NEWARK, N.J. Stick a pitchfork in 'em.
Already trailing the visiting Los Angeles Kings 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the New Jersey Devils knew they could nary afford to fall into an 0-2 series hole, and on multiple occasions late in Game 2 Saturday night at the Prudential Center, the home team came within inches of breathing life back into its increasingly moribund postseason.
But the opportunistic and sizzling-hot Kings had other plans, and when we look back on the slow death of the Devils' season when it's all said and done, L.A. center Jeff Carter's game-winning goal 13:42 into overtime a low, hard shot under the right pad of well-blocked New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur will have been the fatal blow that finally killed it.
In fumbling Games 1 and 2 on their home ice, both by identical overtime finals of 2-1, the Devils have put themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win four of the next five games against a group some consider to be a team of destiny one led by the league's hottest goaltender and it simply isn't happening.
The No. 8 seed Kings are now 14-2 for the playoffs this year and have a 2-0 series lead as they head back to Hollywood, giving them every reason to feel confident that the franchise's first Stanley Cup is theirs for the taking. But to say as much would, perhaps, be uncouth, or at the very least, bad mojo, so let me do it for them:
The series is over. Los Angeles will be the Stanley Cup champions and sooner than later.
The Kings struck first Saturday night with 12:11 left in the opening period, as defenseman Drew Doughty put on a stick-handling clinic, weaving through traffic in the Devils' defensive zone before unleashing a wrister past Brodeur to put L.A. up 1-0.
Then for the next 35 minutes, L.A. rode the coattails of Jonathan Quick, their 26-year-old star in net, who made save after improbable save as the Devils failed to break through and get on the board.
"That's what a Vezina candidate and a Conn Smythe candidate does he comes up big in those situations in a game and those moments that you need him to," said Kings left winger Dustin Penner. "I think we take him for granted a bit. We're just used to him making those huge saves. He makes them look easy and he was as good as he's been all year, if not better."
New Jersey finally cracked Quick's armor, if only a little, with 17:01 left in the third when Ryan Carter re-directed a Marek Zidlicky shot past Quick to tie the game up at 1-1, sending a jolt through a crowd that, at that point, felt like it had resigned itself to the fact that this just wasn't their series.
But just as quickly as the elation of Ryan Carter's goal filled the building, repeated misfortune sucked the wind back out of it with a number of near-misses late in the period the most painful of which was Ilya Kovalchuk's shot off the crossbar with 14 seconds left in regulation showing that luck just wasn't on their side.
Both teams looked like totally different groups in overtime, each coming up with some of their best offensive looks of the night in the extra period. The Kings, however, looked particularly strong, forcing Brodeur to make a collection of timely stops to prolong the game for as long as he did before Jeff Carter circled around from behind the net and slid the game-winner past Brodeur to send the Kings back home up 2-0.
"(I was) just looking for anything really," Jeff Carter said. "Playoff hockey, you put it on the net as much as you can. It's usually a cheesy goal. But (Penner) did a great job of getting right in front of Marty there. To be honest, I don't even know if (Brodeur) saw around Penns, or if he saw the shot."
Saturday marked the first time in 61 years, Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Final were decided in overtime, and the Kings are now 4-0 in OT games this postseason, while the Devils dropped to 4-3 in such games.
New Jersey's margin for error has been razor-thin, and they simply haven't gotten the breaks they've needed to derail the Kings' runaway playoff train, but the Kings aren't expecting the Devils to waive the white flag, even if they probably should.
"It doesn't feel good to lose two at home, but I think they're going to do the same thing that we do," Penner said. "We're going to start over the first game, it doesn't matter what we did in the first two. They're going to come into L.A. with the mindset that they're going to take the next two, so you're going to have to be prepared for that."
Unfortunately for the Devils, history isn't exactly on their side. All-time, 11 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final with two road wins to start the series, and nine of those teams have gone on to lift the Cup, with only the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1966 Canadiens rallying from down 0-2 to win.
Additionally, of the nine teams to win Games 1 and 2 on the road, eight have gone on to win in five games or fewer, with seven of those series wins coming in sweeps and that's the direction this series is headed, too.
So, as the New Jersey fans filed out of the Prudential Center and into the Newark night after Saturday's loss, many threw their white rally towels toward the ice in anger, some even reaching the playing surface.
Perhaps the fuming tosses were simply the physical manifestation of the disgust the Devils faithful were feeling at yet another overtime loss at home, but it almost seems more likely that the rage was at the realization that it'll be October the next time they see their beloved Devils take the ice at home again.
Follow Sam Gardner on Twitter: @sam_gardner