Cross Checks: 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs



MARINA DEL REY, Calif. -- It’s 8 a.m. PT and the Devils are meeting with the media covering the Stanley Cup finals. Welcome to the West Coast, boys. Now pass the coffee.

Defenseman Bryce Salvador chuckled when he was asked about the last time he’d had a media briefing at such an early hour.

“Never,” he said.

Coastal travel is never easy when you’re playing professional sports, let alone when you’re down 2-0 in a final series like the Devils are against the Los Angeles Kings. Yet for a team looking to change its mojo -- not to mention find a way to generate offense after dropping twin 2-1 games in overtime in Newark to open the series -- a little wrinkle in the routine might prove a welcome tonic.

With Game 3 set for 5 p.m. PT Monday, the Devils did not skate as they normally would in the morning, hence the early-morning press gathering.

They had not been on a flight of any kind since the end of the first round more than a month ago and a number of players talked about relishing the closeness of their first far-west trip since the middle of January, when they were in Western Canada.

“We’re all excited. We believe in that locker room. We’ve got a great group of guys. It was nice when we got on that plane as a team. Flew together, joked around a bit and getting ready for what’s ahead of us. But we never stop believing,” forward David Clarkson said Monday morning.

For the last two rounds, the Devils were able to pretty much stay in their own beds the vast majority of the time as they bused between Philadelphia and Manhattan. This trip, then, represents a significant departure from a well-established routine in the East.

“It feels good to get back into this routine a little bit and get on the road and really ... kind of get away from home and get back to just being focused on the single thing [that] is the game,” defenseman Andy Greene said. “Not like we’re not focused at home, but when you’re on the road there’s a lot less distractions and a lot less to worry about. I think it’ll be a big plus for us tonight."

Head coach Pete DeBoer said the 5 p.m. PT start will be unusual for his team but that he wasn’t planning any lineup changes.

He said the whole coaching staff, including assistant Adam Oates, had a voice in planning the team’s schedule for this trip west.

"Absolutely. He definitely threw his two cents in on travel, whether to skate, whether to leave after the game [Saturday] night, like L.A. did, whether to skate before we left New Jersey, come and fly," DeBoer said. "Again, I don't know if there's any right answers to that stuff. You talk it through and you do what you think is right. You hope you get the desired result."
Ever dream of watching a game alongside The Great One?

One lucky fan will get just that chance for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Molson Canadian is auctioning off a private viewing audience with Wayne Gretzky, as well as a separate contest to watch a game with former Devils great John MacLean. Both auctions have already started on eBay. All proceeds from each winning auction bid will go to the NHL Foundation, which runs such charitable causes as Hockey Fights Cancer and Hockey is For Everyone.

"Obviously the Stanley Cup finals are an exciting time for everyone in the hockey world, and when you get the chance to help others while having a great time watching the game, of course you do it," Gretzky said. "I'm excited for the opportunity and thankful to Molson for helping the NHL Foundation this way."

Gretzky’s viewing party will be in L.A., while MacLean’s will be at a New Jersey establishment.

Fans can bid online for their night with either Gretzky or MacLean at:
www.molsoncanadianauction.com. The bidding ends Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET.

Both viewing parties will take place in a private room at a location near each team’s arena. According to the news release, "if the winners of the auctions are not from the Los Angeles area (for the Wayne Gretzky auction) or the New Jersey metro area (for the John MacLean auction), they and three of their friends will be flown to the appropriate location to watch the game, and have one night hotel and grand transportation provided."

As well, each winner can invite up to 11 additional friends to the event.
The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are vying for the Stanley Cup, but they’re more than just the NHL’s best on the ice. The two teams also among the league leaders in social media. The Devils have won awards for their digital engagement. Meanwhile, @LAKings has become one of sports’ must-follow Twitter accounts.

Here’s a look at how the 2012 title contenders stack up socially:

By the numbers

Kings: 134,295 Twitter followers, 245,956 Facebook likes (380,251 total)

Devils: 84,408 Twitter followers, 287,487 Facebook likes (371,895 total)

Continue reading »
One of the most inspirational stories of this Stanley Cup finals has to be Bryce Salvador's return.

After missing all of last season with concussion symptoms, Salvador returned to play all 82 regular-season games this season. In the playoffs, though, he has become an offensive force with 11 points, second among all NHL defensemen with three goals and eight assists. He did not score at all in the regular season and registered only nine assists through 82 games.

Still, for all the attention, the veteran blueliner remains very much even-keeled.

“What I try not to do is get ahead of myself," Salvador said Tuesday. "I know what I bring and what my style of game is. If the points come along with it that’s just a plus. But I think it’s more important that we’re winning because if we weren’t winning no one would really be talking about how many points I have.

