The New Jersey Devils went onto the STAPLES Center down 3-0 in the series, with a metaphoric broom staring right at them. The Stanley Cup was in the building, the fans made their presence known, and the Los Angeles Kings just needed one more successful night to win it all in just 18 games. Tonight would not be that night. The Devils defeated the Kings 3-1 in Game 4. There will be a Game 5. It's another year where the Devils avoided being swept out of a series, it's another home game for the Devils to make some extra money, and it's another gap of time for the Devils to delay the highly likely - or to make this series really interesting. There was a reason to be a little hopeful, and now there's even more reason to have a little more hope.
At least, that's what the result means. The performance, on the other hand, could have been a lot better for New Jersey. The game itself was very tightly played, with missed shots and opportunities all over the place. The effort was there, but the offensive production was spotty on both sides. For example, the Devils were held to three shots in the second period and went a little under 14 minutes to end the period with no shots on net. In that same time frame, the Kings enjoyed much of the possession yet they ended up putting three shots on net. This was followed by the first shot of the third period, which was counted for New Jersey 2:26 into the third. Both Peter DeBoer and Darryl Sutter cannot be too pleased with their skaters' shooting - or lack thereof.
Still, the Kings did enjoy the better of possession throughout the game. While the Devils out-shot the Kings 24-22, the Devils finished the game at -12 Fenwick and -13 Corsi at even strength. The Kings had the Devils' accuracy problems from Game 3 as they were credited for 23 misses - which boosted both numbers (the Devils got credited for only 10 misses). As you know, it's hard to score when you're skying the puck several feet over the net or pulling it way wide. The Devils were more efficient, but they clearly were out-attempted. That led to plenty of shifts where the Kings would get set-up on offense and put on some good pressure despite not getting much of anything out of it.
When the shots did come, both Martin Brodeur and Jonathan Quick came up big on several occasions. There were a few bouncing pucks right at the crease that are usually slammed into the net, but Quick was able to recover very fast. He held his form on strong shots and he was very good at getting low. Brodeur had the tougher night, as he had to bailout his teammates (e.g. Bryce Salvador) on several events - including some breakaways. One could say it was vintage Marty - his glove was seemingly where it needed to be again and again, he moved quickly post to post, and he did a mostly good job handling the puck. OK, he nearly had a Bryzgalov moment; but the key word there is nearly. I'd say both goaltenders were quite good even if both teams struggled to rack up SOG. I don't think any of the goals were their fault.
Yes, there were goals tonight. The first was scored by New Jersey - the first "first goal" by the Devils in this Stanley Cup Finals series. Patrik Elias was at the right place at the right time on a rebound off a Bryce Salvador shot. He slid the puck in low past a prone Quick to make it 1-0. The lead didn't last long, however. The Kings equalized a minute later with a power play goal. Anze Kopitar won the faceoff, Mike Richards slid it to Drew Doughty, and Doughty unleashed a perfect slapshot through a Dustin Brown screen and Brodeur. Thankfully, it wasn't the only goal. The game winner came from the hero of the night Adam Henrique, who has scored some important goals in the Devils' playoff run. He kicked up a cross-ice pass from David Clarkson up to his stick and fired a beautiful shot to the top right corner past a sliding Quick. The goal made it 2-1, silenced the STAPLES Center, and got the Devils fans believing again. An empty net goal by Ilya Kovalchuk sealed the game to ensure there would be one more game.
Again, the Devils didn't play that great of a game - they really need to get their offense to play more consistently and more with the puck. Some of the defensemen also need to shape up and fast; Brodeur covered up a lot of errors tonight. Most of all, it's just one win; the odds and history favor L.A. taking it all. However, they got the result in a good third period and at this point, any means of winning are acceptable. The Devils are still alive.
For an opposition's point of view on tonight's game, please visit Jewels from the Crown. For more thoughts on tonight's win, 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: The Devils scored two on Quick and a third one for the first time in this series. See them all and more in this game highlight video from NHL.com:
A Quick Note: The Devils finally scored a goal on Quick that wasn't a favorable bounce off a Devils stick or a defenseman's shoulder in this series. In fact, they scored two. I think that's massive. Keep him unset and the chances will be there, Devils.
Little Things Matter: On each of the three goals scored by the Devils, I noticed some little successes on the play that led to each goal. For the Elias goal, Dainius Zubrus did a lot of work behind the net to keep the puck from Slava Voynov. When he got to the board, he put a good backhanded pass to Bryce Salvador on the point, who fired one on net and got fortunate with a bounce.
