Last Updated: 3:51 AM, June 1, 2012
Posted: 1:11 AM, June 1, 2012
Fear of losing won’t be enough. The Devils must be absolutely terrified tomorrow, for no team in 46 years has won the Stanley Cup after dropping the opening pair of the finals at home.
They spoke of playing better tomorrow in Newark than they did Wednesday, and they can’t help but do so. Urgency, however, is what was so lacking, and so required if they are to make their California trip something other than likely a long journey to oblivion.
As it is, they must win four of six from the Kings, who have lost just two of 15 in the playoffs. The Devils lost an opener for the third straight series when they fell 2-1 to the Kings in overtime Wednesday.
Just five teams since the finals went best-of-seven in 1939 have survived an 0-2 hole, though the Penguins and Bruins completed the comeback in the past three years. The 1942 Maple Leafs and the 1966 Canadiens are the only teams to capture the Cup after losing the first two at home.
The Devils admitted they were nervous in Game 1. If they were paralyzed by stage fright, they will have to be energized by terror.
“We’ve been tested throughout those playoffs in situations where we’ve been behind in series,” Ryan Carter said. “I anticipate this being no different. We learn from that last game, move forward.
“We’ve got confidence in that locker room. I think that will hopefully show next game.”
Devils coach Pete DeBoer admitted nerves were natural, though they should have shown in both teams.
“This is a huge deal. It doesn’t matter whether you played in this situation before,” DeBoer said. “It doesn’t surprise me we dealt with some [nerves] early in the game. I thought, as the game progressed, we kind of got through that.
“Now that’s in the rearview mirror and we can just play.”
DeBoer said the Devils have rebounded from their opening game follies, squaring both the Flyers and Rangers series in Game 2.
“One of the areas that’s cropped up in every round is we’ve been a little tentative in the first game, kind of felt our way, and then jumped in with both feet in Game 2,” DeBoer said. “I think that’s hopefully what we’ll do here again.”
The Devils had outscored their opponents 23-9 in previous first periods, but the Kings raised their first period superiority to 15-7 in taking the lead Wednesday. Not only did the Devils convey home-ice advantage to the Kings in the first game, but they failed to exploit the Surfer Dudes’ jet lag.
“We did a good job in the first period based on New Jersey, the way they’ve played in first periods in the playoffs,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, whose team is 9-0 on the road in the playoffs. “We knew that was going to be a challenge for us. With the travel, our guys felt sluggish yesterday.”
It has been a painful lesson for the Devils, but not yet a costly one.
“From the start of the game, we’ll be better next game. We’ll have to be,” Travis Zajac said. “We didn’t play at our best.
“We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative. You could see that. We weren’t making plays. We were throwing the puck away a little too much. We weren’t moving our feet and getting on the forecheck like we usually do.”
Because of Martin Brodeur's prowess in net and Anton Volchenkov’s goal, a rebound that caromed in off a King, the Devils had the chance to steal the game in the third, or in overtime. Instead, the Devils buckled on Marek Zidlicky’s blunder that gave Anze Kopitar the winning breakaway.
“We felt that we missed an opportunity because we were able to hang around against this team, not playing our best game,” Zajac said. “Still, having a chance to win, that makes us feel pretty good that we can play better, be a little bit more successful.”
The Devils can expect to be better, but they better expect the Kings to improve, as well. The visitors tomorrow can match the record of 10 total road victories in a playoff year, with the 1995 and 2000 Devils among those sharing that mark.
The Devils, who did not practice Thursday, never have trailed 0-2 in the finals. Each time they won the opener, they won the Cup. The other time they lost the opener, they lost the 2001 Cup. ... The Kings have outscored foes 16-4 after the second period, including 4-0 in OT.