“Because the whole team’s buying in you’re having a lot of individual success. I’m a big believer in individual success comes from team success.”

Having endured what he endured last season explains at least part of Salvador’s Zen-like attitude.

“Until someone said I couldn’t play [forever] I wasn’t really dwelling on that," said the Brandon, Manitoba, native. "It was more, we need to find out some answers. The symptoms you’re having are not typical of a normal concussion and the fact I wasn’t knocked out unconscious, it was just a string of symptoms that were just evolving over the years. I think you just had to seek out a lot of answers. I wasn’t really making my mind up one way or the other until we were able to figure out really what I was dealing with.

“You just keep pushing forward. It’s very easy to get discouraged and it’s difficult to sit in the stands and watch your team play. And just watching the game. But I think, not that you ever take the game for granted or that you ever get complacent playing a game, but when you live through a situation where you may not play again and then you get the chance to play again you re-appreciate the game again. It’s like you’re starting all over again.

“I think if anything that’s probably a really unique experience for me to go through, kind of starting in the NHL all over again.”

Certainly Salvador is a role model for his teammates.

“It’s amazing. And to be honest he’s one of the best teammates I’ve had,” said forward David Clarkson. "Me and Brycer used to be roommates, we’re really close.

“It’s great to see. He’s a guy that works hard. He’s a big leader in our locker room. So when certain guys put a puck in or something happens it’s definitely exciting.”

Rise of a rookie

It has been a most magical season for rookie Adam Henrique, who is nominated for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and followed that with a stellar postseason. He scored the overtime winner in Game 7 of the first round against Florida, then scored the overtime winner in the sixth and final game of the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.

It’s a season that began rather inconspicuously, though, as Henrique was sent down to Albany and the Devils’ AHL affiliate after a lackluster training camp.

“Nobody ever wants to get sent down but it’s going to happen,” Henrique said. "I kind of prepared myself for that before coming into the season. There were certain things in my game that the staff wanted me to work on and that I needed to work on in order to be a player up here [and] to be a successful player here. I didn’t dwell on it. I wasn’t sitting around pouting about going down to Albany."

He didn’t have long to wait to prove that he’d taken the lessons to heart. Center Jacob Josefson was injured and Henrique returned to the lineup almost immediately.

“I told myself, 'Take it like a second chance and take advantage of it because not too many times has that happened.'" he said. "I was lucky and fortunate and once I came back up just really put my mind to it and started working every day trying to make myself better to be able to play here. From that point on [I] didn’t look back.”

Power of the Cup

The area around the interview area was festooned with pictures of past Stanley Cup winners. The actual Cup itself was sitting on the edge of a television set nearby.

Powerful images for players who are just four wins away from having their names inscribed on the chalice for all time.

“It’s tough. I don’t know. I’m still looking around and while talking to you guys seeing some of the guys holding these Cups up and shaking hands and the Stanley Cup’s sitting right there,” Clarkson said. "It’s all very exciting but we know we have a long road ahead of us.

“That’s a good team we’re playing over there so we have to continue to play the way we’re playing. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself. But it’s very special to be playing at this time of the season and we’ve got to enjoy every minute of it. The nerves are there but I think we’re ready to go."

Asked what he was doing a year ago after the Devils failed to make the playoffs, Clarkson -- a Toronto native whose father still works for the City of Toronto -- figured he was playing golf or doing something like that. Seems like a long time ago.

“To be playing here and at a rink, the excitement, you can’t even explain what you feel,” he said.

A year ago Devils captain Zach Parise was on a fishing trip in Ontario, Canada. In fact, he ended up fishing while the Cup was being hoisted by the Boston Bruins in Vancouver after Game 7.

“I didn't watch Game 7," Parise said. "We had an option whether we wanted to come back in and watch the game or keep fishing. We decided to keep fishing.

“I didn't get a chance to watch the seventh game, but we watched them all leading up to that.”

I'm a believer

At some point this season, there was a moment where Devils GM Lou Lamoriello believed his team could do great things.

"Halfway through the season I thought there was something special," he said. "I saw the communication that was between the players and Pete [DeBoer], the job that Pete was doing, the role that he allowed his assistant coaches to have, there was just something special in the way all the veterans and all the rookies bought into what was happening. Everybody was going in the same direction. And anytime we had adversity, we came out of it right away. It didn’t stay there for long. It didn’t linger. That’s something you can feel. There’s no magic to it, it’s an intangible."

Familiar opponent

Devils winger Alexei Ponikarovsky knows his opposition fairly well in the Cup finals, having played in Los Angeles last season.

"I know they got stronger with [Mike] Richards and [Jeff] Carter, obviously," Ponikarosvky said. "But there’s not much change otherwise. Jonathan Quick had a pretty good year. He made big saves for us last year, too."

