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Devils stick with their plan and stay alive

Years from now, when details of scoring plays and great saves are long forgotten, history will suggest the 2012 Stanley Cup final began as a one-sided series with the Kings winning the first three games and the Devils looking like a speed bump along the way.

In truth, the best-of-seven series has been much tighter than what results indicated. The Devils lost the first two games in overtime and agonized over David Clarkson and Mark Fayne missing glorious opportunities in the opener and Ilya Kovalchuk cranking one off the cross bar in the second game.

The Devils were a loss from getting swept Wednesday night, deep trouble by any standard, but they didn't see the situation as grounds for panic. The master plan didn't call for drastic change. They simply wanted to adhere to what carried them this far and hope they would eventually infiltrate the Kings' defense.

Finally, the Devils scored first and grabbed the lead for the first time in the series, and made Jonathan Quick look human for a change. Rookie Adam Henrique scored the winner with 4:29 remaining in the third period en route to the Devils' 3-1 victory over the Kings in Game Four. The Kings still have a 3-1 series lead going back to New Jersey.

The Devils are gasping, yes, but they're alive.

"We feel we've been playing really well with zero result," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "It's hard, but you don't change for the sake of change. We wanted to keep playing the same. We're happy to live another day. [But] we know the road ahead is going to be difficult."

New Jersey's flaw during the final series hasn't been offense so much as offensive production. Translation: goals. The Kings were the better team by a wide margin while winning the third game, setting up a potential clincher with the Cup polished and ready for a few twirls around Staples Center.

The series was not so much about bad bounces for the Devils, although there were some, as it was the Kings playing terrific defense and getting outstanding goaltending from Quick. Brodeur had played well enough to win the first two games.

Finally, Quick buckled.

The Devils scored only two goals in the first three games and neither fell at the feet of Quick, who has been the best player in the postseason. He hadn't been beaten by a clean shot before Henrique kicked the puck to his skate and beat Quick with a wrister short side that confirmed the Kings' goaltender was, in fact, human.

"It's fun," Henrique said. "This is where every kid dreams of playing. We know it's going to be tough to come back. We needed to get the first one under our belts."

Los Angeles had an 8-2 advantage in goals through the first three games and scored first in all three. Quick was fabulous with his innate ability to show the net and take it away -- now you see it, now you don't -- throughout the playoffs. The Devils' star players fell silent, and New Jersey couldn't overcome a persistent problem.

It comes down to scoring.

New Jersey, looking for any positive it could find before the fourth game, pointed toward its 4-8 record in the first three games of playoff series this year and its 8-1 record in the fourth game and beyond. Los Angeles had a better stat: It was the first team in NHL history to grab a 3-0 series lead in all four rounds.

The Devils' issue was with a collection of star players who fell silent before showing up and finding the net in Game Four. Henrique, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias had an ugly 0-0-0 parked next to their names on the series scoring sheet before all three scored to push the series back to New Jersey.

"We finally got rewarded," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "I like our effort in the first three games. Hopefully, this gets the ball rolling."

Widespread speculation had Kovalchuk playing through back spasms. Parise, Elias and Henrique had less of an excuse for their ineffectiveness. The explanation is that the other team is getting paid, too. It's not just Quick. The Kings' team defense has been near flawless for the past two months.

Sometimes, all it takes is one shot to turn the series around. The Kings have a 10-0 record on the road. They've already clinched two series in the first three rounds away from home, so it's not as if they're spiraling out of control. But maybe the Devils shook their confidence just a little, gave them a hint of doubt, that can force a sixth game.

And then, who knows?

"We wanted them to jump on a plane to New Jersey," Brodeur said. "We had to go back anyway, so we might as well have a game. I'm sure they're not happy to make that trip. Hopefully, we'll make it miserable for them again."

email: bgleason@buffnews.com