NEWARK, N.J. – A great goalie. Depth in front of him. The ability to win on the road. And a respected coach.
Two teams with plenty of similarities drop the puck Wednesday for the Stanley Cup.
The sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils and eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings face off at the Prudential Center in hockey’s finale as the New York metropolitan area swelters in 30-degree heat.
Both teams have already been forged in the cauldron of the playoffs. As lower seeds, they have not had home-ice advantage and had to get here the hard way.
Depth has been a key to both.
“I don’t think it’s an accident that the teams that are rolling four lines and 6 D (defencemen) are still playing,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Tuesday.
“I think if you talked to Darryl, I would bet he’d say the same thing. It’s been critical. You don’t play 20, 25 playoff games and the grind and the emotion and the battle without having depth. You just can’t.”
Said Kings coach Darryl Sutter: “The way the schedule is and the way the travel is you don’t do it without everybody making some sort of contribution. Not just the minutes played but in performance.”
Los Angeles is a mind-boggling 8-0 in the playoffs on the road, where the home team has the last line change. New Jersey is 6-4.
Both teams rely on their goaltenders to keep the opposition honest.
New Jersey looks to career Devil Martin Brodeur, a future Hall of Famer who is still going strong at age 40.
Los Angeles has 26-year-old Jonathan Quick, who leads playoff goalies in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). Brodeur’s corresponding figures are 2.04 and .923.
Away from the ice, the two could not have been more different at media day Tuesday.
A relaxed Brodeur held court with reporters, smiling and joking as he addressed all topics. The only thing missing was a fireplace and snifter of brandy.
Quick answered all questions but did so wearing a baseball cap with a hoodie pulled over it.
“Was he wearing the hoodie?” asked teammate Dustin Penner. “He’s channelling his inner Eminem.”
Penner says Quick really does have a great sense of humour. He just doesn’t show it to those he doesn’t know.
“He jokes around on the ice,” said Penner. “He’s a competitive guy, so when you score on him, if you chirp him, next time you come down and don’t score on him, he’ll let you have it.”
Penner’s sense of humour, like his missing front tooth, is hard to miss. He says it comes from his family, citing a cousin who calls him Claude Lemieux.
“Because I’m doing now in the playoffs what I should have been done in the regular season,” said Penner, who has two game-winning goals in the playoffs.
Pulling the strings behind the benches are two coaches who clearly have the respect of their players.
Sutter took over the Kings on Dec. 20 with his team going 25-13-11 the rest of the regular season.
“He brings a passion and an intensity that I haven’t see before from a coach,” said Penner. “I’m sure a lot of them have it intrinsically but he wears his emotion, his heart on his sleeve.
“You can tell he really cares about his players. He doesn’t ask anything of his players that he doesn’t ask of himself.”
DeBoer was hired by the Devils in July 2011 after three years at the helm of the Florida Panthers.
Devils players call DeBoer’s system “smart aggressive.” New Jersey starts its defence with relentless forechecking, which can turn into rapid-fire offence thanks to the team’s speed and drive.
DeBoer credits “a captive audience” for his team accepting his vision.
“You’ve got a team last year that missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years and took that very personally,” he said. “They also felt, in my conversations with them, that they wanted to push the pace a little more than they had here in the past.
“That fit with what I wanted to do and the stars aligned. They bought in. .. We play that way and most nights it works.”
Defenceman Adam Larsson says DeBoer gets his message across. He has a system he wants to play and lays it out for them. There is no yelling along the way.
“All the guys respect him so much, so he doesn’t really have to come in and throw something in the locker-room or anything like that,” he said.
“I’ve had a couple of coaches come in and scream and that doesn’t really help organize.”
Both teams have had a chance to rest up for the final: eight days for the Kings and four days for the Devils.
The Devils (48-28-6) finished ninth overall in the regular-season standings while the Kings (40-27-15) were 13th.
It’s the first time since the league went to the best-of-seven format for all four playoff rounds in 1987 that both Cup finalists come from outside the regular season’s top eight.
The two teams have not met since the Devils won a pair of meetings in October: a 2-1 shootout victory Oct. 13 in New Jersey and a 3-0 win Oct. 25 at Los Angeles.
Brodeur played just one period of the first game, leaving with an injury that sidelined him until Nov. 2. Backup Johan Hedberg posted both victories.
The Devils are after their fourth Stanley Cup (1995, 4-0 versus Detroit; 2000, 4-2 versus Dallas; and 2003, 4-3 versus Anaheim). They lost in seven games to Colorado in 2001.
The Kings lost 4-1 to Montreal in their only other Cup final appearance, in 1993.
Much has been made of the Kings’ size but the league says there’s really not much difference between the two. The Devils average height and weight is six foot one and 204 pounds. For the Kings, it’s 6-1 and 208.
New Jersey’s average age is 30.0, compared to 26.5 for Los Angeles.
“I think the goalies bring the average up quite a bit,” forward Dainius Zubrus said dryly, referencing Brodeur and 39-year-old Hedberg.
The Kings have more Canadians (13 to six) than the Devils.