Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils stacks the pads during Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. – The temptation is to think the Los Angeles Kings are losing their grip on the Stanley Cup final because they’ve morphed back into the goal-starved bunch they were during the regular season when they finished 29th in goals.
To be sure, the Kings chances of winning the Cup in either Game 6 or 7 increase exponentially with their ability to find the back of the net, but the reality is Martin Brodeur is beginning to take over this series, to the point where barring a calamitous goaltending performance at either end, the Conn Smythe Trophy will surely go to a goaltender for the second straight year.
Not many people noticed when Brodeur subtly called out his team after Game 3 for not providing enough offense, but people have certainly taken note of how this series has spun since then. Brodeur, as expected, has been a large factor in the turnaround. One thing Brodeur is doing in this series is he’s playing the Kings very aggressively, particularly when they get the puck on him in 1-on-1 situations. After allowing a breakaway goal to Anze Kopitar in overtime of Game 1, Brodeur has continually stopped the Kings on breakaways by sliding out of his net, extending his body and making two-pad-stack saves. He has done it at various points to Mike Richards, Trevor Lewis, Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner and Kopitar.
And the most amazing thing about it is the Kings know Brodeur is going to do it and yet seem powerless to beat him. Of course it’s easy to simply suggest they lift the puck, but beating a Hall of Famer who is clearly in a ridiculous zone is more difficult than it looks.
“We know he’s an aggressive goalie,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, “so maybe that means faking the shot and hoping he goes for that two-pad stack and walking around him. He’s a great goalie and it’s not secret, but I think right now we’re making him look a lot better than we should be.”
Aside from the 4-0 blowout loss in Game 3, Brodeur has allowed only one goal in regulation in each of the other four games. Jonathan Quick, his enormous gaffe with the puck that resulted in Zach Parise’s opener in Game 5 aside, has been spectacular as well, allowing just six goals in the series. Hence, the expectation the Smythe will go to one of the two men tending the twine.
Brodeur chalked his breakaway and 1-on-1 success to the fact there hasn’t exactly been a plethora of clear-cut scoring opportunities in the series.
“Everybody is kind of surprised when they do get a clear chance,” Brodeur said. “I’m trying to surprise them as much as I can also. But I think between me and Quick, we’ve got some pretty good saves out there. A little awkward at times, but it’s been working I guess.”
It’s an interesting case study, meanwhile, in which team faces more pressure going into Game 6. The Kings have two games to get the task completed, so in that sense, more pressure is on the Devils because one more loss ends their season. But the Kings will once again have the Stanley Cup in the building with friends and family waiting for a party, all the while seeing the Devils become larger and larger in their rear-view mirror.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said when asked whether the Devils have shifted the pressure to the Kings. “People expected this to be over two games ago.”
Kings coach Darryl Sutter, whose Calgary Flames held a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup final in 2004 before losing the series in seven, obviously doesn’t see it that way, saying his team doesn’t feel any pressure at the moment.
“Let’s not forget, New Jersey is the team (with home-ice advantage),” Sutter said. “New Jersey is the team that had 100-and-some points. You know what? We expected a long, hard series out of the Devils and that’s what we’re getting.”
The Devils actually have a direct link to one of the three teams in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Zach Parise’s father, Jean-Paul, was a member of the New York Islanders team that defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in 1975 after losing the first three games.
“People talked about it a lot when Philly beat Boston (in 2010) and it kind of resurfaced there,” Parise said. “I knew that they did it. I didn’t know that they came back again from being down 3-0 (to the Philadelphia Flyers). They ended up losing that series, but I didn’t know they did it twice in the same playoff year.”