"When they dropped the puck in Game 2, Mess had that look in his eyes," Tikkanen said late last week. "He had that same look in Game 4 of the conference finals in 1990 [ Messier had two goals and two assists in a 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks], and he had it in Game 2 against the Devils. Like he wants to eat somebody—alive."
New Jersey had been looking for leadership from its captain, defenseman Scott Stevens, but after New York's first goal in Game 1 on May 15, Stevens was on the ice for 10 straight Ranger scores and was goaded into a dumb penalty by the locust-like Tikkanen in Game 3. The burden of leadership reverted to the bench, where Lemaire, who had coaxed the Devils to a franchise-record 106 points in the regular season—second only to New York's 112—proved up to the task.
When New Yorkers travel to New Jersey, they grab their passports, get their shots and pack a few cans of fruit cocktail, just in case. But Lemaire had no apprehension about moving south when the Devil job was offered to him last June. To him, the 16W tollbooth on the Jersey Turnpike seemed like the pearly gates after enduring years of hockey hysteria in Montreal. In '85, done in by the stresses of coaching the Canadiens, he walked away from that job after a little more than a season (though he then became Montreal's assistant general manager).
In New Jersey he would be under no microscope—although, at times, a microscope might have proved useful in detecting Devil fans. (There were more than 5,000 empty seats in the Meadowlands Arena for an early-round playoff game this month.) The former Kansas City Scout- Colorado Rockie franchise, which settled in the Jersey swamp in 1982, has been less than vibrant on the ice as well as off in recent years, but that fact barely concerned Lemaire, who loves the game but not all of its trappings. His world is 200 by 85 feet, and the Devils offered the closest thing to hockey in a vacuum. Lemaire installed a defensive style with one forechecker and neutral-zone clogging that's as stifling as a Lincoln Tunnel rush-hour traffic jam.
"Since 1988 I've felt we've had pretty good teams," says Daneyko, who has been with New Jersey since '83-84. "But we seemed to be content with 35, 38 wins. Then suddenly we have coaches from Montreal, one of the best organizations in all of sports, and you know they won't be satisfied. That rubs off. I thought the stuff about having to win the Cup before you truly know what it takes to win it was mumbo jumbo, a bunch of hogwash. But now I see it's true."
Lemieux, with his generous supply of experience and vast knowledge of hockey's black arts, has left an impression on this series—and apparently on Lowe's hand. According to Lowe, Lemieux nibbled on Lowe's finger during a Game 2 scuffle. That didn't come close to the five-course meal Lemieux made of Jim Peplinski's index finger during Game 4 of the 1986 Cup finals against Calgary. "Somewhere in his background," MacTavish said, "there must be a rottweiler."
Richer has also thrived in New Jersey and does not seem quite so overmatched by life as he did in Montreal, where he once consulted three astrologers during a slump. Now Richer worries about his game and not about the tabloids. In Game 4 against the Rangers he scored the opening goal in the 3-1 home win despite playing with a sore left shoulder, an injury he suffered in the closing minutes of regulation in Game 3, a thrilling 3-2 double-overtime road victory for the Rangers.
The players in this series are fully aware of their historical ties to past Cup champions. "When a few players move from a team that's had some success, they seem to try to re-create the same thing on their new team," Lemieux says. "I've seen it work, and I've seen it fail. Edmonton had some great offensive players, and Montreal played more of a defensive style. And that's definitely reflected here with these two teams. This is a case where it seems the approach has worked—for both teams."