"This time of year, you've got to play head-to-head against good players and you've got to win those battles," DeBoer said. "That's the bottom line."
Well, it became apparent by the midway point of the third period in Game 1 that Kovalchuk will be seeing a lot of Kings defensemen Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi in the Stanley Cup Final. After not playing much against L.A.'s top defense pair for the first two periods, Kovalchuk saw plenty of Doughty and Scuderi in the third period and eight-plus minutes of overtime.
If the Kings want to do the same thing in Game 2 Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) and beyond, DeBoer says by all means go right ahead.
"In order to get (Kovalchuk) away (from Doughty and Scuderi), we're going to have to get away from a four-line game, which has been our strength," DeBoer said. "If they're matching up against Kovalchuk, then they're not matching up against (Zach) Parise or other guys.
"The matchup game isn't something that I'm interested in or worried about. For me, it isn't relevant."
Kovalchuk doesn't find any relevancy in it either, even after he was held to only one shot on goal and just three attempts at the net over his 24 shifts totaling 21:13 of ice time in Game 1.
In fact, Kovalchuk said he finally started to find his legs and his game in the third period, ironically when he started to see more and more of Doughty and Scuderi. Kovalchuk played only four of his first 12 even-strength shifts against that pairing, but saw them for eight of his last 10, starting with his second shift of the third period.
He had his one shot on goal and three attempts at the net in the third period.
"I don't really care who I play against, we just have to work as a line, actually a five-man unit because that's when we're successful," Kovalchuk said. "In the third we started moving the puck and we started forechecking better. It doesn't really matter who you're playing against, you just have to be on top of your game and let them make decisions.
"I've played against some good Ds and figured out how to go through them by doing the things I'm supposed to do. That's what I will try to do next game."
Kovalchuk, who leads the NHL with 18 points in the playoffs, said he didn't do what he was supposed to do in the first two periods of Game 1.
"He's on a long list there," DeBoer said.
"I think the same for me, and if you ask a bunch of guys in the room they will say the same thing, that they weren't on their best game the first two periods," Henrique told NHL.com. "I don't think there is one guy you can single out."
Usually no, but in the Stanley Cup Final, where everything is so magnified, a superstar player like Kovalchuk getting held without a point and to just one shot on goal in a losing effort is going to be dissected.
The Devils, though, are not the ones who are holding the knife and conducting the experiment. They aren't concerned that Kovalchuk was not a big factor in Game 1, though they expect him to be in Game 2.
"I don't really care who I play against, we just have to work as a line, actually a five-man unit because that's when we're successful. In the third we started moving the puck and we started forechecking better. It doesn't really matter who you're playing against, you just have to be on top of your game and let them make decisions." -- Ilya Kovalchuk on making adjustments in Game 2 vs. Los Angeles
"You know, I think our identity is a four-line team. Kovy is a piece of that, but he's not the team," DeBoer said. "I don't think that's how we're built. I don't think that's why we've had success. We're capable of surviving on nights when he doesn't score or isn't at the top of his game, just like we're capable of surviving nights that (Patrik) Elias or Parise or other guys aren't. I think that's the strength of our team."
"It's not a red flag and it shouldn't be alarming," Parise said. "I'm sure he's saying that he wants to be a lot better, as are 19 other guys. It's no problem. We're not worried about it."
What they are worried about is how to make Kings goalie Jonathan Quick work harder in Game 2 than he had to in Game 1, when he faced only 18 shots.
"We didn't do enough to make it tough on him," DeBoer said.
Kovalchuk has to be a factor in making Quick's life miserable Saturday, but in order to do that he's going to have to find his way around Doughty and Scuderi, provided Kings coach Darryl Sutter tries to get that matchup even without having the last change.
"My main objective is not giving him a lot of room, not giving him those open areas," Doughty said of Kovalchuk. "I want to play him hard. I'm going to do everything I can to take him out of this series."
How can Kovalchuk make Doughty eat those words?
"You just try to be simple. I think that was our problem," Kovalchuk said. "We turned the puck over too much at the blue line, so we have to go away from that and start playing our game. We have to put the puck in the right spot because Quick plays the puck very well, and then we have to forecheck."
And, of course, in order to establish the forecheck, Kovalchuk has to heed DeBoer's message.