PLAYOFF SERIES: Stanley Cup final; Devils lead 3-2.
Being one win away from hockey’s ultimate prize brings no guarantees. Just ask the New Jersey Devils.
Needing one victory for their third Stanley Cup in nine years, the Devils will try to become the first road team in this series to win when they face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in Game 6 at Arrowhead Pond.
In a complete reversal of the first four games in this series, Game 5 on Thursday was a wide-open, high-scoring affair that the Devils won 6-3 to move within one win of the Stanley Cup.
Brian Gionta had a goal and two assists and Jamie Langenbrunner scored twice in the third period as New Jersey kept the home team perfect in the 2003 finals. The Mighty Ducks must improve to 3-0 in this series at home on Saturday to force a decisive Game 7 in New Jersey on Monday.
Although they are a dominant 11-1 at home in the playoffs, the Devils would obviously rather avoid a Game 7 and finish off the Mighty Ducks in Anaheim.
New Jersey, the Stanley Cup champion in 1995 and 2000, was one win away from back-to-back titles in 2001, but lost the final two games of that series to the Colorado Avalanche. Goalie Martin Brodeur is one of a number of Devils that was with the team in 2001.
“It’s definitely up for grabs for us,” Brodeur said. “We definitely put ourselves in a great position, but we’re not thinking about what we’ve accomplished in the last 10 years. We’re busy enough trying to solve this problem here. It definitely is an exciting opportunity to show the world how dominant we’ve been for the last 10 years.”
Winning Game 5 has put history on New Jersey’s side.
Teams winning Game 5 have won 13 of the 17 Stanley Cup finals that were tied after four games. However, the 2001 Devils were the last team that failed to win the Cup after taking a 3-2 lead.
New Jersey also held a 3-1 series lead against the Ottawa Senators in the conference finals, but lost the next two games before pulling out a 3-2 victory on the road in Game 7.
“Now we’re going on the road to play in a place that is not really kind to us,” Brodeur said. “It kind of makes us want to do it. The pressure is definitely on them. They feel good about themselves going back to their building. We’re going to try to ruin that.”
Home teams are 5-0 in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1978, when the Montreal Canadiens won Games 1, 2 and 5 and the Boston Bruins won Games 3 and 4. Since the best-of-seven format was adopted in 1939, home teams have only won all seven games in the finals twice, in 1955 and 1965.
Due mainly to the play of Brodeur and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the first four games of this series featured just 12 total goals and three shutouts. Neither goalie played particularly well in Game 5, though Brodeur’s teammates provided better defensive coverage than Giguere’s in the second half of the game.
“We’re disappointed with the way we played,” Anaheim captain Paul Kariya said. “Six goals in a playoff game is embarrassing. It’s not our style of game, and we’re not going to have any success like that.”
Having rugged forward Turner Stevenson in the lineup for the first time in the finals wouldn’t seem to be enough to change momentum in this series, but the Devils were clearly a more confident and determined team on Thursday after two straight losses.
“He’s been a guy who’s really helped us over the course of the year with physical play,” Devils coach Pat Burns said. “He has that inspiration and certain aggravation in him to get in there and finish the hits. Then, when he’s out there, he gets the puck and he’s big and strong, and he protects it well, too.”
Stevenson, sidelined the previous six games with a groin injury, and fellow grinders John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Michael Rupp and Pascal Rheaume were tenacious on the forecheck, and caused constant traffic in front of Giguere.
“That’s how we play,” Stevenson said. “It’s not about just running around and hitting people. We get the puck down low and make teams play defense. When you have to play in your own zone like that for long periods of time you tend to get tired.”
Giguere was clearly the catalyst for the Ducks’ improbable run to the finals, but the Devils have made him look mortal—what Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota couldn’t do in the first three rounds. Giguere has allowed 13 goals in five games in this series after yielding 20 in his first 14 playoff games.
Although he was a victim of some bad bounces and unfortunate deflections, Giguere knows he didn’t play well enough in Game 5.
“You create your bounces,” Giguere said. “These guys, they worked really hard tonight. They threw a lot of pucks at the net and traffic at the net and pucks bounced their way. We need to work harder. I feel as far as a goalie is concerned you create your own luck. I just need to create my own luck the next game.”
A better performance from Giguere is absolutely imperative if Anaheim is going to force the series back to New Jersey, but some production from its best players would also be a huge help.
Before assisting on Steve Rucchin’s goal at 12:50 of the first period on Thursday, Kariya had gone five straight games without a point. Petr Sykora had also gone five games without registering a point before he had a goal and an assist in Game 5.
“Our first two lines haven’t been playing well all series,” Kariya said. “We need a lot more from us to win.”
Following disappointing performances in Games 1 and 2, the Ducks got back in this series on home ice as Giguere led them to a pair of overtime wins.
“We’re not frustrated at all,” Anaheim’s Steve Thomas said. “We’re down 3-2 and we’re going home where we’ve been real good. We’re a pretty comfortable bunch of guys.”
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Devils - 2nd seed; beat Boston Bruins 4-1, Eastern Conference quarterfinals; beat Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1, Eastern Conference semifinals; beat Ottawa Senators 4-3, Eastern Conference finals. Mighty Ducks - 7th seed; beat Detroit Red Wings 4-0, Western Conference quarterfinals; beat Dallas Stars 4-2, Western Conference semifinals; beat Minnesota Wild 4-0, Western Conference finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Langenbrunner, 11 goals and 18 points; Scott Niedermayer, 14 assists; Colin White, 27 PIM. Mighty Ducks - Kariya and Rucchin, 5 goals; Adam Oates and Mike Leclerc, 8 assists, Ruslan Salei, 24 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 15.2 percent (12 for 79). Penalty killing: 90.8 percent (59 for 65). Mighty Ducks - Power play: 9.8 percent (6 for 61). Penalty killing: 87.7 percent (57 for 65).