NEWARK, N.J. – Both coaches showed guts in changing their lineups in the middle of the Stanley Cup finals to insert previously injured key members of their clubs that hadn’t seen game action in months.
Los Angeles’ Darryl Sutter and New Jersey counterpart Peter DeBoer have both been rewarded for their bravery.
Devils defenceman Henrik Tallinder made his debut in these playoffs on Wednesday night in Game 4, replacing Peter Harrold after being out since Jan. 17 because of a blood clot. Tallinder jumped right back into the flow, logging nearly 20 minutes of ice time and being used on the power play and to kill penalties.
DeBoer also swapped in veteran forward Petr Sykora in place of Jacob Josefson after not using the healthy Sykora since earlier in the post-season.
Whether it was a coincidence or not, the Devils stayed alive in the finals by winning 3-1 and cutting the Kings’ series lead to 3-1.
“It’s a lot of words: excitement, nervous, happy,” Tallinder said of his Stanley Cup finals appearance. “I mean there were so many emotions out there. I just enjoyed it. It was so much fun. It’s another level, even from the conference finals to go to the finals.”
He almost didn’t get the chance. DeBoer originally told Tallinder that he wouldn’t be in the Game 4 lineup, but then changed his mind.
“I knew he was ready to go. He had made that clear,” DeBoer said Friday. “I’d explained to him I felt that Peter Harrold and (Anton) Volchenkov had done a real good job for us. It was going to be tough to take those guys out of the lineup.
“Really where I had a change of heart was just in his reaction. It wasn’t negative. He was just adamant that he was ready, really thought he could help. When a player puts his neck on the line like that, I get a real comfort level knowing he was a veteran guy and knowing how good he was at the top of his game for us as a top-two guy, that he could help us.
“A little bit of a risk, but he basically talked me into that. Thought he was outstanding. Big boost for us.”
The same thing on the other side when Sutter put forward Simon Gagne into the lineup for Game 3 after Gagne was out since Dec. 26 because of a concussion. Los Angeles grabbed a 3-0 series lead with a 4-0 win.
“Offense is always at a premium,” Sutter said. “If you can get a guy back to close to where he was, and I think the farther you go in the playoffs, the more of those top-end guys you can have in your lineup, as long as they’re up to speed, the better your team is. It’s tough to take kids out. You wish you could play everybody.”
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: The Los Angeles Kings failed in their first attempt to win the Stanley Cup when they dropped a 3-1 decision at home to the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Although they would like to wrap up the franchise’s first championship as quickly as possible, they realize they will still have two more cracks at the title even if they lose Game 5 on Saturday night.
They just don’t want to press their luck. That notion was reinforced on Friday when news spread that Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another was forced out of the Belmont Stakes by an injury that will also end the horse’s career.
Teams change all the time year to year, and that fact isn’t lost on the Kings.
“Definitely,” Kings forward Jarret Stoll said Friday. “You are never going to be your same group, this dressing room, you are never going to be together again for a chance to win anything. That’s the way you have to look at it. It’s a special moment, you have to try to seize and that’s why your focus has to be, what’s right in front of you. At the time, nothing else matters.
“That’s it. That’s the bottom line. If you let things grab you that shouldn’t, you lose your focus and you never know when you’ll get back to this situation. It’s a darn fun situation to be in and we’re having a great time together. We have to realize the toughest win is ahead of us and that’s why we need our toughest best game.”
The Kings insisted that any disappointment they felt following their loss in Game 4 was already gone, and there is no doubt in the room that this series is slipping away in any way.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” forward Jeff Carter said. “We knew we weren’t going to go through and win every game. We’re in the Stanley Cup finals. It doesn’t happen too often. We just have to go out there and play. We’re not down, we’re not frustrated or anything. We’ve got to regroup and go play hockey.”
WARMING UP THE ROCK: The Devils and Kings used New Jersey’s practice rink—attached to Prudential Center—to work out on Friday a day before Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals.
The main sheet of ice wasn’t available because “The Rock” was preparing to host a concert on Friday night by Grammy-award winning Brazilian singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos and his “Un Millon de Amigos” tour.
After the series opener last week, there were complaints about the quality of the ice, which led to numerous bouncing pucks. The weather in New Jersey had been particularly warm with a high amount of humidity.
The building was cooled down significantly between Games 1 and 2, and the arena featured a pair of concerts by British rock band Radiohead. The ice was in better shape for Game 2.
On Friday, the arena was back to feeling somewhat warm, so it remains to be seen how good the ice will be on Saturday night.
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Don’t worry about DeBoer’s attention being anywhere but on the ice for the Stanley Cup finals—despite any potential distractions that might come his way.
Since the Devils’ win in Game 4 in Los Angeles, a video featuring DeBoer and a woman sitting just on the other side of the glass in the first row have been trending high on Internet sites. It has already been viewed more than 1.3 million times on YouTube.
DeBoer is seen glancing at the arena scoreboard and then moving over enough that the woman is visible behind him, pressed up against the glass. The woman was identified as Canadian model and adult entertainment performer Taylor Stevens, who claimed on Twitter that she is the woman in question.
The topic came up on Friday during DeBoer’s off-day news conference in advance of Game 5 on Saturday when the Devils will try to stay alive for the second straight game. DeBoer was asked about his players’ focus, and he responded with levity.
“I thought that question was going to be about that lady behind our bench last game,” he said, drawing a big laugh from the assembled media. “I thought we were heading that way. You saw my 100 per cent focus on the game. That’s discipline I’ll tell you.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.