The New Jersey Devils have to believe they deserved a better fate after the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Having trailed in both, they battled back to tie the Los Angeles Kings in the latter stages of each contest -- only to lose both in overtime.
Going from what could have possibly been a 2-0 lead to an 0-2 deficit that looked increasingly difficult to overcome with the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, Game 3 took a similar twist of fate in Los Angeles' favor.
On the heels of an eventual 4-0 victory, the Kings are up 3-0 in the series.
Trailing 0-3, the challenge now becomes something of a miracle for the Devils. Of the 25 Cup Finals that have gone to a 3-0 lead, 24 times the leading club has prevailed, with the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs being the only exception.
In Monday night's Game 3, it was the play of the Kings' special teams that brought about the shift in momentum.
With the game still scoreless and up for grabs late in the first period, Los Angeles forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter each took penalties -- Richards a two-minute minor for elbowing Zach Parise, and Carter a double-minor for high-sticking Adam Henrique just 1:01 later.
As the New Jersey power play floundered away the golden opportunity gift-wrapped and presented to them, defenseman Marek Zidlicky took an undisciplined tripping penalty on Richards when he exited the sin bin.
After the four-on-four time expired, the Devils could not capitalize with the remaining man-advantage time on Carter's penalty.
Once again it appeared as if Quick's play early in the series was lingering inside the heads of the New Jersey players, as they over-passed their way out of quality scoring chances.
One sequence in particular was ultimately frustrating, as the Devils sent the puck along the perimeter for an extended period. A pass came across to Henrique at the right hash marks and, instead of trying to catch Quick moving from side-to-side with a one-timer, he instead took the time to tee the puck up and fire.
Quick calmly pushed across and had himself square to the shooter by the time the shot got to the net, and the potential chance fizzled almost before it began.
Not only did New Jersey not score on the two-man advantage, they couldn't beat Quick on any of the game's first six power play opportunities -- all gained by the Devils. N.J. is now 0-12 for the Final.
"Yeah, I mean, sure," said head coach Peter DeBoer when asked if the failed five-on-three was a huge difference in the complexion of the contest. He also pointed out the failure to connect on any of the power plays was equally huge. "We need to get the first goal out, absolutely. We had some power play opportunities there. We need to score one."
As the coach continued his thought, he couldn't help but include Quick's influence on the game.
"Credit to them," DeBoer said. "You know, their goalie made some big saves early. We couldn't get one."
That has pretty much been the story line of the entire series -- the entire postseason from a Kings perspective, as a matter of fact -- as New Jersey has been successful just twice in beating the Conn Smythe Trophy favorite in the first three Cup Final tilts.
In the initial three Final contests, Quick is 3-0 with an 0.59 goals-against average and .972 save percentage.
No wonder he's in the heads of Devils shooters, and it shows in the lack of production out of N.J.'s top three playoff scorers:
- Ilya Kovalchuk -- who had seven goals and an NHL-leading 18 points coming into the Final but is clearly laboring with what is likely a back injury that knocked him out for a game earlier in the postseason -- has no points and has managed just five shots on goal in the first three contests.
- Ditto the nil point total for Parise, he of the seven goals and 14 postseason points, as the captain has come up empty on the 11 shots that have reached Quick.
- Travis Zajac, who had seven goals and 12 points entering the Cup Final, has failed to register a single point on just three shots.
Of course it's been a total team effort in shutting down the New Jersey offensive attack, but even when the Kings' coverage fails, Quick is there.
Seemingly always there.
"You need outstanding goaltending to win playoff games," Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter explained in rather understated fashion after the triumph. "He's given us that."
The netminder certainly has given the Kings an outstanding performance and unless the Devils can generate any kind of offense, this is indeed looking like it just may be a Quick series.