LOS ANGELES -- As the Stanley Cup playoffs have narrowed to the thin end of the telescope, it has become a challenge for both coaches to try to give their players as much time to recharge as possible.
The New Jersey Devils flew across the country Sunday and skated but took Monday morning off.
The L.A. Kings, meanwhile, did not skate Sunday but were on the ice Monday morning in advance of Game 6 Monday evening at the Staples Center.
Sometimes, though, Devils coach Pete DeBoer will call an end to practice, and a little while later he’ll get a call from president and GM Lou Lamoriello informing him that half his team is still on the ice.
"We have a lot of those guys," DeBoer said. "Lou reminds me on a daily basis: I'll come off the ice, tell the guys to get off, he'll give me a call telling me there's 15 guys out there 15 minutes later. You have to go back and get them off. They love to play.
"I don’t think you get to this point of the year unless your best players genuinely love to play. You're not playing at this point of the year for money or for anything else. It's because you love to play, and you grew up wanting to win a Stanley Cup. When your best players have that desire, you have success. Part of that is they don't want to leave the rink. You have to push them out, push them off."
Not so fast, Devils
Having won two games in a row, the Devils find themselves in an awkward position: feeling confident about being back in the Stanley Cup finals but having to guard against thinking they have achieved anything yet.
"We’re a lot closer to what we want to accomplish than a couple of games back," Patrik Elias said Monday.
When you’re down 3-0, you’ve got nothing to lose, the veteran winger said. You just play your best and see what happens. Now that the Devils know they can beat the Kings, “that can be very dangerous," Elias said. "This is the time when you have to kind of take a step back and realize, and again just play the same way we’ve played the last two games."
DeBoer doesn’t think mindset will be an issue for his team Monday night.
“Like I said, I think the hockey world pretty much wrote us off, and I think we feel we've played with no pressure because of that. I don't think that's changed because all of a sudden it's 3-2 now,” he said.
Gut-check time -- again
The Devils are 4-0 in games in which they face elimination this spring, having beaten Florida twice and the Kings twice. But there’s no way to prepare for those games or know exactly how a team will react. All a coach or a GM can do is watch and learn about how the team responds to those win-or-go-home situations.
"Yeah, I don’t know if there is preparation. 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," DeBoer said. "There are clues during the year. 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."
Captain Zach Parise said he felt more than a little relief at finding the back of the net in Game 5. He scored his first goal and point of the finals on the power play, beating Jonathan Quick after the Kings netminder misplayed the puck behind the Kings' net. The goal was the first with the man advantage for the Devils in the series.
It was also Parise’s first goal in six games.
"It is nice to wind up on the score sheet, contribute, that feels good," Parise said. "But more importantly, I’m still happy that we’re still playing, that we’ve still got a chance. But like I said all along, I thought that our line was playing well, we just couldn’t find a way. Even at the beginning of Game 5, Travis [Zajac] took that shot on the power play, and it just kind of trickled through and went through Quick and somehow started to go away from the net, and you start to think to yourself, Is this ever going to end here?"