NEWARK, N.J. - Thanks to the New Jersey Devils, the Stanley Cup has suddenly got a whole lot more interesting.
The Devils rose to the occasion Saturday night, staving off elimination to win a wildly entertaining game 2-1 and send the Stanley Cup final back to Los Angeles.
The Devils' second straight victory cuts the Kings' lead to 3-2 going into Game 6 Monday at the Staples Center with Game 7, if needed, on Wednesday in Newark.
"We could have packed it two games ago, that's the bottom line," said Martin Brodeur, who sparkled in the New Jersey goal. "But you see we have a bunch of resilient guys that want to try to make history and try to win the Stanley Cup. We're not going to give up."
A second-period Bryce Salvador shot from the point that bounced in off a Los Angeles defenceman proved to be the difference, ending the Kings' record road win streak at 10 in this post-season.
A first-period handling error by Los Angeles stopper Jonathan Quick helped gift Devils captain Zach Parise the all-important first goal. It came against the run of play as the Kings had raced out to a powerful start.
New Jersey is now 10-1 in Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 in these playoffs.
"It's a testament to how he (Brodeur) enjoys that type of pressure," said Devils coach Peter DeBoer.
It's the first time since 1945 that a team trailing 3-0 in the final has extended the series to six games, and only the third time in league history.
"I said even when we were down 3-0 that I didn't feel the series was that lopsided," DeBoer said. "Our best players were our best players tonight — Brodeur and Parise and (Ilya) Kovalchuk. That's the key this time of year."
Both teams came into Game 5 loaded for bear and the contest was played in fifth gear with plenty of big hits and saves. It was a game where you looked away at your peril.
Captain Parise scored the all-important first goal for New Jersey, taking advantage of a Quick handling error in the first period.
Justin Williams replied for Los Angeles early in the second to make it 1-1.
Los Angeles outshot New Jersey 26-19, including 9-3 in the third period.
The Jersey fans were up to it Saturday, tailgating happily in the square next to the Prudential Center prior to the game. The team store, the Devils Den, was doing brisk pre-game business with flashing devil horns a popular item.
The sold-out crowd of 17,625 was chanting "Let's Go Devils" before the team even hit the ice.
Brodeur led the Devils out, followed seconds later down the other tunnel by Quick. During the U.S. anthem, Quick followed his normal routine of remaining hunched over looking down at the ice. Brodeur stood still, then started kicking his legs out as if there were ants in his pants.
The game started with a bang.
The Kings had talked about the importance of a good start and they took it to the Devils on the first shift, pinning them in their zone and forcing Brodeur to make a good stop off Dustin Brown, who was like a bull in a china shop after the puck dropped.
Williams ripped a shot off the side of the post after a Devils giveaway outside the blue-line.
It was a frenetic opening with few stoppages in play and plenty of up-and-down rushes. The Kings started strongly but Brodeur was equal to the task, and then New Jersey came back at them.
Devils veteran Patrik Elias was temporarily flattened midway through the opening period when defenceman Matt Greene took him hard into the boards after he tried to find Dainius Zubrus on a rush.
The Devils almost went ahead on the power play when Travis Zajac's shot dribbled through Quick's legs and was cleared by Drew Doughty before it crossed the line. But Parise scored with 15 seconds left in the Willie Mitchell penalty, taking advantage of a poor Quick clearance to beat the out-of-position goalie and poke the puck into the side of the net at 12:45 for his eighth of the playoffs.
As it has been all series, the first goal proved to be extremely important.
"We scored the first goal in the first three, they've scored the first goal (in Games 4 and 5) so that tells you just how close it is," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
The goal ended New Jersey's 0-for-15 drought on the power play in the final.
The Kings' Twitter feed was unimpressed. "The Devils goal song lyrics are 'Hey, you suck.' Lyrical geniuses."
Los Angeles led 7-4 in shots after 20 minutes but trailed by a goal and was outhit 13-10.
"We needed the first goal," DeBoer said. "I thought they were the better team in the first period, which was a little surprising. I don't know whether it was nerves or what but they controlled the period, Marty made some big saves for us and we capitalized on a mistake."
Williams tied it up at 3:26 of the second, taking a pass down the wing and then cruising into the slot and firing a shot that beat Brodeur, who was screened by Brown and several Devils.
There were chances at both ends with the goalies coming up big.
Salvador put the Devils back ahead at 9:05 of the second with a floating shot from the point as Quick was trying to deal with Devils forward David Clarkson and Kings defenceman Slava Voynov in front of him. The puck deflected off Voynov into the goal for the second time in the series.
"It's nice that we're finding some holes in him right now," DeBoer said of Quick.
A Kings goal was called off soon after because it was ruled it went in off a high stick by Jarret Stoll.
The game was fast and loose. And very entertaining.
Brodeur robbed Stoll on a breakaway. Then the Devils buzzed the net in the final minutes of the second with Parise and Kovalchuk almost combining. A Ryan Carter knuckleball deflected off Quick's mask.
The hit count was at 42 after the second (with New Jersey leading 25-17) and 57 (34-23 for New Jersey) at the final whistle.
Devils defenceman Marek Zidlicky made a big play early in the third, bodying Mike Richards away as the Kings forward raced in the New Jersey end and tried to make a move on the penalty kill.
Just as Quick seemed to do earlier in the series, Brodeur appeared to be getting in his opposition's heads. Doughty shook his head in the third in disbelief when the 40-year-old goalie found his slapshot from the point through a sea of bodies.
"He's played well, very well the last two nights," Sutter said of Brodeur. "We're probably saying what they said in Games 1 and 2, where we got breaks and now they did."
History remains on the Kings' side.
Teams leading 3-0 in the final have previously gone on to win the Cup 24 of 25 times (96 per cent). The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs rallied from a three-game deficit to defeat Detroit in seven.
"We're not thinking that far ahead. We've got to win another game in order to keep playing," said DeBoer.
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