NHL: N.J. Devils Force Game 5 Against L.A. Kings

The New Jersey Devils avoided elimination in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals by beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1. Game 5 is Saturday night in New Jersey. The Kings have never won the Stanley Cup.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Hockey fans were probably thinking their season was about to end last night. But not so fast. The L.A. Kings seemed on the brink of history. Up 3-0 in their Stanley Cup final series, a win would've secured them their first-ever National Hockey League championship. But the New Jersey Devils staved off elimination with what their fans are hoping is the start of an epic comeback.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to fill us in on all the highs and lows from last night. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hey. Those pesky Devils.

GREENE: Those pesky Devils. I mean, they were really on the ropes. What - how'd they win last night?

PESCA: Yeah. You know, they had never led for a second in this series - going down, as they had, 3-0. And then they established a lead. It took them awhile; the game was scoreless through two. But at 7:56 of the third, Patrick Elias put the Devils ahead. That lead lasted about a minute, when the Kings got the equalizer. But the big go-ahead goal that stood up was Adam Henrique's, with about four minutes and 31 seconds left; put them up 2-1. Devils added an empty net goal. So, you know, maybe they can get some momentum.

GREENE: There have not been a lot of goals in this series. I mean, I love great goaltending. I don't know about you - I mean, some people love good offense - but there's been a lot of fantastic goaltending in this series so far.

PESCA: Yeah. I love great goaltending, too. I love it when a goalie - and this is a great phrase in hockey - stands on his head, and when you say oh, my God, he's the only thing between, you know, all these 100-mile-an-hour pieces of vulcanized rubber and destruction. It's an amazing thing.

In this series, the - it features two of the best goalies in the NHL. The winningest goalie in NHL history, that's Martin Brodeur. He's the Devils' goalie, and he's been good. But Jonathan Quick, the Kings' goalie, he has been excellent. I think he's been the best goalie this year. And in the playoffs, he's been ridiculous. You know, he was letting up on, in this series, on average of two-thirds of a goal.

The thing that sometimes gets missed, because we look at those goals against average, is how well, overall, the teams are playing defense. And they're really limiting the opponents' shots. The thing is that these kind of low-scoring games - but low-scoring in a way that, you know, don't have someone like Dominick Hasek, a great goalie like that, standing on his head - maybe not so exciting for the casual fan, the fan that the NHL is hoping to rope in with an exciting series; which thus far, this one has not been.

GREENE: Well, and it's interesting you bring that up because the ratings for this series have really been down. I mean, maybe it's what you just said - that it hasn't been exciting. Maybe fans didn't think it was going to be much of a series. Or maybe it's two teams without huge fan bases. But is this a concern for the NHL?

PESCA: It is a concern. They have - the Game 3 ratings are out. I haven't seen the overnights yesterday. But just to compare past Game 3s, less than 2 mill - 1.74 million people watched. The year before, when it was Vancouver versus Boston, it was 2.76 million; the year before that, Chicago-Philadelphia, 3.6 million.

I think what's going is, first of all, you have the franchises involved. The L.A. Kings are a - certainly, a quirky story, an unusual story - hockey in L.A.. But they're not going to drive a huge national audience. The New Jersey Devils come from a cold-weather place. But I have to tell you, I did a little experiment last night, and walked around my Manhattan neighborhood. And I looked inside all the bars - what games were they playing on TV. And if a bar had eight or more TVs, well, the hockey game, the NHL playoffs of this local team, was on a couple of the TVs. They'd also have the NBA playoffs, and the Yankee game - I walked around in the third period, when the Mets had already done.

But when there was only one TV in a bar or a restaurant, it was never on hockey. And this is a local team; this is the New Jersey Devils. I just, you know, think that this team hasn't broken through. And then you have the issues of, people love to watch sports on television. Even though HDTV very much helps hockey, there's still large periods where you can't see the puck.

And hockey hasn't had that transcendent player with flare - like Gretzky or Messier - in a while. And I know Sidney Crosby - the Penguin - is great. He's hurt so often. Hockey players are humble - which is great; which is how they like it. But in order to break through the media landscape, sometimes you need a Joe Namath or a Pele.

GREENE: What do the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs mean to you?

PESCA: Three - in the history...

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: In the history of team sports in North America, four times have teams that were down 3-nothing in a playoff series, come back to win. The Maple Leafs are one of them. Three of those four are hockey teams. Unfortunately, 297 times is the number of times a team has gone up 3-nothing.

So the Devils have long odds. I will say this: One of the teams that came back, the 1975 Islanders. Good scorer on that team, a guy named J.P. Parise. J.P. Parise's son, Zach Parise, is on the Devils. So what I'm saying: It's a dead certainty that the Devils are coming back - I am not saying that at all.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: I'm not saying that at all. I'm just saying, little something to hang their hat on.

GREENE: Well, Mike, you are a man who always beats the odds.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Thank you very much.

GREENE: NPR sports reporter Mike Pesca, thanks so much. And he joins us here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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