Work in Sports
Stars aim to 'out-wait' impatient Devils
Posted: Thursday June 08, 2000 05:36 PM
By Jamie MacDonald, CNNSI.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J -- For the New Jersey Devils, who are one win away from the Stanley Cup title, the waiting is almost over. The Dallas Stars, however, hope the waiting has just begun.
According to coach Ken Hitchcock, the Stars are prepared to wait and allow the Devils to unravel in fits of anxiety. At least that’s the plan for Game 5. And not just to extend the number of games, either. The Stars want to make each shift and period feel long to their salivating opponents.
“We feel like it’s the first period that is going to make the difference,” Hitchcock said about eight hours before game time. “We feel like if we can make them wait longer than they want to wait to have the championship, then it really falls in our favor. That is why I like what our team does.”
And the key, said Hitchcock, comes out sounding like a high-stakes game of chicken.
“We are very experienced at out-waiting a team. And at a critical time we have shown an unbelievable ability to just stare you down and out-wait you. Whether it’s patient play, strong defensive play [or] giving up no shots, we have shown a great ability at critical times all year to do that stuff. That is why I like our team’s feeling right now.”
The Stars whipped through a spirited, 45-minute-long morning skate Thursday morning. Dallas puts on a pretty good show during these exercises -- crisp passing, up-tempo drills and more than a little light-hearted banter and ribbing of teammates. Perhaps this is what Hitchcock means when he talks about the “feeling.”
“We like being together,” he said. “This is a group that has a lot of fun with each other. It’s a group that is very tight, very together at critical times. This is a critical time, but heck, we’re still playing hockey and it’s approaching the second week of June. It doesn’t get any better than that. I think our team realizes that to keep this thing going we need to really have as much hard work and fun as we can have tonight.”
HomebodiesThe Devils’ skate was a more subdued affair -- a lunch-pail effort, really -- during which players kept mostly to themselves on the ice. At times it was quiet enough to hear pucks hitting the twine of unguarded nets, and rarely did any other noise pierce the din of skates, sticks and pucks.
Only defenseman Colin White, assistant coach Bobby Carpenter and an occasional bark of laughter broke the library-quiet hush. White provided a moment of levity by shouting “NO GOAL!” after a puck appeared to have escaped him when he was playing mock goalie. Carpenter, though, was mostly business, hollering drill instructions during the 30-minute workout.
After the workout, only a few Devils stuck around to speak to the media. And when they did, it was on a small rise in the center of the dressing room, under a two-foot-by-eight-foot photograph of the scene after New Jersey won its first Cup in 1995.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” said forward Randy McKay, a certified member of the Crash Line from 1995. “In ’95 we did it at home and it was a great feeling. We have the chance tonight. We just have go out and do it. We have to forget about the fans and not let us get too excited.”
The spirit of winning Game 5, though, is as much the treasure of that silver Cup as it is a survival tactic for the Devils.
“We can do it here tonight,” McKay said, “and on top of that, I think the key is that we don’t want to give them any life right now. We’ve got them down right now, and the easiest thing to do is finish it off tonight. We don’t want to go back to Dallas for Game 6.”
Lucky No. 7While the Devils don’t want to see a Game 6, because of the predicament in which they find themselves, the Stars are talking about Game 7.
“It’s not an enviable situation,” said centerman Joe Nieuwendyk, “but it’s one where you can feel a little relaxed. Our backs are against the wall and everyone knows that. We just have to come out here and play relaxed and play a good, disciplined game, hopefully take one here and go home.”
The Stars feel like the means to that end is three more periods played as they did during the first two periods Monday night in Game 4.
“If we play 60 minutes, like we did the 40 or so minutes that we played [Monday], then we give ourselves just a great chance to win – because those first 40 minutes were terrific. If we can play [Game 5] with that energy and that discipline, then we think we have got a great chance to win this hockey game.”
Which is exactly why Nieuwendyk reminded the assembled media that they are, at least for a few more hours, still the Stanley Cup champions.
“Until someone takes it away from us it will remain ours,” Nieuwendyk said. “That’s the attitude we have. We’re certainly not going to go quietly. … We really feel like we can come in here and win a game tonight and extend this series.”
That would mean a trip back to Dallas, where as Mike Modano said, “We’re very confident we’re not going to lose three games in a row if we get to that point … then, when you get to a Game 7, anything can happen.”
Short shiftsHitchcock said Jamie Langenbrunner will not play in Game 5, though Joe Nieuwendyk though his linemate was a gametime decision … Brett Hull spent perhaps the least amount of time on the ice Thursday morning, but as is usually the case, he made an impression. Rather than lining up with his teammates, who were taking slap shots from the blue line, The Mouth of the South wandered around the offensive zone pouncing on rebounds. And also, as is usually the case, Mike Keane called Hull on his behavior. “Atta boy Hull, ya’ fat-head.” … Just before the media party train was allowed to pull into the Devils locker room, the dressing-room door opened, and out came Patrik Elias, Bobby Holik, Petr Sykora and Jason Arnott. All wore fat-cat grins with the knowledge they would not be subjected to the horde. … Departing from the Stars’ skate a little early to run an errand, Barry Melrose excused himself from his ESPN mates at the rink. “I gotta get outta here guys.” He was met with the sarcastic response, “What? To go get a facial?”