the season. I kindly request that all comments in this post be about the game, the series, or the playoffs. There's going to be a lot of time to discuss free agents, draft picks, and all of that. That can wait a few days. Please leave your thoughts and feelings about what happened in Game 6, in this Stanley Cup Finals series, and in the Devils' overall playoff run. Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.