The Devils fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier has been a source of energy and timely scoring throughout the postseason. But the most surprising aspect of that line's success may be that its center isn't really a natural center at all. That versatility has allowed head coach Peter DeBoer and the Devils to adjust from game to game, prolonging the team's Stanley Cup Playoff run.
"I was a little worried to start but I kind of like playing center now," said Gionta. "I just need to work on my faceoffs more."
The ability of the Devils' forwards to shift from one position to another has been an asset for New Jersey, most recently during Game 4 in Los Angeles. That night against the Kings, DeBoer inserted veteran winger Petr Sykora onto a line with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, forcing Elias to move to center. On his new line that night, the longtime Devil scored his first goal of the series.
"Patrik played center before. He knows how to play it," said Alexei Ponikarovsky. "We have a few guys like that, who know how to play either wing or center."
In a postseason that has seen the Devils trail 3-2 to Florida, 1-0 to Philadelphia, and 2-1 to the Rangers, the ability to mix things up and adapt has been key for a team looking to complete a comeback for the ages against the Kings. And it’s the adaptability of New Jersey's forwards that could be key if the team wants to make history.
"It's more of a forward position rather than right wing, left wing, center," said Gionta. "I think guys have done a good job of that throughout the playoffs, filling in the different spots."
Despite the long odds that lie ahead in Game 5 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final and beyond, the Devils brought a calm, collected approach into the game Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
"There's no need to be uptight and not smile and not have fun. You've got to be able to enjoy it," said Adam Henrique, the rookie forward. "This is a situation where there is nothing we can do except go out and play. Guys are still coming in smiling and having fun."
Attempting to come back from a 3-1 deficit in games, it certainly helps to have a strong veteran presence from players like Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias, two long-time Devils with five Stanley Cup wins between them. The team also appeared to benefit in Game 4 from the return to the lineup of veteran Petr Sykora, who with his appearance Wednesday night has now appeared in six different Stanley Cup Finals with three different teams.
"It's just a veteran presence we have in the locker room. Guys who have been to the Final a few times," said Stephen Gionta, another rookie. "It's a calming feeling when those guys are just sitting back and loose and looking forward to playing tonight."
That veteran presence helps, but there's no substitute for experience, and this Devils team has gained plenty of it during the past two months, coming back from a series deficit in each of the first three playoff rounds. That ability to battle adversity has given New Jersey a cool confidence that could come in handy if they hope to prolong their season.
"The confidence just comes from within the room. At this time of the year, in the situation we are, the last thing you want is panic or negative thoughts. You have to think positive, stay positive," said Alexei Ponikarovsky. "Why you have to get worried? About what? It's hockey. You go and play [hard], get another goal, tie it up, then all of a sudden momentum swings and you get another one."
In the New Jersey Devils' wild run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, a number of big names have made plays to prolong the postseason in Newark. But it's two young forwards in particular who have provided the bulk of the team's heroic moments.
The only Ontario-born players on the team, David Clarkson and Adam Henrique, are tied for the NHL postseason lead with three game-winning goals each and have combined to set up four game-winning and three game-tying markers. That flair for the dramatic hasn't just kept the Devils alive in the playoffs, it has added fuel to a friendly rivalry that has been going on in the team's locker room much of the season.
"I guess it's an OHL thing. I've still got to let Zach [Parise] know it's the best league to play in before coming to the NHL," joked Henrique, who scored two series-winning overtime goals before notching the game-winner Wednesday night against the Kings. "He tries to play it off like it's nothing, but I think he knows where the real hockey is."
Playoff heroics aside, Henrique and Clarkson have been outnumbered in the NCAA vs. OHL debate much of the season. Aside from team captain Parise, who attended the University of North Dakota, the Devils locker room is filled with several U.S. college products. They include fellow UND product Travis Zajac as well as Andy Greene (Miami-Ohio), Ryan Carter (Minnesota State-Mankato), Stephen Gionta (Boston College), Peter Harrold (Boston College), and Mark Fayne (Providence). But even surrounded by U.S. collegians, Henrique and Clarkson feel plenty confident representing "the O."
