At one end of the ice, there's 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, who has broken countless records and hopes to add a fourth Cup to his Hall of Fame resume. His counterpart, Jonathan Quick, is only 26 and had never made it past the first round prior to this spring, but he is putting up numbers that figure to have him in the Conn Smythe discussion at the end of this series.
Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who knows a thing or two about winning the Cup and playing in front of a championship-caliber goalie, says the defense corps of both the Devils and Kings have great reason for confidence.
"You've got to feel good as a defenseman for either team," Ference told NHL.com from Prudential Center prior to Wednesday's opener. "[Goalie is] the one position that can single-handedly win you a series and the Cup. It is the most important position.
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"They get a lot of praise and deservedly so. I just don't think you have success without throwing a guy back there that the team not only has confidence in -- you can see when a team's playing with confidence with a good goalie in there. You just don't make it this far without that."
Ference won the Stanley Cup last year with a goalie in Tim Thomas who combined the veteran acumen of Brodeur with the relative lack of previous playoff experience Quick brought into this postseason. Thomas had never been beyond the second round prior to helping end the Bruins' 39-year championship drought, but that lack of experience didn't hamper him any -- and Ference doesn't think it will play a big factor in the Quick-Brodeur matchup.
"They're both playing great," he said. "I know experience counts for something, keeping your heart rate down and keeping your wits about you, but it sure doesn't seem like Quick's having a hard time with it."
The hardest part for any of the players in the days and hours leading up to Game 1 might be channeling their emotions, Ference said. An eighth-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 1997 NHL Draft, he broke into the League with the Penguins and first went to the Stanley Cup Final with the Flames in 2004, coming up short in a seven-game series against the Lightning.
"It's a huge discrepancy between the first time you do it and the second time, without a doubt," Ference said. "I know the first time with Calgary, it's very surreal. You go through Media Day, when you just all of a sudden are surrounded by hordes of cameras. You're in the Finals, something [where] you can basically touch the Cup, you're starting to have the dreams about what you're going to do with it. There's a real wave of emotions that happens in the days leading up to Game 1.
"The second time around is extremely different. You know how to deal with things and you've been there before and you can handle your emotions much, much better."
In both of Ference's trips to the Final his team started on the road, so he can identify with Los Angeles this year.
"You definitely feel like it's us against the world when you're in the visiting city," he said. "All you see is the other team's colors and banners and flags and fans -- even the people who work at the hotel that you're staying at are cheering against you. So it really does feel like a rallying point, a chance to really get together as a team."
Ference was full of inside information on both teams. The Bruins swept four games from the Devils during the regular season and took both meetings with the Kings.
Although the Bruins outscored the Devils by an 18-8 aggregate, Ference said by no means were those easy games. Both matchups at TD Garden were decided by a single goal, one in overtime.
"Our coach [Claude Julien], when he gives the pre-game talks about teams and their tendencies, the No. 1 thing that was always said about Jersey was they're a 'heavy' team," Ference said. "That just means they're heavy on the puck, they battle, they're going to hit you, they're going to forecheck you, they're not going to give up. ... They're a team you get up for. In the regular season, it was definitely one that we knew we were in for a hard night -- despite the performance they were tough games, really tough games."
Ference also got to see the Kings at both ends of the spectrum -- the struggling team that was dead last in offense for much of the season, as well as the post-trade deadline squad which was starting to gear up for what's been a magical playoff run.
"Our game in Boston was night and day," Ference said of a 3-0 win by the Bruins on Dec. 13, the day after the Kings fired Terry Murray and replaced him on an interim basis with assistant John Stevens. "They were in the midst of changing coaches and I think they were at their low point in the season when they came to Boston. You could tell, it was a team that was going through things. We saw an entirely different team in L.A. [a 4-2 win on March 24], that's for sure."
Darryl Sutter, who was named as the Kings' coach on Dec. 20, stood behind the Flames' bench during their 2004 Cup run. Ference feels he has made a significant difference.
"That consistency in their game is what I think has helped them up to this point," he said. "I played for Darryl and that's what he's going to get out of teams, is a consistent effort. Because there's no other way about it -- if you don't consistently show him that you're playing up to your potential you're just not going to play."