Animosity was the theme of Devils head coach Pete DeBoer’s press conference Saturday morning at the Prudential Center.
Specifically, the lack of it for the Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final following emotion-laden series against the Panthers, Flyers and Rangers.
It may be a point of emphasis for others, but DeBoer was not about to consider having his team engage in phony kabuki in Game 2. The Devils advanced to the final without having to resort to sideshow antics.
“I think we've had to redline our game really from Game 7 against Florida, through the Philadelphia series [and] the Rangers series. I'm not sure there's another level of emotion or compete in our group. It's just been consistently bringing that to the rink every night. You know, if we hadn't brought or redlined our complete level through those other series, we wouldn't have survived them,” DeBoer said.
“You're playing for the Stanley Cup. If the compete level isn't at the highest point it's ever been during your career or during the season, then there's [a] problem,” DeBoer said. “I don't think that's an issue.”
DeBoer was also certain that the intensity will not manifest itself into fights. Not with the stakes as high as they can possibly be.
“I would doubt you're going to see any fighting. I think both teams' discipline is at a premium. We're both good five-on-five teams. I don't think either of us wants to get into a specialty team game. You're not going to see any of that stuff,” DeBoer said. “But that doesn't mean that it's not a war at ice level for ice and puck battles and space. As you saw by the head count the other night, it was 70-something hits, which is a high, high number.”
Much of the credit for the Kings’ 13-2 mark in the playoffs has been attributed to Jonathan Quick’s goaltending and Dustin Brown’s all-around game.
But defenseman Drew Doughty has been just as vital to the cause.
The No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft has been a dynamic force in all three zones for the Kings. The 22-year-old, who signed an eight year, $56-million deal on Sept. 29, has recorded 11 points (two goals and nine assists) in 12 playoff games along with a plus-12 ranking following a regular season in which he tallied 36 points (10 goals and 26 assists) and a minus-two rating in 77 games. Only teammates Anze Kopitar and Brown have a better ranking among all players in the playoffs, and they are plus-14.
“Because he plays a lot of minutes and he's looked on as an offensive player — he's a high-paid player, all those things — there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. They put a lot of pressure on themselves. You take a little bit of that off by just sort of minimizing what they have to do out on the ice,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
“Utilizing the skill set. He's a great skater. He sees the ice well. Great competitor. Things like that. Do those things incrementally, focus on things like that [and] you have a chance to be a really good player,” Sutter said. “I've never seen him play poorly. I think the expectations that are put on him, they're not real. I don't look at it as if he has a bad game. Again, it's just doing those little things well.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman throughout the Stanley Cup final.