NEWARK, N.J. — There was a time when home-ice advantage wasn’t the New Jersey Devils’ best friend.
If either the rival Rangers or Flyers were in New Jersey, there would be as many New York or Philadelphia jerseys in the crowd as Devils’ colors.
Not anymore, at least not in the playoffs this year.
The Devils have been tough at the Prudential Center, known as the “The Rock,” and they need one more big effort tonight in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals to keep their championship dreams alive and prevent the Los Angeles Kings from capturing their first NHL title since coming into the league in 1967.
It’s a tough task. The Kings haven’t lost on the road since the playoffs started two months ago. They are 10-0, including two overtime wins in New Jersey in Games 1 and 2.
A bounce or two, and New Jersey might be the one leading the best-of-7 series 3-1.
That’s wishful thinking for Devils fans. The reality is New Jersey has some momentum coming off a 3-1 win Wednesday, and they need to keep winning or else.
New Jersey is 6-4 in the playoffs here after posting a 24-13-4 mark in the regular season. It’s gotten their fans behind them like never before.
“We’re winning, that’s the bottom line,” Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said of the fan support. “I think we’ve played hard and got some success. It’s hard when you don’t win for our fans to be involved and do what they’d like to do, especially the last few years when we played the Rangers and Flyers (in the postseason). It’s tough in this area to play some rivals if you don’t have success, their fans take over the building. But we got the success this year and that made a big difference why we feel a lot more comfortable playing.”
Coming into this season, the Devils had posted a 3-7 postseason mark at The Rock, which opened for the 2007-08 season.
Veteran defenseman Andy Greene said the Devils are just a better team overall this season.
“I think going into the playoffs we were playing good hockey,” Greene said. “The few years before that, I don’t want to say we stumbled into the playoffs, but we probably weren’t where we needed to be heading into the playoffs. We’ve been playing the right way and the crowd has been great. We’re feeling their energy and feeding off it. It’s been great.”
Opposing crowds haven’t affected the Kings much. They won all three games in Vancouver in the first round, two in St. Louis in the second and three in Phoenix in the third. They are 15-3 overall.
Los Angeles forward Justin Williams said the team isn’t really focused on the arena. Just the task at hand and what the players have to do to accomplish it.
“You absolutely notice crowds,” he said. “Crowds give you energy. … We’ve done a good job of handling it and not letting it affect us. I think crowds aren’t going to take you out of a game but they are going to encourage you a little bit and get you revved up.”