LOS ANGELES – The New Jersey Devils enter Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final with a 10-1 record in this year’s playoffs in Games 4 and beyond. The Los Angeles Kings enter the biggest game in the history of their franchise with a 3-4 record in games in which they could have eliminated their opponents.
So it should come as no surprise that the starkest difference between the two teams is NHL experience. The Devils have it by the bucket load and while the Kings young players are gaining more and more maturity with every passing game in these playoffs, they come up significantly short when compared to their Stanley Cup final opponent.
Of the 19 players (18 skaters and one goalie) who are expected to play in Game 6 tonight for the Devils, there is an average of 562 regular-season games of experience among them and 68 playoff games. Contrast that to the Kings, who have an average of just 401 regular season games to their credit and 47 playoff games. (An interesting side note, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has played more playoff games, 204, than five players on the Kings have played in their regular season careers.)
The Devils have three players in Brodeur, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias who have played more than 1,000 career games, while the player on the Kings with the most experience is Simon Gagne and his 761 career games. The Devils have a total of nine Stanley Cup rings in their dressing room, while the Kings have four.
That likely goes a long way toward explaining the aforementioned numbers and why the series has turned the way it has. Younger players with less experience tend to grip their sticks a little more tightly in pressure situations. That was certainly the case in Game 4 when the Kings had an opportunity to sweep the series on home ice. Meanwhile, teams with the experience level of the Devils are more inclined to get stronger as a series goes on. Many of them have experience overcoming deficits in series, which makes them a much tougher out.
“We’re a lot closer to what we want to accomplish than we were a couple games back,” Elias said the morning of Game 6. “After being down 3-0, you really don’t have anything to lose. Now when we woke up again, we know obviously that we can beat these guys and we do want to accomplish that. That can be very dangerous. This is the time when you have to kind of take a step back and relax and just play the way we played the last two games.”
Much has been made of the distractions the Kings have faced in trying to close out this series. Families have been on hand hoping to see a clinching game the past two games and the Devils made a big deal out of getting motivation from seeing 10 stretch limos parked outside the Staples Center preparing for a victory party after Game 4.
(And many media outlets ate it up. The reality is that teams don’t need a single more ounce of motivation when they’re playing for a Stanley Cup. It makes for a nice sidebar, but there’s no way that was any kind of factor.)
But as captain Dustin Brown mentioned on Sunday, the distractions come as part of the territory when you’re playing in a Stanley Cup final and it’s up to the players to ignore them. Those distractions are part of the reason the Kings have been staying in a local hotel instead of going home the night before games in the final.
“I think the mindset has to be, or is, the same thing as when a series starts – to try to win the game, not getting further than that,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “Then it becomes a distraction or outside distraction. I think that’s the key. That’s something we’ve been able to do really well.”
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.