Ponikarovsky is playing a lot better for the Devils this spring compared to a year ago in L.A. For whatever reason, he just wasn’t a good fit there.

"They play a different style now because of the change of the coach," Ponikarovsky said of the Kings.
Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll is back in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since his 2006 adventure with the Edmonton Oilers.

"It’s great to be back," Stoll said Tuesday. "A lot of work went into this. We worked this year to get to this stage and take advantage of it. We’re not anywhere yet. At the end of this whole deal we want to be happy with our game and where we’re at. There’s a lot of work left to be done."

Teammate Justin Williams was on the Carolina team in 2006 that beat Stoll’s Oilers. In fact, Williams sealed the deal with an empty-net goal in Game 7 and guess who was chasing him in an Oilers uniform on that play.

"I’ve told him a couple of times that I wanted to break his legs when I was chasing him down on the empty-netter," Stoll joked. "We just laugh. We’ve talked about it a couple of times."

One thing he clearly learned from that seven-game loss to Carolina was how the game goes to yet another level come puck drop in the Cup finals.

"It is another level," said Stoll. "It’s funny because sometimes you don’t realize how much you can push your body mentally and physically. You can push it a long ways. And quite a way. To realize that and to push through that is another level. Hopefully, a lot of guys in our group can do that."

Speaking of Williams, the road to his second Stanley Cup finals has been neither straight nor smooth. Between the 2007-08 season and 2009-10, he played in just 130 games thanks to a host of injuries.

These moments, then, are meant to be cherished.

“Maybe if I was here every year, it wouldn’t be as special; 2006 was a long time ago," Williams said. "A lot has happened to me since then. I’ve battled through some injuries. I’ve had some times where I thought my best years were behind me. I’ve stuck with it. I was able to play a lot of games in the last couple of years and now to be back here, it makes it all worth it and satisfying."

Did he wonder if his career was at an end?

“Not quite that far, but once injuries mount and they keep coming you question yourself, your training regimen, what you’re doing on the ice, things you can get away with out there," he said. "But I just stuck with it, but I never got to that point where I thought about hanging them up or anything like that."

Doughty king of LA

On a team with a lot of guys running hot, no one King might be as hot entering the finals as defenseman Drew Doughty. He was a force in the Western Conference finals and the Kings are hoping he can continue that level of play once the finals start.

His dominance is in stark contrast to his play earlier in the year. He missed training camp in a contract dispute and acknowledged that it took some time to come to grips with his new contract and the new expectations with being the highest-paid player on the Kings.

“I think I definitely felt the pressure a little bit," Doughty said. "Missing camp obviously wasn't a good thing. I wasn't happy I had to do that. Throughout the year I knew I had to live up to expectations. I signed the biggest contract on the team. If you're doing that, you have to be the best player on the team. I wanted to do that. I worked my hardest to do that. The pressure got to me and I wasn't myself.

"As the year went on, I started to put that in the back of my mind and kind of forget about it. I'm back to playing the way I can. ... I just figured it out that I needed to forget about it and just play the way I used to play, just kind of carefree, having fun out there. Once I started to have fun out there, that's when I hit my stride. Now I'm feeling good.”

Doughty, like many of the Kings, has seen a dramatic change in his status in Los Angeles in recent weeks with their run to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup finals since 1993.

“It's nuts,” he said. “It's ridiculous. It's a complete 180. I played in L.A. for four years now. My first three years, there wasn't a time when I was out for dinner, out anywhere, no one said anything. For example, this week, down where we all live, there's a big festival by the beach. There's tons of Kings gear, tons of Kings hats. When we were leaving dinner one night, the whole restaurant gave us a clap and started chanting our names. We're getting recognized everywhere we go. We're the talk of the city. It's great to see.”

The defenseman said he thinks this is a great chance for the team to raise the game’s profile in a city usually dominated by basketball, baseball and football.

“In L.A., hockey's definitely not something -- [you hear] 'What do you do?' 'Play for the Kings.' 'Sacramento Kings?' No one knows anything about hockey," Doughty said. "It's a great thing that people are finally coming to games. There's so many times when I hear people telling me it's their first hockey game and they had so much fun.

“It's great that we can kind of put L.A. on the map as a hockey city. To come down here, have that rivalry with the East Coast, it's going to be great for hockey.”

No adversity?

Kings GM Dean Lombardi scoffs at the notion his team hasn’t faced any adversity in the playoffs. Just because the Kings got by Vancouver in five games, St. Louis in a sweep and Phoenix in five doesn’t mean it was easy.

"I don’t think any game against the Vancouver Canucks is not adversity," Lombardi said. "That’s a heck of a hockey team. If anybody saw the St. Louis Blues this year, they’re probably the hardest-working team in the league. And Phoenix, everybody just focuses on their financial situation and completely overlooks that’s a really good hockey team that’s really well-coached. OK, we were fortunate to come up on the right end of the scores, but if you don’t think that’s adversity.

