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Stanley Cup Final

DeBoer hopes to build on past playoff experience

Sharks coach learned much from reaching 2012 Stanley Cup Final with Devils

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

During Peter DeBoer's eight seasons coaching in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks, he has experienced what a roller-coaster ride it can be.

He's been through some of the highest highs and lowest lows and seen how quickly you can bounce from one to the other.

What could be lower than being fired by the Devils the day after Christmas in 2014? Yet 17 months later, that feels like a memory from a former life to DeBoer as he prepares the Sharks to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"It does feel like a long time ago," DeBoer said Friday. "In this business, you tell players all the time, and we have to take it too, you have to have a short memory. You've got to have a short memory and take every situation for the experience it was. Even at the time, and still to this day, I wouldn't trade my New Jersey experiences for anything."

Those experiences will come in handy for DeBoer during the next couple of weeks. He was in this position with the Devils in 2012, having guided them to the Cup Final in his first season after they had missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the previous season.

In his first season with the Sharks, he's taken a group with a reputation for underachieving in the postseason to the organization's first Cup Final a year after they appeared to hit rock bottom by failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons.

"Real similar situations," said DeBoer, who is the 11th NHL coach to bring two teams to a Cup Final. "Two teams that missed the year before and their coaches either were fired or moved on, but there was a good foundation in place and just needed a little bit of a reset."

The difference for DeBoer this time is he knows what it's like to coach in a Cup Final and how to deal with the added attention, expectations and emotions. In 2012, it was all new to him and he relied heavily on Lou Lamoriello, who then was Devils general manager.

"It was the first time that I had been in the playoffs and that run was really unexpected by everybody to go as far we did and we end up in the Stanley Cup Final," DeBoer said. "Thank God that Lou was there with all his experience and everything else to guide me through it. Having been through that with New Jersey, I feel much more comfortable this time around with what to expect."

That could prove important because DeBoer is the one of the few with the Sharks who has experienced a Cup Final. Forward Dainius Zubrus has played in the Final twice, as a rookie with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997 and with DeBoer and the Devils in 2012. Goaltender Martin Jones is the other Sharks player to make it this far, as the backup on the Los Angeles Kings' 2014 Cup team.

Video: Sharks Head Coach Peter DeBoer on Stanley Cup Final

One lesson from 2012 that DeBoer has been stressing since the Sharks defeated the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday is that although getting this far is an accomplishment, it will feel like an empty one if they don't finish the job and defeat the Penguins.

DeBoer said he remembers the euphoria after eliminating the New York Rangers on Adam Henrique's overtime goal in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. He also remembers losing the first three games of the Cup Final against the Kings and the disappointment of losing that series in six.

 "Sometimes it's easy to relax a little bit," DeBoer said. "They present you with a trophy, and it's not the Stanley Cup, but it's a great accomplishment. But I think the lesson is that's nice, but if you don't win the next round, there's still an empty feeling, and I think our guys are very in tune with that and understand that."

DeBoer never returned to the playoffs with the Devils, so he also understands how important is to take advantage of opportunities like this.

"This is where you want to be, but it's so hard," he said. "The one thing I do have an appreciation for because of some of the stops I've had and some of the situations is just how hard it is to get into the playoffs, never mind go on a run. When you come here and you read that San Jose has never been to a Final in the 25-year history of the team, and we knock off Nashville who has never been to a conference final in their history, you really get an appreciation for how tough it is to even get a ticket for the dance.

Video: STL@SJS, Gm6: Sharks advance with win, shake hands

"I think every experience makes you better."

That includes the bad ones. Over the course of a 10-minute conversation, DeBoer mentioned five times his appreciation for Lamoriello, the man who fired him Dec. 26, 2014.

Lamoriello, now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, called that feeling "mutual."

"It's obvious he's a good coach," Lamoriello said. "That was never a question. Circumstances sometimes dictate some of the decisions that you make for some different reasons. I'm happy for him. He knows that. It's respect … I respect and like Pete from the day he left to today now."

Still, DeBoer understands his continued good relationship with Lamoriello might not seem normal to some.

"Is it normal," DeBoer said, "to have that type of fondness and respect for a guy that fired you on Christmas Day?

"I guess that tells you what a great man he is. It's never personal with Lou, and I never took it like that. I think he felt it was time. I'm sure in the back of my mind at that point I felt that I was running out of answers for the group and I think it's worked out for everybody."

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