Bruins

Haggerty: These aren't the same old Devils

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Haggerty: These aren't the same old Devils

To the casual hockey observer, the New Jersey Devils return to the Stanley Cup Finals isnt exactly a cause for celebration.

The sight of the Devils logo and uniform will elicit groans and memories of trap-happy game plans that nearly ruined the NHL.

The great Devils teams were the closest thing to hockey Ambien the NHL will ever see, and they were unfailingly proud of it.

Its a nod to the great Devils teams that hoisted the Stanley Cup three times over and dominated within rules that allowed them to strangle the daylights out of the opposition in the neutral zone.

Its the kind of consistent excellence that Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi is striving for with his hockey club on the West Coast, but of course accomplished in a different (read: more entertaining) way.

Darryl Sutter and I were walking through this building this morning and we saw all those banners up there. Thats pretty damned impressive, said Lombardi during Tuesdays Stanley Cup Final media day at Prudential Center leading up to Wednesday nights Game 1. Weve got a long way to go to get there. I know people say you cant do it in the Cap era and stuff, but I dont want to believe it.

I cant stand this fantasy hockey stuff where youve got new players moving in and out every single season. The goal is to be like the Devils with all those banners up there.

While its true the 40-year-old goaltender remains the same in Martin Brodeur as the lone Jersey holdover from previous Cup glory, this Devils team isnt your fathers East Rutherford Devils.

Theyre not even your crazy uncle Charlies Devils.

They still have Brodeur between the pipes and rely on a sound defensive system preached by head coach Peter DeBoer. But thats where the similarities end between this years Devils hockey club and their very successful puck ancestors.

The Devils have evolved and adapted from their conservative trapping style, and turned into a team equipped for a league now built on speed, youth, toughness and explosive playmaking. It was a long time coming, but then put into fast forward mode when Lamoriello engineered a deal for Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk.

I dont think thats the way we play. Were an up-tempo style and I dont think anybody would compare us to those Jersey Cup teams, said Devils defenseman Peter Harrold. We play solid defensively and thats obviously the bedrock of the organization. But I think we are kind of in-your-face, I think were kind of aggressive and were trying to push the pace of play when we can.

If people think that way about us then theyll see the difference when we play in Game 1. The Kings and our team play similar styles, so it will be a good match.

Both the Devils and the Kings are averaging a shade under 3 goals per game during the playoffs, and rank only behind the Penguins and Flyers in playoff offensive output as the only teams left in the tourney.

The Devils finished middle of the pack during the regular season with 2.63 goals per game, and enjoyed excellent offensive years from Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

The current cast of Devils players know they might be associated with the trappist ways of their Cup-winning forefathers, but that is likely going to change soon.

Nobody is going to fall asleep watching New Jersey play these days, and this team has a chance to change the Devils narrative once and for all.

The offensive players, really, they didnt say anything about our style of play certainly, but I think their styles sort of really told us without saying anything that we should open things up offensively, said Devils GM Lou Lamoriello. I think we felt it. With the young players, we had Travis Zajac, Zach Parise, Kovalchukyou have to give them what they have.

I always take offense to the teams that the people thought were defensivethose years they were always second or third in scoring. I always looked at the differential of goals that win championships. A lot of high-scoring teams can win games. I never worried about that.

From an opponents point of view, Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi sees a team thats definitely a little more down with venturing into the offensive zone.

The defense and goaltending has remained and its still important in New Jersey. I think those successful Cup teams had talent, but I dont think it was the kind of explosive talent they have in New Jersey now, said Scuderi. Parise and Kovalchuk are tremendous players that can change a game. Patrik Elias is a guy thats always gotten his point and his very skilled.

I havent seen a lot of Adam Henrique, but hes certainly added something to their top six. It seems they win a lot more now in the neutral zone moving forward in the offensive zone than they do hanging back in the defensive zone.

Lamoriello watched approvingly as Jacques Martin, Jacques Lemaire and a cast of defensive specialist coaches helped the Devils qualify for the playoffs in all but three seasons from 1988-2010. More importantly they captured three Stanley Cups in five Finals appearances during that span of consistently excellent hockey.

So trapping and playing shutdown hockey was a success, but it was also an effective strategy that was sucking the life force out of the NHL.

Even some of their current players couldnt disagree while growing up squirming in their chairs while watching New Jersey capture their Cups in 1995, 2000 and 2003. But some also gladly embrace the Go ugly or go home philosophy that worked so well for the Devils during the dead puck era.

It was effective. They got results. You cant knock them for that, said Harrold. They found a way to be successful. I dont see the down side of that.

But dont say that too loudly to Lamoriello. Hes got his finger on the trap button and hes ready to push it down with authority if the need arises or if his top forwards suddenly succumb to injuries in the next two weeks while doing battle with a physically engaging Kings bunch.

We would still have that style if thats what the players here needed to win, said Lamoriello. Were going to do whatever we need to do to win. Were not going to apologize for it.

Thankfully the Devils are no longer being asked to apologize for their style of play after loosening things up offensively. The Cup Finals could very well be their coming out party for those who havent bothered to notice just yet.

Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

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Pastrnak on B's loss: "We kind of stopped playing"

BOSTON – At the end of the day, it was simply a game where the Bruins allowed themselves to get outworked in the third period and overtime. 

The B’s held a three-goal lead in the second period and still enjoyed a two-goal lead in the third period, but eventually dropped a frustrating, futile 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Saturday night. It was clear to most speaking after the game that the Bruins eased up on the gas pedal once they’d scored their fourth goal of the game in the second period, and simply watched as the Sabres stomped all over them in the game’s second half. 

“I think we might have been a little bit too scared to play [in the third period], you know? We tried to just flip the pucks away, and didn’t make any plays trying to get it in the zone. Instead we should have just kept going like we did in the first two periods,” said David Pastrnak, who scored a pair of goals early in the loss to allow the Bruins to build up the three-goal lead. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We got one point. I think we didn’t play our game in the third period. We kind of stopped playing and they were all over us, and you know, it’s on us. We were the ones that gave them their point, but the first two periods were good. It’s just another learning session.”

To Pastrnak’s point, the Bruins were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the final 20 minutes of regulation and 21-6 overall in the third period and overtime prior to Ryan O’Reilly’s game-winner during 3-on-3 play. It was at this point the Bruins certainly missed stalwart stay-at-home defensemen Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller in the D-zone, and fell short of qualified penalty killers while trying to burn off a Brandon Carlo interference call at the end of the third period. 

All of that caught up to them once the Bruins loosened their grip on the Sabres, but certainly the feeling is that the loss should’ve been avoidable even if some of the circumstances made it difficult for the Black and Gold. It also should have been avoidable against a Sabres hockey club that was dreadful last season, and is again one of the doormats in the Atlantic Division in the early going thus far. 

“Those are the games you can’t lose. We obviously didn’t do the job there in the third and close it out, but we’re going to have to regroup and work on our game and be better for the next one,” said Brad Marchand. “We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We relaxed a bit and we started losing a few battles in the wrong areas, and you know, they just played better than we did.”

It’s mystifying that any team would need a crash-and-born loss like Saturday night in order to learn any lessons moving forward, and it certainly might have been a different story for the Bruins if they weren’t missing a few big defensive pieces. But that’s not how it went down for the Black and Gold as they sagged under rising pressure from the Sabres, and simply stopped working when the chips were on the table late in Saturday night’s game.