It was at this moment, 19 years ago, that the Los Angeles Kings’ first attempt to win a Stanley Cup championship went off the rails. After a win in Game 1 on the road in Montreal, Kings defenceman Marty McSorley was penalized for using an illegal stick, a development that helped the Canadiens tie the second game of the series on a power play in the dying seconds of regulation and then win in overtime. The Kings could not recover from that psychological blow, and quickly lost the series in five games.
If it’s any consolation - and it probably isn’t - New Jersey Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer says he will not be turning to Jacques Demers’ famous strategy when they play the Kings Saturday night in Game 2 of the 2012 Stanley Cup final. DeBoer was asked Friday about the last time he ever asked a referee to call for a stick measurement in a game and he had the answer, readily at hand.
It came in the spring of 2005, in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, when he was coaching the Kitchener Rangers on a team that included Kings’ centre Mike Richards, an old friend, now an adversary. The Rangers were playing a London Knights team that included Corey Perry. DeBoer, an assistant on Canada’s world junior coaching staff earlier that season, had a little bit of intel on the type of blade that Perry used.
“I had found, probably a little unethically by coaching him, that his stick was illegal at Christmas,” revealed DeBoer. “I had Richie call Corey for an illegal stick. We actually got (the penalty call), but we didn’t score on the five-on-three. I think London scored shorthanded and we lost the series. It backfired.”
So no desperate tactic like that in DeBoer’s bag of tricks anymore?
“It didn’t work,” he answered, “and you know what? They changed the rule to make the bigger curves more legal since then. You basically have to have a boomerang now to get called for that, so it’s not even an option.”
DeBoer was in fine reconteur form Friday, also telling the story about drafting Kings’ left winger Justin Williams for Kitchener as a 15-year-old out of a Junior C team in Cobourg.
“The kid came in and didn’t make our team the first year,” said DeBoer. “We put him down on the tier two team and he just kept hanging around. You could tell he was a good hockey player, but he was about 150 pounds. He had a great heart.
“Next year, he came back to camp and played one year for me. He was a first-round pick, and I never saw him again. He stepped right into Philadelphia.
“Great story of perseverance. I’ve got a lot of time for Justin.”
Williams, who made the play to set up Anze Kopitar’s overtime game winner, is likely the most anonymous top-six forward on either team. He cracked the top 10 in playoff scoring the other night, and now has 12 points in 15 games. He just quietly makes good plays and nicely complements Kopitar and Kings’ Dustin Brown on the Kings’ No. 1 line.
As for DeBoer’s opposite number with the Kings, coach Darryl Sutter, the frustration of waiting eight days to play the first game of the Stanley Cup final and then three more days to play the next finally got to him a little Friday.
Sutter didn’t have a lot of new light to shed on that single solitary game, a 2-1 Los Angeles victory over the New Jersey Devils, in what he’d previously described as a sluggishly played game that could have gone either way.
Even though he knows the NHL is a results-driven business, Sutter is like a lot of coaches, who tend to focus on process. Sometimes, Sutter likes his team’s overall play more in defeat than he does in victory; figuring if you the right things long enough, eventually the results come your way.
“Just because it's playoffs, everybody doesn't always play their best game, right?,” explained Sutter. “The first series we played against Vancouver, the game we lost against them was clearly the best game we played. They're people. They're not machines. All of them don't always play their best game in terms of what they can bring, so...
“It will be the same (tonight). We want everybody to bring their best. But, you know what, you get a bad bounce, bad call, bad change, that affects the game. That's how close the teams are.”
Los Angeles has won the first game on the road in each of its playoff series to date, and will put a record nine-game road winning streak on the line Saturday night, for Game 2, a stat that Sutter is dismissive of.
“I'm aware of it every time you bring it up,” said Sutter. “Other than that, it's not that important. Heck, you know what, we've been here four or five days. Jesus, we would have rather played yesterday and went home, right?”
No line-up changes are expected for either team. The good news is the temperature has dropped about 7C degrees since Wednesday’s opener and the humidity is far less than it was, which should enhance the quality of the ice and by extension, the overall quality of the play.