The problem isn't New Jersey as much as it is Devil worship. Eighteen of the 26 teams already use the trap, Pag� says, and he guesses the number will be 21 or 22 if the Devils win the Cup. The NHL is nothing if not imitative. The Big Bad Bruins of the early 1970s begat Philadelphia's Broad Street Bullies. When the New York Islanders finally were supplanted by the Edmonton Oilers in the mid-'80s, the Oilers' fluid European-style game became the rage. Now the trap seems to be the flavor of the decade. "If it works in the NHL," Lemaire says, "you'll see more junior teams and teams in the American and International leagues doing it."
"The trap could choke hockey to death," Sheppard says. "With all the money people spend on tickets, they want to see [Wing defenseman] Paul Coffey skating with the puck, end-to-end rushes and goals, not the trap."
The NHL craves attention, but it doesn't want tedium to be the message. Pag� says, "All you're getting is counterattacking. It's awful for fans, and you're not developing skill in young players when you teach this style." Former Bruin coach Mike Milbury, who is now an analyst for ESPN, views the trap as if it were some noxious swamp gas and blasts it regularly. "Yeah, we're getting it a lot from fired coaches," says one of the Devils, who no doubt had Milbury's TV partner, former Los Angeles King coach and trap critic Barry Melrose, in mind. "Maybe they want a job so they can install their systems."
All the swipes at New Jersey swamp hockey have exasperated a number of Devils. "We've talked about it a million times," defenseman Ken Daneyko says. "We've never heard the word trap in our locker room once. A trap to me is the San Jose Sharks or the Florida Panthers, who get outshot 45-20 and hang on to win-3-2 or 2-1. We outshoot everybody. We outchance everybody." New Jersey left wing St�phane Richer, who scored a goal in Game 1, says, "People say that the style we play isn't exciting or spectacular, but I like to say that a lot of teams would want to be where we are today."
Standard trap-busting strategies include 1) having the defenseman or winger reverse the puck to the far boards before the trap can reset on that side, 2) curling a forward behind the forechecker for a pass up the middle, and 3) beating the forechecker with a speedy puck carrier. But Bowman says improvisation can also break a trap, and in Game 1 the Red Wings often interfered with the New Jersey forechecker in addition to trying doors number 1, 2 and 3. Detroit was effective the first 10 minutes, averting the trap by keeping the puck in the Devil end most of the time, but the Red Wings still were out-shot 4-2. "All you had to do was look up at the shot clock to see what was happening," Red Wing center Kris Draper says.
New Jersey limited Detroit to 17 shots in Game 1, five fewer than the Wings' previous season low. It was the fourth consecutive playoff game in which the Devils permitted fewer than 20 shots. Not only were the Red Wings trapped, they were cursed. Detroit center Keith Primeau left in the second period with what Bowman called a wrenched back, and even if Primeau can return, the Red Wings are suspect up the middle now that their top three centermen are hurting. Yzerman still looks stiff after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery following the second round, while Sergei Fedorov, who separated his left shoulder in the Western Conference finals, is a shadow of the player who was the NHL's best in 1993-94.
The Devils have been called a lot of things. The Kansas City Scouts for starters, which is how the franchise was born 21 years ago. Two years later they were called the Colorado Rockies. They were also called Mickey Mouse by Wayne Gretzky in 1983, and they might be called the Nashville Whatevers next season if owner John McMullen lams it for a sweetheart deal in the South. But this team is tough enough to take the insults. If the Devils turn out to be the villains of this series, the Team That Trapped a Stanley Cup, they will brush it off as easily as they did the Wings in the endgame of the opener. "I don't offend easily," Devil forward John MacLean says. "I've played in Jersey 12 years, you know."