Monday, June 04, 2012

Devils lacking proper fire to overcome Kings

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

In Greek legend, Hephaistos (Vulcan in Roman mythology) toils endlessly in the fiery pits, fashioning anything and everything the Olympian Gods require in their daily soap operas with each other and on the planet Earth.

The reason he was kept down in the depths and well away from the world was that he possessed two decidedly un-godlike qualities: physical defects and diminished mental capacity.

So there he is, a Rocky-like laborer, hammering and blasting away for eternity with the tools of his trade, doing the most with what little he has, pausing every so often to let the land shake with a volcanic eruption or two.

By the way, he was also banished from Mount Olympus -- some versions of the myth say he was thrown down by Zeus himself and became crippled when he landed on one of the islands in the Mediterranean -- before eventually returning by machinations of his fellow gods.

Given that description, it's not hard to imagine how the New Jersey Devils have found themselves in an 0-2 hole in the Stanley Cup Finals with two games far away from home to try and survive.

The Horned Ones haven't done a great job thus far, opting for a deliberate path in the first part of each game. They have tried to draw out the Kings, to bait them, trying to force turnovers -- all methods that succeeded in the first three rounds. In the rare times it has worked, Jonathan Quick has proved to be the great equalizer, taking up the mantle Martin Brodeur once held.

Then comes the inevitable shockwaves: a short-handed chance, a power play, the desperation that results from a third-period deficit. Both times, a goal was in the offing that temporarily provided some life for the hosts, but no more. The Los Angeles Kings stole back the momentum, then called down the thunder by winning both in overtime for good measure.

What the Devils have apparently failed to realize, despite home-ice advantage throughout the best-of-seven set, is that the Kings can match them line-for-line, pass-for-pass, check-for-check and pace-for-pace.

Most importantly, LA is ahead of them shot-for-shot by a 2-to-1 margin and that's what has the club two wins away from the first championship in team history.

It's the worst nightmare for a club predicated on expert devotion to and precise execution of their system, squaring off against an opponent who strike back effectively simply by hoisting a mirror in the opposite direction.

You have to wonder what magical tool Peter DeBoer has on order to bolster his arsenal. If it exists, the obvious question is why wasn't it there to open up this most crucial of all times?

Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, who are all special parts of the machinery, haven't risen above their places as cogs in the wheel yet. Time is growing short. Although Henrik Tallinder is teetering on the brink of a comeback, the Kings have already countered with the addition of Simon Gagne -- who has scored the most goals of any active player against Brodeur.

They may have professed confidence on the eve of a Game 3 all the way across the continent, but if New Jersey doesn't want to get blown out of the series before it really gets rolling, it has to stop trying to turn each zone into a chessboard for the first portion of the game and then simply rely on one or two quick bursts of passion to stay in the contest.

So that part about being cast down suddenly from the heavens? A perfect allegory for a surprise run to the Finals abruptly halted by forces beyond the Devils' control but within their same.

It's especially fitting because Lucifer -- the Devil himself -- also found himself in the same predicament without the later ascension.

If the sudden underdogs from the East are satisfied that their game plan has gotten them this far, good on them. That's the way it's supposed to be when you've racked up 12 of the necessary 16 wins to take the Cup.

But if the game is to keep on waiting, keep on hoping, thinking that things will just turn like a blow on a hot piece of iron, then the same fate that befell a giant of antiquity will roar into the present with a vengeance.

The Kings won two; the Devils need four of five. The spark won't turn into fire with divine intervention, it has to come from within, at a time when harder and tougher souls have been forged than any work of a lame, slow blacksmith.


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