Stanley Cup Notebook: Devils step up at right times
The blueprint was not to fall behind in Stanley Cup playoffs.
It is rare, though, that the best-laid plans are followed seamlessly in the two-month long tournament.
The Devils entered Monday night’s Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final trailing the Kings, three games to two. The Devils had won the last two games of the series to improve their record in win-or-go-home games to 4-0 in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Devils beat Florida in Games 6 and 7 (both in overtime periods) in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal to win a series they had trailed three games to two.
“I don’t know if there is preparation [to play win-or-go-home-for-the-summer games],” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said during his media availability Monday morning. “That comes from within your room. That’s gut-check time. Those are the questions that you don’t know how your team will respond to as a coach until you get in those situations.”
Save for rare exceptions, many of the 82 games that make up regular campaign are rather unimportant. Players, coaches and executives freely acknowledge “anything can happen” once a team qualifies for the playoffs.
The one strength of the regular season is that it allows teams to determine their overall mental makeup.
For a team that entered its fifth do-or-die game of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 4-0 record, the Devils have proved the athletes that make up the Eastern Conference champions are overflowing with character.
“There [are] clues during the year,” DeBoer said. “At different points you get those pressure points — a must win or a big game to end a losing streak — and you see how your team responds. Until you’re actually facing the fact of going home for the summer unless you win, you’re not really sure how you’re going to respond.”
Devils keeping emotions in check
The line between confidence and cockiness is infinitesimal.
It is a truism that the Devils recognize and are guarding against. They understand their two wins in Games 4 and 5 only guaranteed that they would play Monday night. Nothing else.
“I don’t see any reason why we should be overconfident or satisfied. We’re still down 3-2. We’re still in the same spot. One loss [and] we’re done,” Zach Parise said. “I think just having gotten a couple wins, we’re playing with more confidence. But I don’t think that makes us feel overconfident.
“We still know how great of a team they are [and] how much better we need to play to make this thing even go further,” Parise said. “But that being said, we’re still in a really tough spot, having to win a road Game 6 to extend this thing.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman for news throughout the playoffs.