The odds were stacked against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Having lost the first three games against the Los Angeles Kings, history was definitely not on their side to keep the series going.
Of the 25 Stanley Cup Finals series that opened with a team taking a 3-0 lead, 24 have ended with the leading team closing it out -- the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs being the only exception, coming back from the dead to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.
To show just how rare it is to even extend a series when it begins 3-0, consider these statistics:
- 20 times the leading club completed a sweep in Game 4.
- Three times the team ahead won in five.
- Never has a team up 3-0 closed out the series in six contests.
- Once a team led 3-0, then had to win in seven games (1945 when Toronto again beat Detroit).
- As mentioned above, Toronto completed the near-impossible in 1942, rallying from 0-3 down to win Lord Stanley's coveted chalice.
So that is just twice a team trailing in the Finals 3-0 has even been able to get to a Game 6.
Something else that was working against New Jersey was that L.A. had not dropped a single game playing on the road during their entire postseason run. Heading into Saturday's contest, Los Angeles sported a perfect 10-0 record away from Staples Center.
That was before Saturday night's Game 5 between the Devils and the Kings.
Relying on the spectacular goaltending of Martin Brodeur and riding the hot hand of an unlikely source of offense in defenseman Bryce Salvador, New Jersey defied all odds and ensured the series would head back to Los Angeles for Game 6 Monday night.
What appeared to be a cake walk has suddenly turned into a dog fight.
As for Brodeur, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer came up huge in the New Jersey cage, stopping 25 of 26 shots. Included in that were nine in the third period.
Some of Brodeur's best stops of the night were:
- Stacking the pads to thwart a first period breakaway by Jarret Stoll.
- A point blank low to the blocker side beauty off Justin Williams, who was set up by Drew Doughty from behind the net. Brodeur had to be very quick to make the save.
- A left pad stop off a Mike Richards one-timer with 8.8 seconds remaining in regulation, and the Devils nursing the slimmest of margins at 2-1.
"His performance speaks for itself," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's the timing of it. You know, I think the fact we're 9-1 or 10-1 in Games 4 through 7 in a series is a testament to how he enjoys that type of pressure."
For his efforts, Brodeur was named the game's first star.
Salvador's night was equally as integral to the favorable outcome of the contest for New Jersey.
With the game knotted at 1-1 midway through the middle frame, the defender took a cross-ice feed from Alexei Ponikarovsky, held onto the puck as Jordan Nolan skated by in anticipation of a clear along the boards, then instead snapped a shot towards the L.A. net. The puck deflected off of the upper body of Kings' rear guard Slava Voynov and bounded inside the far post to Quick's left for what proved to eventually be the game-winning goal.
After going the full 82-game regular season without scoring a single goal, Salvador now has four goals and 14 points in 23 playoff tilts. The new-found offense is somewhat of a mystery, but the Devils are certainly glad the outburst has come when his club needs him the most.
"That's something that he's really kind of mastered here over the last month of the playoffs," DeBoer said of Salvador. "He's had great composure back there for us, getting shots through. We wouldn't be here without him."
The defenseman was elated to contribute to the triumph.
"Obviously any time you can score -- like I said, I went 82 games without scoring -- so any goal I can take, I'm taking it," Salvador said with a big smile. "I think whenever you can contribute on the score sheet, you enjoy it."
While Los Angeles has allowed two elimination opportunities pass, they now face their first bit of adversity they've had to deal with in this year's postseason: The Devils seem to be having fun and appear the looser of the two clubs.
"I'm enjoying this," Brodeur said. "They're fun games to be part of. They're tough mentally to go through them because we don't have any tomorrow or anything like that. But they're fun to be part of. Again, I've been enjoying this ride. I will until we're done."
And from the looks of the past couple of games, it appears that Brodeur, Savador and their teammates have no plans to let this ride come to an end.