"We bug the college guys. There is always that college-OHL argument in here. It's more fun than anything," Clarkson said, who has plenty of support for Ontario within the organization. "We've got a large crew of OHL guys to hold it down. It's just a little joke we have in the room."
That crew holding it down has considerable sway in the Devils' locker room. Of the five members of New Jersey's coaching staff, four are Ontario-born and have coached or played in the OHL. That group includes head coach Peter Deboer, who played for the Windsor Spitfires for four years before returning to the league as a coach and eventually winning a Memorial Cup with Clarkson and the Kitchener Rangers in 2008.
The Devils' focus remains staving off elimination against the Kings in the Final, but the NCAA-OHL debate could wage on long after the series ends.
"We've got a lot of guys who have our backs on that one. It's fun," Henrique said. "I give it to them [college players] all the time about that."
It's safe to assume that there isn't anywhere else Kings coach Darryl Sutter would rather be this weekend than Newark, as his team prepares for an opportunity to wrap up the first Stanley Cup win in franchise history. But for the man who admitted he was working on his farm when the offer to become Los Angeles' head coach came last December, there is still a part of him thinking about Alberta just hours before Game 5 at Prudential Center
"It's Farmers' Day in Alberta," Sutter pointed out following his team's morning skate.
As a member of a large family that has been almost as prolific in farming as in hockey, there won't be too many people in New Jersey this weekend who know more about Alberta's Farming Day than Darryl Sutter. Celebrated across the province this weekend, the holiday was originally proclaimed in Alberta in 1951 and some schools in the province even reserve the right to close on the second Friday in June in commemoration. A longtime veteran of the agricultural celebration, Sutter attempted to stay coy when asked what exactly the holiday entailed.
"[It's] a big picnic with coolers," he said. "Hope you know what that means."
Following a light shootaround Saturday with the majority of the Kings' roster and a brief session practicing faceoffs with assistant coach Jamie Kompon and the team's centers, Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter appeared cool, collected, and above all ready for Game 5 against the Devils.
"You just want to play games. That's what they [the players] want to do too," said the Kings coach after acknowledging the birthday of Jack Ferreira, the team's special assistant to general manger Dean Lombardi. "He and [Devils CEO/president/general manage] Lou [Lamoriello] were both born in Providence. I won't say what his age is, but it's sixty-something."
With the extra off day behind him and no changes to his lineup, Sutter was focused primarily on the upcoming game. His team had already been subjected to almost 72 hours of discussion following the Game 4 loss that denied Los Angeles a sweep in the Stanley Cup Final. But with any distractions now in his rearview, Sutter downplayed any pressure surrounding this incredible opportunity for the Kings.
"I don't think there is any pressure on our team at all. The only pressure is the pressure they put on themselves to be as good as they can be," Sutter said. "It's not pressure, it's a good place."
And with only a few hours remaining before Game 5 at Prudential Center, Sutter was excited to see his team's effort.
"From a coaching standpoint, you're always looking for your team's best game," said Sutter. "I never question my team's effort."
Clearly, Peter DeBoer liked what he saw out of his team in Game 4 on Wednesday.
As a result, he won't tinker with the lineup for Game 5, another elimination game for his club.
Tallinder played 19:21 in his first action in five months after battling a blood clot and its complications. Sykora, meanwhile, played for the first time since May 19 when Josefson was re-inserted into the lineup during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final against the rangers
Yet, DeBoer has no reservations that either player will hit the wall in the second game back from a long layoff.
"I don't see that as an issue," DeBoer said after his team took an optional morning skate Saturday at the Prudential Center. "I don't have to talk to those guys. Between them, they've got decades of experience at the NHL level and in the playoffs. They know their bodies. I don't buy that the second game is going to be tougher. You're in the Stanley Cup Final. They're ready to go."