As for the Henrique goal, Henrique deserves a lot of credit for making the most out of Clarkson's pass and his glorious shot. However, the play doesn't happen at all without Mark Fayne hitting Dwight King to knock the puck away from the boards and Alexei Ponikarovsky passing it up ice to Clarkson with a back-hand, quasi-no-look pass. That was a risk and well-rewarded.
Even on the empty net goal, Andy Greene had the good sense to lob it out of the zone to just past the center circle. That not only got a clearance, but it allowed Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk to head up ice to chase after it. Parise pressured Doughty, who tried to trap it down. The two collided a bit, which helped get the puck loose and sliding towards the blueline. Kovalchuk swooped in, took it into the zone, and fired it into the empty net before Kopitar could make a play.
The Devils have rued chances due to bad bounces and bouncing pucks (literally, and it happened twice - once to Kovalchuk in the second period and once to Zajac in the third) in this series. Tonight, they got some breaks as they also turned some small victories into big results. We should hope this continues for some time.
Two Assists and More Than Two Stupid Plays: Bryce Salvador and Zach Parise both finished the game with the worst Corsi on the team: -13. Parise's number is forgivable as he got four shots on net, the Devils out-shot the Kings 7-6 at evens when he was on the ice while the Kings out-missed the Devils 0-12. I can say Parise did some positive things. Bryce Salvador, on the other hand, had similarly good looking numbers, but he did a lot of negative things tonight. He had an awful giveaway that led to Brodeur robbing Trevor Lewis one-on-one. Given that it was 0-0, that really could have been the game. He took two entirely avoidable interference penalties; the first one was especially dumb as Salvador hit Dustin Brown hundreds of feet away from the play. While the Kings didn't score on either of them, they did rack up five shots on net on the first and the second guaranteed two more minutes of no offense by the Devils. He was caught flatfooted on a few rushes, which was entirely noticeable in the third period when the game opened up. And those moments are amplified given that his partner tonight was the slow Anton Volchenkov. A lot of Kings enjoyed playing against Salvador tonight, especially the Richards line. Somehow, he ended up with no goals against at evens (thank you, Brodeur) and two assists. Parise probably could have done more; but he wasn't the occasional nightmare that Salvador was tonight.
The Return of Sykora & Tallinder: Petr Sykora was in the lineup in place of Jacob Josefson, while Henrik Tallinder stepped on the ice for the first time in months as he replaced Peter Harrold. Sykora was scratched after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Tonight, he played like he had been in the postseason. He got 12:19 of ice time, a little power play time, and only one shot on net. Granted, it was a good shot on net that forced a sweeping glove save by Quick. But that was it from him.
Tallinder had the better return to the ice in my view. He got paired with Marek Zidlicky, who continues to go from OK to "what in the world are you thinking" on defense. Tallinder kept his cool and carried on in the 19:21 he played overall and 15:56 he played at evens. Tallinder got some special teams work and did fine; he put up two shots on net out of four attempts; and he skated smoothly and with a purpose. He didn't drive the play forward, as evidenced by his -6 Corsi; but I'd say he had a very fine return to the ice tonight. I liked what he did out there. Maybe he'll get more ice time in Game 5. He should if Salvador continues to falter.
What's Up with This?: Andy Greene and Mark Fayne each played about thirteen and a half of minutes of ice time tonight. A good dose of special teams got each over 18 minutes overall; but why was this pairing getting so little ice time and getting a mixture of all of the Kings' forwards? With Salvador struggling and Zidlicky being up-and-down, why were Greene & Fayne relegated? It helped Greene was he was the stand out skater in Fenwick (+4) and Corsi (+6) - both led the Devils tonight. Fayne wasn't so bad, but he was out-shot at evens and his Fenwick (-3) and Corsi (-2) were negative. Does anyone have any ideas why this pairing got sheltered?
So Stiff, So Slow, So Hurt, So Many Attempts: The broadcasters on NBC discovered what most fans figured out in the Florida series and what was reported in the Philadelphia series: Ilya Kovalchuk was hurt. And it showed. To a degree. While they were going on about it and how that led to him stretching for bad passes and so forth, Kovalchuk really didn't have such an awful game. While the Devils were devoid of offense for long stretches of the game, Kovalchuk led the team with eight shooting attempts and tied Parise with four shots on goal. Given the Devils' moribund attack and the fact that defenseman Mark Fayne was second in attempts with six followed by Parise and Tallinder with four each, I think racking up eight attempts is quite good. He also scored the empty net goal, which does matter as it ensures a win. Plus, he was better in possession than his linemates with a -5 Fenwick and -6 Corsi.
