Devils Stanley Cup Primer

Devils: 2003 Stanley Cup Finals Primer

The MantaRay Devil report May 25, 2003

(From the swamps of Jersey)

To many hockey fans around the league, the unofficial Stanley Cup final was played last week when the Devils defeated the best team in the NHL in the Ottawa Senators.

Here is a breakdown of how the Devils match-up against The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim:

Forwards:

During the regular season the Devils scored more goals (216) than the Ducks (203).

In the playoffs, the Devils have been the leagues best offensive team (44 goals) while the Ducks have scored 33 goals.

But scoring isn’t what got these two teams to the finals. Both teams play a patient and opportunistic offensive system. Line-ups:

ANAHIEM

Kariya-Oates-Sykora,

Leclerc-Rucchin-Niedermayer

Chistov-Pahlsson-Thomas

Bylsma-Krog-Smirnov

NEW JERSEY (probable)

Langenbrunner-Madden-Pandolfo

Marshall-Gomez-Friesen

Bicek-Elias-Gionta

McKenzie -Rheaume-Brylin

The big line for the Ducks will be the Kariya-Oates-Sykora line, which has scored 11 goals over the playoff span.

Burns will assign the Madden-Pandolfo tandem against Anaheims best scoring threat. Madden and Pando are +19 while playing against all of the oppositions top players. They have also contributed 10 goals between them. With Joe Nieuwendyk still feeling the effects of the game 7 injury, look for Jamie Langenbrunner to flank Madden and Pandolfo.

In a similar fashion, expect coach Mike Babcock to place the Leclerc-Rucchin-Neidermayer line opposite the Marshall-Gomez-Friesen. The Rucchin line has been the most important line in the playoffs for Anaheim. Rucchin has been the Mighty Ducks version of Johnny Madden—he makes the big plays when the team really needs it; he has 2 game winning goals and has assisted on two others.

The most intriguing match-up will be the against the Bicek-Elias-Gionta line against Anaheim most consistent line (+17) of Chistov-Pahlsson-Thomas.

Jiri Bicek will be in the line-up, as the injury to Turner Stevenson has not healed as expected. Elias plays very well with Bicek and will probably play his wing, as Elias will shift to center.

McKenzie-Rheaume-Brylin will get a lot of playing time, as Pat Burns will roll with four lines. Coach Babcock has been very limited in his use of his fourth line (Bylsma-Krog-Smirnov). Rheaume and Brylin will get a lot of face-off duty in the absence of Nieuwendyk.

After weathering the speedy assault from the hyper-talented Senators in the last round, the Devils should have no problem handling Anaheim’s’ forwards even with injuries.

Advantage: DEVILS

Defense:

The Devils were tied for first in the NHL in goals against (166) while Anaheim ranked an impressive #6 (193). In the playoffs, both teams have had great success again with the Ducks having the edge allowing only 1.5 goals a game compared to the Devils 1.7.

ANAHEIM

Carney-Salei

Ozolinsh-Sauer

Vishnevsky-Havelid

NEW JERSEY (probable)

Stevens-Rafalski

Niedermayer-White

Daneyko-Albelin

Expect the Devils to employ the Stevens-Rafalski pairing to go against the Oates line. Anaheim will quickly be introduced to the physical style of the Eastern Conference.

Scott Stevens is again showing why he is among the greatest defensemen ever to play in the NHL. At age 39, he leads all players in +/- with an impressive +12, while neutralizing and demolishing the opposition’s best players.

Keith Carney is Anaheim’s closet comparative player to Stevens. He has been a rock on defense for the Ducks, while Ruslan Salei is a quiet player who makes the smart play.

Last season the Carolina Hurricanes improved their team dramatically when they dealt a defensive liability named Sandis Ozolinsh to Florida. After acquiring Ozolinsh from the Panthers during the All-Star break, Ozolinsh has made a huge difference in the fortunes of the Ducks. He is currently tied for third in the playoffs with a +9 rating.

Even more bizarre is that he has been paired with rookie Kurt Sauer who came into the playoffs with a team worst –23 rating. This has been Anaheim’s best defensive pairing in the playoffs.

Scott Niedermayer has always been a money player. This year has not been any different as he leads the Devils defensemen in points (13) while controlling the play when he is on the ice. His partner Colin White is evolving into the heir apparent to Scott Stevens;

This will be White’s third trip to the Stanley Cup finals in only his fourth full season.

Vishnevsky-Havelid were both thought to be the future point men for the Ducks, but it never panned out. Both are offensively gifted, but gritty. A very underrated pairing on the Ducks.

Kenny Daneyko will probably be back in the line-up for this series. Pat Burns did not like the match-up of the elder Daneyko against the fleet skating forwards from Ottawa, but he should be back against the Ducks. He will be paired with Tommy Albelin who has been an unsung hero for the Devils in the playoffs.

The Ottawa series made the Devils a more prepared team for the Finals. The Devils top four defensemen will introduce the Ducks to Eastern Conference hockey.

Advantage: DEVILS

Goaltending:

This will be the series: Brodeur vs. Giguere.

Giguere has been the story in this year’s playoffs. He has shutdown some of the regular seasons best teams: Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota. Brodeur has been the Devils Conn Smyth Candidate, especially after stealing the last series.

The BIG Question: Is Giguere this seasons Arturs Irbe?

Remember last season’s Cinderella team? The Carolina Hurricanes surprised the world when Arturs Irbe carried them to the finals only to lose to a legend in nets named Hasek.

Disney is already milking their hockey teams fame with television appearances such as the Jimmy Kimmel show and Jay Leno last week.

Marty Brodeur’s big game experience will be the difference and will remind the Disney folks that their team hasn’t won anything yet.

Advantage: DEVILS

Coaching:

Rookie head Coach Mike Babcock is the real reason for the turnaround in this franchise. He has gotten the right chemistry and has strengthened the team on the fundamentals of hockey.

Anaheim jumped from the #30 (worst) PP team last season #16 this season. Babcock also improved last years #7 PK team to #2 this season. Anaheim also had the best face-off team in the NHL this season, which has aided them in their playoff quest.

Pat Burns is a perfectionist. He will not tolerate poor efforts and it doesn’t matter who you are on this team. He is a master motivator who has his team focused at all times. He will distract the media in order to take the pressure off his players (he guaranteed the victory over the Sen’s before the series started—to steer the press away from Marty Brodeur’s family problems).

Burns knows the job isn’t finished yet, Babcock has to get his team refocused after a long layoff.

Edge: Even

Prediction: Devils in five.