NEWARK, N.J. – Having survived the Panthers, Flyers and Rangers, New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer says the Devils now face “a three- or four-headed monster” in the Stanley Cup final.
Asked about the issues the upstart Kings brings to the table, DeBoer offered a list, starting with Jonathan Quick.
“Obviously the goaltender has been if not the best, one of the top two or three guys all year,” DeBoer told reporters after practice Monday. “The size and skill of their forwards. (Defenceman) Drew Doughty. It’s a three- or four-headed monster.”
The beast comes to town Wednesday as the best-of-seven championship series opens in Newark at the Prudential Center. And the Devils coach says his underdog team needs to start the final with a bang.
“The Florida series was everything we could handle and we were favoured,” DeBoer said of the first-round series that ended in overtime in Game 7. “After that, Philly, the Rangers and L.A., there’s not a lot of people picking us.
“Absolutely we have to come out of the gate and be ready to create some doubt. They’re on a tremendous roll here. They made some very good teams look real average.”
Fortunately, when it comes to monster-slaying in the Cup, the sixth-seeded Devils have more than a few white knights in the building and are making the most of their experience.
The Devils won the championship in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and have added winners from other organizations. All are providing input into the current title challenge.
“We’ve used everybody. We’d be crazy not to,” said DeBoer.
The coach pointed to president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, and assistant coaches Larry Robinson, Chris Terrerri and Adam Oates.
“It’s the one thing that we have here I think more than any organization is a wealth of that type of experience and those experiences and we’ve used all of those.”
New Jersey can also look at its own locker-room where 40-year-old goalie Martin Brodeur exudes as much calm as he does on the ice.
“Invaluable,” DeBoer said of his goalie. “Marty’s best performances during the playoffs this year have been at the most key times—Games 7, overtime against Florida, the first overtime period he was outstanding, gave us a chance to win that game.
“The third period the other night, Game 6 against the Rangers—we lose that and you’re in a Game 7 in their rink where we’ve already won twice, the chance of winning a third one, you’re really pushing yourself whether or not you can do that. And he was outstanding at that point.
“His calmness and his ability to deliver at those key times has been critical and I expect the same thing here in the finals.”
Brodeur, a career Devil in search of his fourth Cup, says his advice to younger teammates might be limited to off-ice activities.
“Hockey-wise I don’t think I have anything to say. I think everybody is going to make his own assessment of how big it’s going to get and they’re going to know real quick.”
But he suggested he might advise watching what you say to the expanded media corps that attends the final.
“Right now, I think with the blogs and everything, there’s a lot of things said that are not even what players are saying. It’s tough if you’re not ready for this and that’s kind of what I’m trying to talk to the guys about. When you go though these things, one thing can get blown out of proportion and you don’t want to put fuel on the fire.”
No talk radio in Brodeur’s car. “I’ve got music on XM (satellite radio), that’s about it.”
And the star goalie doesn’t read his own press clippings.
“Growing up in Montreal, I read some stuff that was incredible when I was younger. And I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
He resolved never to put himself in that position.
Brodeur calls playing in the final “the greatest moment of your life.”
“I think when you’re young, sometimes you’re innocent about these things. You’re not 100 per cent sure what to expect and you just kind of roll with the punches,” said Brodeur, his practice hockey gear frayed from years of use.
“In the prime of your career, you know what’s at stake so it’s a little harder to get it done sometimes, pressure-wise. And when you get older, you’re just enjoying yourself again.”
Brodeur had nothing but praise for his 26-year-old opposite number.
“He’s a pretty spectacular goalie.” he said of Quick. “He wears his name really well.”
The Devils seems unfazed by the task at hand.
After the weekend off to recover from the Rangers series, they returned to action Monday with a high-tempo practice that DeBoer interrupted no fewer than seven times to assemble the team in front of a white board hanging off the glass.
The practice built as it wore on, from just a few forwards cruising in on goal to brief full-fledged 10-man scrimmages with a goalie in one defensive end of the ice.
Quick breakouts out of the defensive zone and recycling in the offensive end seemed the order of the day.
While the workout was all business, there were a few smiles if a teammate flubbed a shot. A nice play earned sticks taps on the ice in appreciation, with backup goalie Johan Hedberg thumping his stick loudly when Brodeur stumped a teammate.
“It’s about pushing each other and I enjoy seeing good goaltending,” said the 39-year-old Swede. “When I see that, I want to let him know that I saw it.”
DeBoer was asked about his connections with Kings forward Mike Richards via his time as coach of the Kitchener Rangers.
“Winning follows him around,” said DeBoer. “We won a Memorial Cup together, we won a world junior championship together. So he’s obviously a special kid and I’m very happy to see what he’s done. Not surprised.
“But I also know Mike Richards would run you over with his car to win a Stanley Cup,” he added with a laugh. “He’d visit you in the hospital after.”
NOTES—DeBoer says defenceman Henrik Tallinder is “ready to go” after being sidelined by a blood clot in his leg.