My coaches of old would find it comical that I’m the guy writing this article, but it has to be said: the New Jersey Devils are playing with a visible lack of fire/grit/stones/balls/sandpaper/heart/whatever-you-want-to-call-it in the Stanley Cup Final. Game 3 was borderline pathetic.
Not all hockey fans are down with “old school” thinking, but in this case, to hell with ‘em - the Devils badly needed to stir some shit up at the end of Game 3. They rolled over like a disciplined dog staring down the nose of a snausage.
We were spoiled last season by a seven-game Final between two teams who genuinely loathed each other after all of one period (Boston/Vancouver), who punished each other at every opportunity, who got distracted by that emotion it was so overwhelming at times. But this series has been at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Neither team has shown much dislike for the other, but if you’re the Kings, you’re smart to not stir up any unnecessary emotion in your opponent. Let them sleepwalk through the series. There was a point in last night’s game where Jonathan Quick covered the puck, and Andy Greene whacked his glove, hard. Trevor Lewis skated over to him, and on fine stationary with a feather pen, wrote the polite note “Please do not hit our goalie after the whistle” (at least that’s how I remember it). Guys like Lucic and Bieksa would’ve been firing up chainsaws to get redemption last year, but in this case, Lewis did the right thing. Very smart.
So fine, for the Kings, don’t wake the sleeping giant. But what the hell, New Jersey? It’s Game 3, and you’re playing the world’s stingiest defensive team. They’re up 4-0 with half the third period to play, and you’re about to go down 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. Nobody’s angry right now? Passionate? Nobody’s trying to turn the tide, to do something, ANYTHING to get a rise out of the boys on the bench, to at least show that you give a shit?
I know it’s the Finals, and you don’t want to do anything stupid. I know there’s a reason guys like Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton haven’t dressed for the Devils, despite playing a combined 100 regular season games – they aren’t very good. But David Clarkson can’t challenge someone? Volchenkov? Carter, Salvador, Fayne? Hell, Zubrus and Ponikarovsky are 6’5″ and 6’4″ respectively. They can’t run someone a little harder than necessary, or at least mix in a post-whistle facewash?
I just can’t believe the lack of animosity in a series where you’re playing for something you’ve been playing for your whole life, and the game is out of reach. Something has to change at that point – the current plan isn’t working. Am I advocating for running the goalie? No. Am I advocating for maybe getting tangled up in his crease, maybe falling on him, maybe trying to piss someone off every shift for the rest of the game? I am.
I know not everyone gets the whole “the game’s out of reach, it’s going to get ugly” concept, and in the regular season, I’m usually on board with that thinking (assuming it’s not a division rival). A loss is a loss.
But the Kings have had to face zero adversity this post-season. They’re a great hockey team who’s playing extraordinarily disciplined, as they should. My junior coach once said “When you’re a good team, never let ‘em see you sweat.” It frustrates teams – “We just can’t get to these guys, they could care less about us.” But when we were losing, he also used to say “fuck, fight or hold the light.” As in, do something.
It’s too late now. Next game they have to play hockey, do the right things, and win. But watching their dull parade to the final buzzer last night was infuriating.
Games 1 and 2 were close, and could’ve gone either way. But the second Justin Williams scored last night, the Devils looked like their will was broken. Maybe it was.