LOS ANGELES, Calif. – With the New Jersey Devils on the verge of elimination from the Stanley Cup final, coach Pete DeBoer is shuffling his lineup.
Defenceman Henrik Tallinder will suit up in place of Peter Harrold for Game 4 on Wednesday night at Staples Center—his first action since Jan. 17. Tallinder was receiving the second-highest amount of ice time among Devils defencemen until getting sidelined by a blood clot in his left leg.
“The reality is Tallinder was a top-two defenceman for us all year,” DeBoer said Wednesday morning. “He’s been out for a long time. This is the first time in the last four or five days where we felt in practice that he was up to game speed and a legitimate option.
“We considered it after Game 2, but our group I thought had played such a good game that I didn’t want to change it then. But now it seems appropriate.”
The Devils will also insert veteran forward Petr Sykora for Jacob Josefson—a move DeBoer hopes might spark his team’s struggling attack. They only managed to score two goals on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick in the opening three games of the series.
“We’ve got to score,” said DeBoer. “We’ve got to try to grab some momentum. We haven’t had the lead in a game. We haven’t, obviously, won a game. We have to try to find a way to grab some momentum here early.”
Darryl Sutter wouldn’t comment on whether he planned to make any changes for Los Angeles.
However, the coach offered a strong indication that Simon Gagne would remain in the lineup by saying “hopefully he’s better tonight” when asked about the veteran winger. Gagne received a little more than six minutes of ice time in Game 3, his first since suffering a concussion on Dec. 26.
There wasn’t much chatter during the Kings morning skate as players contemplated what was at stake.
“We certainly want to think about,” said forward Justin Williams. “That’s what drives everybody, the possibility of lifting the Stanley Cup. A lot of guys haven’t been in this situation before where it’s a clinching game. This could be it.”
That fact wasn’t lost on defenceman Willie Mitchell, who at 35 is the oldest player on the team. He’s after his first championship and admitted to having trouble focusing during Tuesday’s off day between games.
When he has too much time to sit and think, his mind starts to wander.
“To be honest with you, it’s a lot of emotion,” said Mitchell. “It’s only human nature on the off day. You just think about the long journey, you think about when you started hockey at the age of three or four and moving away from home at the age of 15 to pursue a career in the National Hockey League and win a Stanley Cup.
“As a group, we’ve collectively given ourselves an opportunity and it’s pretty surreal.”