LOS ANGELES – Desperate times, they say, call for desperate measures. And they don’t get much more desperate for the New Jersey Devils than they are going into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
Faced with the prospect of becoming the first team to be swept in the Stanley Cup final in 14 years, the Devils will have two key lineup changes for Game 4. Veteran Petr Sykora goes in for Jacob Josefson, who essentially knocked Sykora out of the lineup during the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers. But in an even more dramatic move, Devils coach Peter DeBoer will turn to veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder for the first time in almost six months in place of Peter Harrold.
DeBoer had the option of going with rookie Adam Larsson, who has played well in limited time during these playoffs, but opted for Tallinder’s experience level in the most crucial game of the season.
“Peter Harrold played great, gave us some good minutes,” DeBoer said. “The reality is Tallinder was a top-two defenseman for us (before being knocked out of the lineup with a blood clot in his leg in January), all year. 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.”
Tallinder, who will likely take Harrold’s place alongside Anton Volchenkov, will not have the luxury of easing himself back into the Devils lineup. He won’t have much time to adjust to the pace and intensity of the Stanley Cup final and will have virtually no margin for error, given the stakes.
“I’ve had my fair share of injuries in coming back, not in the playoffs, but during the regular season,” Tallinder said. “That’s how I have to approach this game, just like I’ve approached other games I’ve been coming back or other injuries I’ve been coming back from.”
As far as Sykora is concerned, he gives the Devils a veteran offensive presence who has experience playing in big games previously with the Devils, along with the Anaheim Ducks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He did not look particularly good early in the series against the Rangers, but he’s the kind of player who just needs one or two good looks to score a goal. And a goal, any goal, is something the Devils are desperately in need of right now.
The Devils refuse to acknowledge they’ve played poorly at any point in this series and while they credit the all-world goaltending of Jonathan Quick, they also acknowledge they have not made life nearly difficult enough for him. That’s in large part because the Kings defense corps hasn’t allowed them to do that.
“I think that’s a big part that’s getting overlooked right now,” said Devils captain Zach Parise. “(Quick) is playing great, but I think their ‘D’ are doing a really good job. They have a great gap. They confront you in the neutral zone. They make you dump it in and chip it by them. They box you out well. They allow Quick to see a lot of shots. More often than not, he’s going to stop it when he sees it.”
That same defense corps hasn’t given the Devils a chance to make offensive plays, instead forcing them to keep possession of the puck down low. The Devils have had the puck on their sticks a lot more than the Kings have, but they haven’t translated that into enough quality scoring chances.
“We keep the puck cycling way too long,” Patrik Elias said. “We need to play more 1-on-1 and get opportunities out of that. It tires you out when you don’t get opportunities out of that. We need to challenge their ‘D’ and their players individually and try to get them 1-on-1 in their zone.”
For the Kings, meanwhile, it’s business as usual in the most unusual of circumstances. This team has done a remarkable job of staying composed and poised regardless of how well it is playing. There has been no hint of looking beyond the next game. But the Stanley Cup will be in the building tonight, which creates all sorts of anticipation and expectation.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter has been unwavering in his insistence the Kings stay focused on the next game and has kept them on a strict routine. Going into the biggest game of their lives was no different.
“Went to the rink, did our normal work,” Sutter said. “Went to the hotel last night, had a good sleep. Drank my pail of coffee this morning, ready to go.”
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.