NEWARK – Back in the second round of the playoffs when the New Jersey Devils dispatched the Philadelphia Flyers in five games, TSN hockey analyst Marc Crawford made an enlightening observation. “You don’t have to hate a team,” the former (and perhaps future) NHL coach said, “to beat them.”
And it’s true. Despite that, there will always be the bloodthirsty among those who watch the game – many media members among them – who will look for mayhem brought on by ‘old fashioned hate’ to spice things up during a playoff series. The Devils and the Los Angeles Kings undoubtedly are sorry to disappoint, but chances are hockey fans are going to have to be content to watch intense puck battles, hard and clean hits and, we’re hopeful, better games than Game 1 the rest of the way.
Sometimes the hate just materializes the way it did between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins in last year’s final. But neither the Kings nor the Devils are about to put their Stanley Cup aspirations in jeopardy by picking meaningless battles when they don’t need to do so. These teams are in the final because they recognize that a regular season game in January is vastly different than one in the spring. Neither team is particularly known for playing on the edge of the rulebook and both have made the final because they have discipline.
Both teams have also proved during the playoffs that they would prefer to keep things to a 5-on-5 game. That’s part of the reason why there were only three minor penalties in Game 1.
“You’re playing for the Stanley Cup,” said Devils coach Peter DeBoer. “If the compete level isn’t at the highest point it’s ever been during your career or during the season, then there’s an problem. I don’t think that’s an issue.”
LESSER LIGHTS SHINE
Look for the Kings to continue to lean on their fourth line in Game 2. Each member of the fourth unit – Colin Fraser (10:46 in ice time) between Brad Richardson (11:27) and Jordan Nolan (11:16) – logged the most ice time of the playoffs so far in Game 1. And their physical play also led to the goal by Fraser to open the game.
The Devils, on the other hand, have not been reticent about using their fourth-liners either. Stephen Gionta played 11:27 in Game 1, with wingers Ryan Carter (11:31) and Steve Bernier (10:58) also logging significant minutes.
There’s a good chance veteran defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who has been out since January with a blood clot in his leg, could see action later in the Stanley Cup final.
DeBoer said he has some concerns putting Tallinder into the intensity of the Stanley Cup final after such a long layoff, but realizes what Tallinder can bring to the Devils if he can shake the rust off quickly.
“You miss two, two-and-a-half months,” DeBoer said. “It didn’t hurt (Travis) Zajac coming back in. I know you’re jumping into the Stanley Cup final, not into the last week of the regular season. But (Jacob) Josefson jumped in last round against the Rangers coming off six weeks out with a broken wrist and it didn’t hurt him. You know, you hope you get the desired result, but you never know.”
Ken Campbell will file daily from the Stanley Cup final.