Work in Sports
Day at a glance
Devils playing for keeps
Posted: Thursday June 08, 2000 03:31 PM
By Jamie MacDonald, CNNSI.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A glorious June morning broke from a balmy night in the Northeast, the sunrise sending two different messages to the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars.
For the Stars, this is a day of reckoning. A little more than 12 hours after their wake-up calls -- assuming they slept at all -- the 1998-99 Stanley Cup champs may have to watch the challengers celebrate with the big silver mug in Continental Airlines Arena.
For the Devils, this day is like no other. A little more than 12 hours after they rise --- and this, too, assuming they slept at all -- the one-time underdogs may be circling their rink hoisting Lord Stanley's gift to hockey above their heads.
Despite the hype surrounding this game, the Devils are trying not to think too much about the future.
"It's virtually impossible, to be honest," says rookie John Madden. "You think about it, and obviously you get questions: 'What will you do with the Cup? What will you with this? What will you do now?'
"It's impossible not to think about it. But as long as you can stay focused on your job and what you have to do Thursday night, I think it's going to be okay."
Certainly there is a temptation for the Devils to get a little ahead of themselves. But they're trying not to.
"We are not overanxious and we are not too excited about it because we know that Dallas isn't going to back down by any means," says Devils center Jason Arnott. "We are going to have to play probably the game of our lives to win this thing, and that is the way we have to approach it."
Says linemate Petr Sykora of the lure of daydreaming: "It's very tough. There have been a lot of phone calls. I'm trying to stay away from it. I even didn't let my dad and mom come over here because I knew it was going to be a distraction. So they're going to be watching at home on TV. This is a huge chance for us -- we're only one game away, and for me personally, I'm trying not to let anything get into my mind. I try to just stay focused, just think about hockey."
Even unflappable rookie Scott Gomez has found sleeping difficult since New Jersey's Game 4 win.
"Jason Arnott and I room together so we've talked about it," Gomez said. "It's easy to say, `Just let it go.' But yes, it is [difficult not to]. You're constantly thinking about it. That's why when a team's down like this you've got to put them down, you've got to basically bury them. We're a perfect example. If you start giving them life, you never know."
It's the you-never-know part that Dallas is trying to reach. So don't forget this game is about the Stars, too. In fact, some members of the defending champs are thinking it's only about them.
"Thursday's mainly our focus," said Stars center Mike Modano. "You have to go Thursday to get to Saturday. If we get a bad break mentally we've just got to stay with it -- not get broken down, stay with the game plan, and don't get frustrated [or] discouraged if things don't happen early. We just need to stay with it. Things usually take care of themselves if we stay on our game plan."
So the obvious question is: Can they do it?
"I think so," Modano said. "It's going to take a great effort but I think we can do it. I think we have the capabilities of doing it as far as the way we play when we're on top of our game."