My family’s name may be of Italian heritage, but one half of my tree is a mixture of various eastern European counties: if there was a war, we fled... yet we survived!
A small percentage of my linage is actually Ukrainian, but what does that have to do with hockey? Plenty.
It was April of 1942, and future Hall of Fame goalie Walter “Turk” Broda and his Toronto Maple Leafs faced an 0-3 deficit in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Detroit Red Wings. Featuring a Game 6 shutout, the Leafs would rally back to capture the first of five Cups backstopped by Broda.
Along with being the first SCF to go the maximum seven games, it remains the lone Finals where a team rallied back from the largest possible deficit to capture a best-of-7 series... until now?
The New Jersey Devils, also once down 0-3, bounced back to take a pair of games to force tonight’s Game 6 at Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings. Could it be Panic Time in L.A.?
All five previous starts were 1-goal games (not counting empty-net goals), so it comes as no surprise that the team which scored first went on to win each outing.
But what allowed the Devils to score first to make a dent into a series which may become one of the most dramatic Finals series in decades? Hitting. Lots and lots of hitting.
When the Kings took Game 3, they registered more hits with a solid forecheck by the forwards, then workmanlike checks by the defense in the corners. Even though the statistic can be ambiguous and highly subjective, the same set of scorekeepers in Game 4 registered a 30-hit turnaround for the Devils.
New Jersey out-worked, out-hustled and, eventually, out-scored the Kings in finally capture a game, then did the same in Game 5 to send East Coast hockey fans into a lather, while the band wagon, latte drinkers on the Left Coast... hold it – I’m one of them!
Turk was a life-time member of the Leafs. New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur is a life-long partner with the Devils. Turk’s resume includes five Cups; Brodeur seeks No. 4 during the expansion era which five times as many NHL franchises.
Still, the 0-3 mountain to climb is extremely tough, yet the Devils need only to win Game 6 – basically, this is their Game 7 – to return the series to New Jersey on the New York media spotlight.
The Kings entered the Finals with only two losses through three rounds of playoff action, thanks to out-muscling No. 1 seed Vancouver, No. 2 seed St. Louis, and No. 3 seed Phoenix in the Western Conference playoffs.
Now they’ve lost two straight, moving to the cusp of one of two historic feats: either ascending to their first Cup crown or blowing their Cup quest, becoming the biggest chokers in history.
And both views are realistic, especially for a franchise with just one division title in 40-plus seasons of hockey in Southern California. They just to find a way to lose. Even the 1993 Kings, with Wayne Gretzky at his peak, found a way to not take the final step to greatest.
Brodeur and greatness are synonyms. The L.A. Kings, my favorite team since childhood, are known for always taking a back seat.
Can history change? Sure.
The New Orleans Saints finally won a Super Bowl. The Boston Red Sox (down 0-3 to the New York Yankees in the ALCS) finally overcame the 86-year Curse of the Bambino to capture a World Series in 2004.
And the Chicago Cubs... uh, let’s not go there!