NEWARK, N.J. -- If you're a New Jersey Devils fan (and perhaps an eternal optimist) you have to think that your team has the Los Angeles Kings right where they want them. If that sounds crazy, well, that's because it probably is. But that's the way things have gone for the Devils this postseason and throughout this series.
If there is a consistent theme with this group it's been their ability to get stronger as each playoff series progresses. They did it against Florida. They did it against the Rangers. And now they appear to be doing it against the Kings.
It hasn't always been pretty, but their ability to stave off elimination with consecutive wins in the Stanley Cup Final has been driven by the stellar play of goalie Martin Brodeur. He's currently putting together one of his best postseason performances in years, and perhaps one of the finest of his career at a time when many (present company included) felt his best playing days were already well behind him.
"His performance speaks for itself," said Devils coach Pete DeBoer after their Game 5 win on Saturday night. "It's the timing of it. You know, I think the fact we're 9-1 in Games 4 through 7 in a series is a testament to how he enjoys that type of pressure."
The focus now becomes whether or not the Devils are capable of making history and becoming just the second team to ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final and actually win the series (the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only ones to have done it in the Final).
The Devils have already done better than most teams facing such a situation.
With their win on Saturday they became just the third team in NHL history to lose the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final and go on to force a Game 6 (the other two also forced a Game 7, for what it's worth).
Twenty of the 25 other teams were swept. There's also the fact that the Devils have been able to extend the series after losing the first two games on home ice, which has also been a devastating blow to teams historically.
But this Devils team has been defying the odds and exceeding expectations all season.
"We've been counted out right back to last summer and the preseason predictions all the way through," said DeBoer. "One thing about our group is that they believe that we can win. They believe we can win every game we play if we play the right way. It's just a matter of stringing together a couple more here."
The Devils were asked repeatedly on Saturday night about the possibility of making history and what it means to them to be in this situation. It's a suggestion they brushed aside as they remain focussed on simply winning one more game.
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"We're still alive," said Brodeur. "We have a chance. It's not a difficult thing to get yourself ready for games like that. Now it's been two in a row. It drains you a lot. It takes a lot out of you. But it's worth it. I think at the end of the day that's what the guys are concentrating on, getting themselves ready, leave everything out there. We'll see where everything's going to fall. Right now we're able to pull two tight games on our side, like they did in Game 1 and 2. So it's a matter of us now going into a tough environment in L.A. to try to ruin the party again. I think they're so close to winning the Stanley Cup that I'm sure it's getting to them a little bit, to be able to have all these chances and not capitalize on them. We're looking to just stay alive. Got to win one more game."
DeBoer echoed a similar sentiment, and continued to drive home his belief that the Devils were never playing as poorly as their record in the first three games may have indicated.
"We've got to win another game in order to keep playing," DeBoer said. "I said all along that our group has a confidence in itself. We didn't feel we belonged in the hole we were in. We felt if we kept playing and got some big performances that we could climb out of it. We're slowly doing that. But we've got some work left to do."
This entire series to this point has basically been a giant coin flip with neither team doing much of anything to distance itself from the other. The games have been tight with three of them being decided by a 2-1 margin. Game 3 was the only "blowout," and even that game was close for the majority of it.
The games have seemingly gone to the team that just happens to be getting the bounces to go their way at a given time. Early on everything was going the Kings way. Now it's all going New Jersey's way.
When asked if he believes the bounces eventually even out over the course of a series, DeBoer simply responded with "I think that's pretty fair."
Thanks to some good fortune and great goaltending the Devils have managed to climb back into it and make the series interesting again. Now it's just a matter of how long they can keep it going.
And if they can make history.
"They're going to award the Stanley Cup to somebody here in the next two games," said DeBoer. "There's only two games left in a season where both teams are going on a hundred and probably ten games. So this is probably right where you want to be. I think we'll put our best foot forward."
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