EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – They play on the opposite side of the country and face them sometimes only once during the regular season. But the Los Angeles Kings can identify with the New Jersey Devils.
Let's see: An aggressive forechecking team that uses all four lines effectively in front of a stellar defensive base. That essentially describes both teams, and the convergence of the styles in the Stanley Cup Final is pronounced.
"Kind of similar to what we play, right?" Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "We're a smart, defensive team. We've got two lines that are pretty potent, and we work from the back end out and use our skill when the time's right. I think that's kind of how we play."
The Kings finally found out their opponent after New Jersey advanced with an overtime win against the New York Rangers on Friday. Many were pegging the Devils to come out of the Eastern Conference Finals because of their offensive dynamic, and that has certainly caught the Kings' eye.
After years of playing a stifling, defense-first style the Devils were, ironically, the most offensively entertaining team to come out of the final four in the East. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are first and sixth, respectively, in playoff scoring, and the fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have combined for nine goals and 19 points in 18 playoff games.
In other words, this is a long way from the Jacques Lemaire neutral-zone trap era.
"I remember when they were winning the Stanley Cup, they were very defensive," Mike Richards said. "Even the first year or two that I played them, their old rink was very defensive. And now they have Zach, and obviously Kovalchuk's there, and the forwards are probably the best thing about that team.
"Watching the last handful of games that they've played, [there's] pressure all over. They got a lot of speed that we're going to have to be aware of. They come at you in waves. They do the same thing as us -- they roll four lines and put pressure on you all over the ice. Even though we have two good defensive teams, I don't think it's going to be as defensive as you think."
Richards and his line of Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner could see a lot of the Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus line. New Jersey's second line of Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique will be a handful too, as L.A. could face its biggest defensive test since they played the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
The Kings actually were the higher scoring team in the playoffs with 2.93 goals per game to 2.83 for the Devils, who played four more games. Five of L.A.'s goals have come shorthanded, while New Jersey scored 34 goals in 5-on-5 play and 12 on the power play.
"They've got a lot of skill up front," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who spent most of Saturday's practice working on special teams and even-strength play and held a purple-and-white scrimmage. "Their centermen are fast, skilled guys. Big wingers. They've got the veterans on defense. Depending on who you talk to, the greatest goalie of all-time."
The Martin Brodeur-Jonathan Quick dynamic will certainly get a lot of attention in the next few days. Quick grew up in Milford, Conn., but he said he never went to a Devils game as a kid. Quick was 5 when Brodeur made his NHL debut in 1991. Brodeur turned 40 on May 6, getting a Game 4 win in the quarterfinals against the Philadelphia Flyers that day.
Does Quick see himself playing at 40?
"Some days you feel 40, even when you're 26," Quick said. "I don't know. It's a long ways away."
New Jersey is also a low seeded team (sixth) that wasn't expected to have a long spring a few months ago, but it has come together at the right time.
"They're playing a real confident game," Quick said. "They got a few guys that can really fire the puck. Zach Parise sticks out, for anybody, even if you're not a hockey fan. You watch the game. You just watch the speed the competitiveness he plays the game with. As he goes, the team goes. Obviously he has a great supporting cast and we have to do a lot of homework on them."