Remember a few days ago when the Kings were curb stomping everyone in their path and Game 4 of the Final series felt like a mere formality? Just lose and go away, Devils. Know your place in this fairy tale.
If you are a religiously-inclined hockey zealot, you had to be cringing at the audacity of it all, even if it also didn’t seem realistic that anybody was going to stop the Kings’ march to the cup. The level of certainty in seemingly every corner of the hockey universe that the Kings would sweep, or at the very least, wrap it up in New Jersey last night, was off the charts.
And we all know what happens when err’body gets too cocky up in Hockeydom: The Hockey Gods send your ass to church.
When I was a kid, I remember our preacher doing a series of sermons on each commandment. Thou shalt not do this or that or the other – I dunno, I was busy doodling in the program.
But I do know there are 10 very bad things on that list and I’ve probably done several of them. Likewise, the Church of Hockey has its own commandments, and right there at the top of the list is:
Thou shalt not hand out wins prematurely.
It’s a big one, and an obvious one. We played god, and the Hockey Gods put us in our places for it. Snack on some humility, suckers!
And they’re right, of course. Not only should we have known better, purely for religious reasons, than to anoint the Kings the Champions before they’d actually earned it, but there are other signs that this bounce-back was entirely possible, and maybe even likely.
Who’s the Fatso Now?
I wrote earlier in the season pleading my case to Marty Brodeur to retire whenever he wants, but to please do so with dignity – don’t hang on too long and make us all watch your game decline and feel sorry for you.
Then he got to the final and the consensus seemed to be, “Aww, isn’t that nice that that old man could maybe get another ring thanks to all that offense around him?” Read: Not much credit to the man himself.
Then the series started and it looked like the young, agile Jonathan Quick was going to have one of those “son surpasses father” moments. That perhaps the torch of goaltending greatness was about to be passed.
But Brodeur holds most of the goaltending records in the league for a reason. A) He’s really freaking good. B) He’s been there.
Goaltending is a rollercoaster. One week, you’re in the zone, the puck is the size of a beach ball and nobody’s getting it past you. The next week, it’s the size of a pinto bean and has eyes, arms, and legs and has been chain-drinking Red Bull since 8 a.m.
But the longer you play, the more skilled you become at not only correcting nosedives, but also not getting rattled by your own success. Eventually you find peace with the fact that you won’t always be lucky, get the bounces, or stop enough pucks, and that it’s nothing to get the yips over if you’re have an unbelievably good run. I’m not sure Quick has mastered that.
And if anybody is equipped to rebound from a handful of not so great games, it’s a living legend like Brodeur. We should have known he had it in him to take the Kings by the crown and dominate them.
And now that he’s found that rhythm, the Kings suddenly feel a little bit like underdogs. The beast is awake…
2-1 OT, 2-1 OT, 4-0
The other reason we should have seen this coming is that the first two games were incredibly close. Both teams played like the best teams in the league and it took overtime to resolve them both. A bounce here, a bounce there, and those games could have gone the Devils’ way.
Then, a 4-0 beat down in Game 3 maybe tricked us into thinking the Devils were throwing in the towel.
But what has this team done all playoffs besides prove to us that we don’t really know them at all? They keep winning in the face of adversity, thriving in their underdog role. It’s like the kid picked last in gym class being one of the last ones standing in the dodgeball game.
What’s more, why WOULD they roll over when games 1 and 2 proved that they’re 100% capable of hanging with the Kings? How silly of us.
Now, here we are with egg on our faces, but a real series on our hands. And that’s why the hockey gods are ultimately good and benevolent: In the course of teaching us a lesson, they gave us a few more hours of the best, most meaningful hockey of the season.
I, for one, will be honoring that by not getting ahead of myself and believing, much like the Devils have all along, that this is anyone’s cup to win.
Hallelujah and amen.