During the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New Jersey Devils made a magical run to the Stanley Finals where they ran into a team that had a little magic of their own, the Los Angeles Kings. We all know what happened, the Kings went up three games to nothing and had the Devils in a corner. They would need to win the last four games in a row to get out of it.
They managed two wins to force it to Game 6, but the infamous Steve Bernier boarding call gave momentum and a five-minute powerplay to the Kings. They took advantage, but six final nails into the coffin and skated away with Lord Stanley’s Cup. However, what would have happened if the Devils won even just one of the first three games? How would it have been different?
Some people forget that the first two games of that Finals in New Jersey ended in overtime. Anze Kopitar deked Martin Brodeur out of the Prudential Center to win the first matchup and Jeff Carter sent a wrist shot that found a way through bodies and past Martin Brodeur. A defensive miscue and a failure to clean the front of the net brought the Devils to an early two-games-to-none hole.
This whole scenario is a huge ‘what if’. The Kings were virtually invincible going into the Finals. They had lost a total of two games the first three rounds. Both of those games came at home during game four’s. The had a chance to sweep the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks and the surprising Phoenix Coyotes.
The Kings were no strangers to surprises either as they were the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They however did successfully sweep the St. Louis Blues in the second round. Jonathan Quick seemingly stopped everything thrown his way.
The Devils had a harder road to get to the Finals. They needed seven games to get through the Florida Panthers. They then shockingly barreled over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round despite them being the Stanley Cup favorites at the time. Adam Henrique became a fixture in Devils’ lore in the Conference Finals against the New York Rangers. There was no one player that stood out. Maybe Bryce Salvador, who had a breakout postseason and landed a massive contract in the offseason, but they were mostly dependent on each other.
The Devils had a few opportunities to beat Quick in the first games. Most notably, defenseman Mark Fayne had a wide open net but couldn’t capitalized. However, if they were able to score in both overtimes of the Finals, the tables would have been reversed. It is easy to see a scenario where the two teams split in Los Angeles and the Devils had an opportunity to end the Cinderella Story in Newark for Game 5. Let’s just say for argument’s sake, the Devils win Game 5 and become Stanley Cup Champions once again. The ‘what if’ is not as important for what happens on the as it would off of the ice.
Of course the big ‘what if’ for on the ice is a Stanley Cup victory. Devils fans have not had that feeling of being a champion in nine years at that time. They had previously won three Stanley Cups in nine years, which is impressive. But that impressive number had become a looming drought, one that hasn’t come close to ending since. The ‘what if’ is easy. They are champions again and fans celebrate in Newark instead of the parking lot of Continental Airlines Arena. The more complicated ‘what if’ is what would happen to Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur.
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Parise famously left the Devils in free agency to go home to the Minnesota Wild that offseason, while Brodeur stayed for another few years until 2014. If the Devils took home the glory, would Parise have left? He is the captain of the new Stanley Cup Champions, has the opportunity to repeat, and ability to recruit Ryan Suter. Suter joined Parise and there was a scenario where Parise was talking to Suter about going to the Garden State. With the Stanley Cup ring, the convincing would have been made a whole lot easier.
As for Brodeur, it would be easy to see him walking off into the sunset after one last ride. A four-time Stanley Cup Champion leaving one last mark in the history books and calling it a career at the age of 39. Him leaving would have led General Manager Lou Lamoriello to speed up the process of finding his replacement. Who was a young goalie that was traded during the 2012 offseason that Lou maybe have been inclined to go after if Brodeur retired? Sergei Bobrovsky.
The season after being traded from Philadelphia, Bobrovsky won his first Vezina trophy. It would not be farfetched to think he would not have found that same success in New Jersey with Suter in the fold as well as a team that can score. Parise, Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias all made their marks during that era. The Devils team going into the lockout shortened 2012-13 season would have been different with Bobrovsky, Suter, and Parise. The cap situation may have not been great, but it would have put them in a better position to succeed than a 40 year old Brodeur and no Parise.
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But with this, there would be no Cory Schneider trade. Bobrovsky would have been the goalie of the future. Lou would have maybe signed another veteran backup to watch him as he grew as a player, but Bob would have thrived in black and red. There is no telling what a team that consisted of Bobrovsky, Suter, Parise, and Kovalchuk had for a rejuvenated squad. The Devils didn’t make the playoffs again until 2017-18. The contracts Suter and Parise signed probably would have put a damper on the prospects of trading for Taylor Hall, but that would be five years after the Stanley Cup win. It is crazy to think about what one bounce of a puck can do.