Here is the Devils expected line up for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final:
NEWARK, N.J. -- For weeks members of the Los Angeles Kings have been quizzed about their power play, to the point where the answers blended together with each passing game.
That was because the team couldn’t score with the man advantage. Now, after two straight games with a power-play goal, there were more questions for the Kings after practice Friday -- but they were more positive queries.
“We’ve been able to shoot the puck and we’ve been able to get traffic,” forward Justin Williams said. “There is no secret to a good power play. Everyone knows that -- shots, tips, screens, rebounds.”
All of those questions before came because the Kings could not score with the man advantage. Los Angeles had six power-play goals in 16 games after Game 2 of this Stanley Cup Final -- and three of them came with a two-man advantage.
The Kings were 3-for-71 in 5-on-4 situations, a black mark on an otherwise pristine run through the Western Conference and to a 2-0 lead in this series against the New Jersey Devils. Now the Kings have scored three times in the past two games, including two in less than three minutes of the third period to put away Game 3 and another that evened Game 4 in the third period.
“We’ve been just been very opportunistic,” Williams said. “We haven’t gotten very many, and when you don’t get many power plays, you tend to put more focus on it, which you shouldn’t, but New Jersey doesn’t take many so we don’t get many opportunities.”
One of the changes in Game 3 was the addition of Dustin Penner to the second power-play unit. Penner has played with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the second line since the start of the second round, but Richards and Carter were previously on the top power-play unit with Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty.
Williams was previously on the second unit with Dwight King and Jarret Stoll. Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said his reason for switching the personnel -- the Kings went with their top two lines and two defensemen on the two units -- was because the team was protecting a two-goal lead, but Penner’s big body created a screen for Carter’s tally to make it 3-0.
“Line combos instead of power-play combos,” Brown said. “I don't know if that had anything to do with it. Ultimately we're getting shots to the net.”
NEWARK, N.J. -- Some coaches treat their interaction with the media the way a child would take to eating vegetables -- they do it begrudgingly and only because it's required.
Devils coach Peter DeBoer rarely goes into a press conference with that attitude, and it was on display Friday at Prudential Center.
DeBoer was asked a question from a reporter regarding his approach for keeping his team focused on Game 5 on Saturday and not the big picture of being down 3-1 in a series in which they trailed 3-0 before winning Game 4 on Wednesday.
Without hesitation, DeBoer delivered the quote of the day.
"To focus? I thought that question was going about the lady behind our bench last game," DeBoer said. "I thought we were heading that way."
During Game 4 at Staples Center, a female fan sitting behind the Devils' bench drew plenty of attention from television viewers throughout the contest, but DeBoer and the Devils never took their eyes off what was important.
"You saw my 100-percent focus on the game," DeBoer said. "That's discipline, I'll tell you."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
NEWARK, N.J. -- If it turns out that the goal that flipped momentum in the Stanley Cup Final indeed was the one that Patrik Elias scored in the third period of Game 4, well consider Devils coach Peter DeBoer among the people least surprised about that.
DeBoer praised Elias on Friday for being "a Hall of Fame player." He said Elias "does it all," and that "he's a coach in the dressing room." DeBoer even wondered what type of fame Elias would have if he were playing in a high-profile hockey city like Toronto.
"He knows how to win. He knows how to find another level at key times," DeBoer said. "He had some struggles early in the playoffs, but you can see, I think he's been our most consistent guy here through the Final. There's a reason he's got multiple Stanley Cups."
If Elias is going to have a chance at another, he and the Devils have to win Game 5. They will likely go with the same lineup that was good enough to win Game 4. Here it is:
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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He stuck his neck out there for us. I don't know what's wrong with him, but you see he was in pain. But he went back in there. He's a tough guy. You've got to give him credit for helping the boys out.