"And as I said earlier, this team faced a tremendous amount of adversity during the regular season. From going to Europe and all the things we went through ... they’re well versed in adversity. Those kids have grown a lot. But I’ve got too much respect for the three teams we beat to think for a second that it was easy."

Old connections

Lots of interesting connections between these two teams, including a strong bond between New Jersey Devils coach Pete DeBoer and Los Angeles Kings center and former Philadelphia captain Mike Richards. Richards played for DeBoer in junior hockey in Kitchener, Ontario.

“I love Richie," DeBoer said. "You know, we won together. He grew up in the organization I was running. He's a great kid. He's one of those guys you want in the foxhole with you if you're going to war.

“I also know we have some of those guys on our team, too. It will be a great battle."
Kings
Forwards:
Williams - Kopitar - Brown
Penner - Richards - Carter
King - Stoll - Lewis
Richardson - Fraser - Nolan

Gagne and Clifford on extra line with Westgarth and Loktionov

Defensemen:
Scuderi - Doughty
Mitchell - Voynov
Martinez-Greene

Devils
Forwards:
Parise - Zajac - Zubrus
Ponikarovsky - Henrique - Kovalchuk
Elias - Josefson - Clarkson
Carter - Gionta - Bernier

Defensemen:
Salvador - Zidlicky
Greene - Fayne
Volchenkov - Harrold

Extras:
Tallinder - Larrson
Join us Tuesday starting at 11 a.m. ET as we take you inside Prudential Center to watch the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings practice and then talk to all the players, coaches and GMs.

Chad Millman talks with legendary bookmaker and gambler Alan Denkenson about the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Listen here.

Final playoff clinching scenarios

April, 7, 2012
4/07/12
2:16
PM ET
  • The NHL season has not ended on a Saturday since March 24, 1928.
Presidents’ Trophy
  • The New York Rangers would capture the Presidents’ Trophy if they defeat Washington in any fashion OR if they get one point against Washington AND Vancouver loses to Edmonton in any fashion OR if Vancouver loses to Edmonton in regulation. Result: Rangers lose in regulation.
  • Vancouver would capture the Presidents’ Trophy if it defeats Edmonton AND the New York Rangers lose to Washington in any fashion OR if it gets one point against Edmonton AND the New York Rangers lose to Washington in regulation. Result: Canucks win, Rangers lose, Canucks win Presidents' Trophy.
Eastern Conference
  • No. 3 Florida would clinch the Southeast Division if it gets at least one point against Carolina OR if Washington loses to the NY Rangers in any fashion. If Florida does NOT win the division, it would be the No. 8 seed. Result: Panthers win, clinch Southeast title and third seed.
  • No. 8 Washington would clinch the Southeast Division if it wins in any fashion AND Florida loses in regulation. If the Capitals do not win the division, they would be the No. 8 seed UNLESS they win (in any fashion) and Ottawa loses to New Jersey in regulation, in which case Washington would be the No. 7 seed and the Senators would drop to No. 8. Result: Capitals win, clinch seventh seed.
  • No. 7 Ottawa would clinch the seventh seed UNLESS it loses in regulation AND
    Washington wins (in any fashion) AND Florida gets at least one point, in which case the Senators would be the No. 8 seed. Result: Senators lose in regulation, fall to eighth seed.
Western Conference
  • No. 1 Vancouver would clinch the No. 1 conference seed if it gets at least one point against Edmonton OR if St. Louis loses to Dallas in any fashion. Result: Canucks win in regulation, claim No. 1 seed.
  • No. 2 St. Louis would clinch the No. 1 conference seed if it defeats Dallas in any fashion AND Vancouver loses to Edmonton in regulation. Result: Blues win, but Canucks win in regulation; Canucks claim No. 1 seed.
  • No. 4 Nashville would clinch the fourth seed if it gets at least one point against Colorado OR if Detroit loses to Chicago in any fashion. If not, the Predators would be the No. 5 seed. Result: Preds clinch fourth seed when Wings lose.
  • No. 5 Detroit would clinch the fourth seed if it wins in any fashion AND Nashville loses in regulation. Result: Wings lose in shootout, clinch fifth seed.
  • No. 6 Chicago would be the fifth seed if it wins in regulation (which would drop the Red Wings to No. 6). Otherwise, Chicago will be the No. 6 seed. Result: Hawks win in shootout, clinch sixth seed.
  • No. 3 Phoenix would clinch the Pacific Division and No. 3 conference seed if it defeats Minnesota in any fashion. Result: Coyotes win, clinch Pacific title and third seed.
Information courtesy of the NHL

SPONSORED HEADLINES