I'm not saying Kovalchuk isn't hurt, that he's blazing down the ice, or that he's been playing great. What I am saying is that he has contributed where other forwards have faltered like tonight. As great as it was for Henrique to score his beautiful goal, that shot was his only one of the night. As great as it was for Elias to finally score on a non-fluke play, he only had one other shot on net. The other non-Parise and non-Kovalchuk forwards generated no more than two shots on net and most of them didn't even have two. Kovalchuk has and will get a lot of attention for a variety of reasons; but it would help if he didn't have to proverbially carry a lot of the offense on his back - be it at evens or the power play. Could he do better? Of course, I expect it since he's on the ice. However, he's not even close to being the worst forward on the team in this series.
Two Candidates: David Clarkson made a pass to Henrique that he salvaged to score. That worked out well. Other than that, Clarkson had a very anonymous night. He got no shots on net, attempted only one shot which missed, played 9:07 at evens just like Ryan Carter, and got tagged for a dubious boarding minor. I'll concede that it was a harsh call for the refs to make in the third period of a Stanley Cup Finals game, but per the letter of the law, it was a penalty. I liked that his pass turned into a goal, but he's a guy who could and should be doing a lot more on he ice.
As for Travis Zajac, I don't know what to tell you.
The Power Play Didn't Want to Make Me Gouge My Eyes Out With A Spoon: I liked the power play tonight. OK, the first one was terrible as the Devils couldn't get set up long enough to generate a shot and possession was poor all around from the guys down low to the men at the point. The second and third power plays were much better, though. Kovalchuk took two of the three shots on the second power play and Sykora had a very good look on the third. After Kovalchuk took all of Willie Mitchell's stick blade to the face in the third period, the Devils had a very good possession-based power play and got three more shots on net. On the last one, Kovalchuk was moved down from the point and it worked pretty well. I don't know if we'll see it in Game 5, but it's not a bad variation to try out. All total, the Devils got six shots on net in six minutes of power play time and they were weak ones either. The units - and I mean the whole unit - did a much better job entering and maintaining possession in the Kings' end. Then again, Game 3's power plays were so bad that even just one good power play tonight would have been enough to give it praise.
Why I'm Not Killing the PK: The Devils got rolled on the first Salvador minor as the Kings put five shots on net. The second Salvador minor was a very strong kill. The Clarkson minor resulted in a goal. I'm not even sure that's really the fault of the PK, though. Patrik Elias lost a faceoff - and he went 10-for-19 tonight, so it's not like Elias was getting destroyed at the dot - the Kings make two passes and Doughty scores on a great shot. That sequence took four seconds. I'm not sure how a PK can really stop that. I can only think of winning the faceoff either needed to be won, or don't take the penalty to begin with, really.
I can agree the penalty kill didn't look good on the first kill of the night, but the second one showed what they could do. The third was a bang-bang-shot-score play. I'm not terribly worried about the PK, even if this performance drops the success rate quite a bit.
Positive Henrique Facts: While Henrique's goal was his only shot of the game, there's some other evidence to go along with the idea that he did well. For one, he was zero in Corsi. Given that the Devils were clearly out-attempted, breaking even at even strength is quite good. It's even more impressive given that his own line generated a mere three shots on net. His line saw a mix of the Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards lines the most at evens and they did pretty well against them. Maybe we'll see either match-up in Game 5? In addition, Henrique was very good at the dot tonight. He went 12-for-18 on faceoffs, which is one of the better performances he's had all season. While it didn't lead to much from his line; it did help the Devils get a little bit of possession on a night where the Kings were superior in controlling the puck.
One Final Thought: I got what I wanted. The Devils will play one more game. I'll be going back to the Rock on Saturday for Game 5. I'll be writing one more recap. I'm quite pleased. Yet, I can't help but want a little more. Such is fandom. So why not?
That's my take on tonight's win. What did you take out of this game? What do you think the Devils need to improve ahead of Game 5? What do you think they need to do to get more shooting attempts and more shots on Quick? Should Adam Larsson be put on the blueline and who should he replace? What do you think of Sykora's and Tallinder's performances? How do you think Elias did at center? How did you react when Henrique scored? How about when Kovalchuk sealed the game with his empty net goal? How happy are you that they're still alive? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on tonight's win in the comments.
Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread as well as those who followed along on Twitter with @InLouWeTrust. Thank you for reading.