Stevens is of middling size, 6'1" and 215 pounds, unlike Dallas defenseman Derian Hatcher, who at 6'5" and 230 pounds, blots out the sun. In today's bigger, faster, stronger NHL, Stevens has ruled the game from the back because this erstwhile hothead has matured. Earlier in his career Stevens did not have a short fuse; he had—in the words of wing Randy McKay, his teammate for nine seasons—"no fuse. He got out of hand all the time."
Stevens had a chip on the shoulder with which he was leveling opponents, settling scores and ignoring the scoreboard. He had to learn how not to seethe, how to be the kind of leader Robinson expected after Devils coach Robbie Ftorek was fired on March 23 and Robinson was promoted from assistant coach. Robinson met with Stevens upon taking over and told him how splendidly he thought Stevens wore the C. Stevens still gets his captain's crunches—he gave Philadelphia center Daymond Langkow a concussion in Game 2 after wiping out Toronto's Tomas Kaberle and Kevyn Adams in Game 5 of the second-round series—but he now holds his position and waits, a weapon ready to be unleashed.
"I've never seen a player so physically dominating," Holik says. "Teams were like, 'Oh, hey, let's not go this way, there's Scott Stevens.' I played with Scott against Sundin's line, and you could see them coming at you because they didn't want to come at Scotty. He makes a difference."
Was hull having fun yet? He kept pumping shots past Colorado Avalanche goalie Patrick Roy during the Western Conference finals—one-timers on the power play, two-on-ones off the wing-but Hull's responses were muted, pats all around for his teammates but not even the traditional raised stick. He had an air of indifference about his goals, to say nothing of the fulsome praise he now hears about "his complete game" offered by Dallas center Guy Carbonneau, among others. He was never expected to block shots, was he? "To be honest, no," Hull said last Saturday when asked if he enjoyed his new defensive responsibilities after the 3-2 win against the Avalanche in Game 7. "It's a helluva lot more fun to score. I shouldn't say that."
But being Brett Hull, he did. He is without guile, a beacon in a sea of tight lips and guarded phrases, a player true enough to himself to always admit this: Scoring goals is easy for him; playing hockey is hard. If his style is old-time hockey, the good old days were 10 years ago when huge offensive numbers were in vogue. The adjustment for a one-time 86-goal scorer to the Stars' conservative ways has been easier in his second season in Dallas, but Hull, 35, will always be a human Frisbee, a soaring spirit. "This is fun for me now," says Hull, who finished the regular season with a career-low 24 goals, 11 on the power play. "It isn't always fun for me, but it's fun when you win."
Heading into the finals, he has 20 game-winning postseason goals in his career, another 15 that tied a match. As Edmonton Oilers coach Kevin Lowe said when Hull scored the series-winner in the first round, "He has an uncanny ability to do squat the whole game and come up with the big goal late."
Hull is an inviting target for a defenseman such as Stevens, but not an easy one. He rarely has the puck for any longer than it takes to release it. Modano does the heavy lifting on the line, lugging the puck, looking for Hull as soon as the right wing enters the offensive zone. "He's so good at finding that hole," Modano says. "The other team turns their heads for a second, and they lose him."
Theirs is a remarkable partnership, based on a shared hockey sense and the ability to hit each other with passes that are as hard as many players' shots. Because Hull usually sets up fairly high on the left side during a power play—better to one-time his right-handed shot—he is even more elusive to a prowling defense-man. If Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock plants Hatcher or another size XXXL attacker in front of the net, Stevens will be otherwise occupied.
Hull had a goal, an assist and 10 shots on net in Dallas's two regular-season games against the Devils (both one-goal victories for the Stars), but that is no more meaningful now than Hull's once describing himself as "the laziest man alive." Yesterday doesn't count. The Stanley Cup finals is about today, tomorrow, next week. For six or seven games they will be together, stopper and scorer, face to face, the Great Satan staring directly into the fires of Hull.