NEWARK, N.J. - For all the long-suffering Maple Leafs fans out there (a group bigger than some small countries), hey, isn't it great that the Leafs are being mentioned now whenever talk turns to the New Jersey Devils and the 2012 Stanley Cup final?
Maybe the Leafs will return to the post-season in a year's time. Maybe general manager Brian Burke somehow will demonstrate he can work a minor miracle this summer and re-shape the team into one that Randy Carlyle will enjoy coaching, one that has the kind of players he likes to send over the boards on every shift.
For now, however, the only discussion involving the Leafs and the playoffs centres on the miracle that the Devils have completed to the halfway point, one that has seen them climb back into the Cup final with consecutive victories over the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils are trying to do what no National Hockey League team has done since the Maple Leafs did it in 1942, win four games to claim the Cup after spotting the opponent a 3-0 series lead.
Despite the Devils' resurrection in the past two games, few would be surprised if the Kings win Game 6 on home ice Monday night, a victory that would give them the first Stanley Cup in team history.
After all, as Devils coach Peter DeBoer has noted several times, the results in each game could have gone either way. Neither club has dominated the other for long stretches, and though the Devils and the Kings might not conspire to play the most exciting brand of hockey, there has been little to differentiate between the two.
But what the Devils now have is momentum, no matter where Game 6 is being played, and no matter that the Kings hold a 3-2 series lead and need a single victory to start a celebration. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick might very well forget about his miscue that led to the all-important opening goal in Game 5, and perhaps L.A. defenceman Slava Voynov will stop deflecting the puck into his own net.
Though the Kings would be loathe to acknowledge it, the Devils haven't simply crept into their heads, they have planted themselves firmly in their opponents' psyche. What should trouble the Kings is the Devils, by their own admission, were not good during the first period Saturday night yet still emerged with a 1-0 lead on Zach Parise's goal following Quick's rush to get rid of the puck. Yet despite the Devils' struggles, the Kings could not score on 40-year-old Devils netminder Martin Brodeur, who has turned back the clock during the post-season.
Like his team, which is 10-1 in the playoffs in Games 4 through 7, Brodeur has been improving as the calendar turned to May and then to June.
One could win the argument that the Devils wouldn't have required seven games to oust the Florida Panthers in the opening round in April had Brodeur put forth a few more timely saves. Now, with each game more crucial than the one before it, Brodeur is doing more than enough to give his team a chance to win.
That would be difficult for any team to digest, but it should be remembered that the Kings scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season, with 194, more than just the 177 scored by the Minnesota Wild.
Point is, even with a team that has Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, goals have been scarce. In eight home games in the playoffs, the Kings have managed just 16 goals.
That kind of statistic tends to come under a microscope when there are no more than two games remaining in the playoffs.
What's the bottom line?
The team that wins Game 6 will be the one that gets the bounces, as the players like to say. It's that close between these two teams.
And if it's the Devils, they will be one win away from nudging up to the '42 Leafs in the NHL record books.