LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The New Jersey Devils aren't just pursuing the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals. They're trying to chase down the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs in NHL history.
The Devils achieved a feat only matched by two other teams in NHL history when they won two games in the Cup finals after losing the first three. Only those Leafs ever completed the comeback, but the Devils aren't allowing themselves to get distracted by comparisons to something that happened 70 years ago.
"I don't look at it that way. That's for (media) to decide the magnitude of it, how important it is and where it fits in the history of it," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "You're giving me too much credit to think I'm thinking bigger than that, or beyond that.
"I don't look at it as what a great accomplishment it would be—to be in a 3-0 hole and claw your way back out," he added. "If I had my way, we would have never got in that hole. But that was the hand we were dealt. We made a little bit of our own bed there, and now we're stuck with trying to get out of it. But we have had an ability to rise to the occasion, and I just think it's a testament to character, to gut check, to the leadership in the room—all those things. That's when the rubber hits the road, so to speak, for your season and for your team."
The '42 Leafs, coached by Hap Day and led by brothers Don and Nick Metz and goalie Turk Broda, made their dramatic comeback under extenuating and bizarre circumstances.
Detroit coach Jack Adams, the man for whom the NHL's coach of the year award is named, wasn't behind the bench for the final four games of that series after he was suspended by the league for jumping onto the ice during a free-for-all at the end of Game 3 and attacking referee Mel Harwood.
That wouldn't happen to Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who on his worst day would only give the referees a sneer they'd never forget.
"I don't know if it's necessarily history," New Jersey defenceman Bryce Salvador said in reference to the Devils' plight. "Right now there's pressure on both teams playing for the Cup. We just wanted to stick with it, hope that the tide would turn for us, not get down on ourselves, not point fingers at anybody and not put the blame on ourselves being down 3-0. There's two games left and we've got to win them both. That's our focus—not how we got there."
If the Devils do run the table, the Kings would join the '42 Red Wings as the only clubs to lose the finals after being up 3-0. And to think Los Angeles began the playoffs with a 15-2 run that had other NHL players griping on Twitter about how little adversity the eighth-seeded Kings had faced.
"We never thought that it was going to be easy," Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty said. "We never thought we were going to win four in a row. We expected to be a long series like this. We expected it to go to a Game 6—maybe a Game 7. But we have no doubt in our minds. We've just got to make sure we put a full 60 minutes together, because we haven't done that yet.
"Even though we've closed out the past three series quicker, we're prepared to go the distance," Doughty said. "It's the Stanley Cup finals, and this is the toughest team we've played throughout the playoffs. So we knew it would be a tough challenge. Now it's up to us individually to get ourselves going and play as a team."
The Devils appeared remarkably loose during their spirited practice on Sunday. The Kings, trying to win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 45-year history, might be gripping their sticks a little tighter because of the task of getting that elusive fourth victory against three-time Cup-winning goalie Martin Brodeur.
"Desperate hockey, I think, maybe brings the best out of us," Brodeur said Sunday. "We wanted to win four games and we've won only two, so we can't afford to lose. We dug ourselves a really big hole that's going to be tough to overcome, but it's getting a little more realistic every day.
"And even if we get to Game 7, it won't be a comfortable position because there's no tomorrow. They have another tomorrow and we don't. But we feel fortunate to be in this position. We've worked really hard for it, and we deserve to be in this position. But there's lots to do."