NHL analyst and former All-Star Jeremy Roenick pens a weekly blog for NHL.com. "World According to JR" touches on all things related to the NHL. This week, Roenick put a wrap on the Western Conference Finals and dove into some of the details that have the Devils within one win of meeting the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
Congrats to the Kings, praise for the Coyotes
I don't think any team has been as impressive this spring as the Los Angeles Kings, especially being perfect on the road. They symbolize what we talk about in playoff teams -- how they are supposed to play, rising to occasions, normal people doing abnormal things, getting contributions from everybody. That is them. That is the Kings.
But we have to give the Phoenix Coyotes a standing ovation for their season, the way that they battled and the way that they came together as a team, especially after the All-Star break.
It's as if they came together and decided as a team that they were going to do it, do it hard and do it together. I feel Dave Tippett is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and general manager Don Maloney did a great job of piecing together parts that were really important for this playoff run -- for instance, getting Antoine Vermette was a great addition and he played very well with them.
Maloney did it all while staying within a cap for a team that doesn't have an owner -- and Tippett had this team just going along as business as usual every single day.
It was impressive to watch this team play together. They played the system together. They won by committee, and when you win by committee the way they did you have a lot to be proud of.
Unfortunately the series ended in a heated controversy, with what Phoenix thought was an illegal hit by Dustin Brown. Look, there is really no need to prolong the discussion of whether Brown's hit was illegal or legal, because the Coyotes need to hold their heads high and go to the offseason proud of what happened, not thinking about a controversial call.
The Kings played great. The Kings deserved to win. Their goaltender was fantastic, but Mike Smith also deserves a lot of attention right now because he has put himself into the upper echelon of goalies in the NHL. All of the Phoenix players feel he is the key of their team, the focal point of their team, and it's nice to see them support him for an absolutely fantastic season.
The controversy they should be talking about is the fact Smith isn't up for any year-end awards for how well he played.
Moving forward into the Cup Final, I think if the Kings had a choice, just looking at matchups and matchups only, they would pick the New York Rangers as their opponent because the Rangers struggle to score goals. When you're a team that struggles to score goals playing against a goalie like Jonathan Quick and a team that is playing as well defensively, especially on the PK, as the Kings, it's just a recipe for disaster.
The Devils are pretty close to playing at the level that the Kings are playing with their hard forechecking, in-your-face, physical brand of hockey. I don't think the Kings want to see a team that emulates their success and style of play.
Plus, the Rangers have played a lot of hockey, and they would need to win a third straight Game 7 to make the Final. New York would have to be blowing some serious gas, and that would benefit the rested Kings.
DeBoer and his Devils, but look out for Lundqvist
Peter DeBoer has created a mindset in that Devils locker room that has gotten this team back to respectability, back to being the powerful Devils.
Last year they had one of the worst starts in franchise history and they had to make a valiant comeback just to try to get into the playoff race after being one of the worst teams in the League. You look at them one year later and DeBoer has come in and changed the philosophy and mentality. He's gotten guys like Ilya Kovalchuk to buy into a team system.
Kovalchuk is now doing all the little intangible things that team players do.
DeBoer has matched up lines really well. He's been a great bench coach. He's had a calmness that has filtered through this team. They want to play for this guy and play hard.
I've said it before, Zach Parise could be the hardest-working guy in the National Hockey League. He epitomizes everything you want in a captain. He has had big games in big situations. He just has come up big.
You can't say enough about Stephen Gionta, the little guy, plus Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. That fourth line has been chipping in. When this team needs someone to chip in, someone usually does, and it usually comes from players on their second, third and fourth lines.
There is not one line that is carrying this team. This team is being carried by four lines.
The Devils have players on their defense corps who are sacrificing the body and staying within themselves. There are no superstars on this defense. You look at this defense and you would think your eyes would light up and your mouth would foam, but they finish hits, block shots, do what they have to do as units of two. They are playing very well.
How about Bryce Salvador? He's become an offensive dynamo in a contract year. He's proving he's worth another good contract.
The Devils' forecheck is as intimidating and frustrating as we've seen in a long time, and it's so much better than that old awful trap system they played in the '90s -- so much better.
So my hat is off to DeBoer for what he has instilled in the dressing room and on the ice.
That said, I think Henrik Lundqvist is going to have himself a great night Friday night and let's just say I hope it goes to Game 7, because between Jersey and the Rangers, that will be epic.