"Foote's still very emotional, but he controls his emotions a lot better than he used to," Lacroix says. "My first few years here, his weakness was that he wanted to be such an important element of the team's success. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes he'd go overboard. The comments from people on the team at the time were, 'Oh, no, not again. The wires are touching. The poor guy's losing it.' He's matured, but he still is always at the limit."
The Devils had hoped that the Big Three II, who were averaging 29:54 per man in the playoffs, were reaching their limit as the finals began. Robinson, Savard and Lapointe often played even more minutes than that, but the game and the players have evolved in the past 25 years. "Maybe over a short time [a coach can play his top defensemen so much], but it'll take a toll," Robinson said last Thursday. "Back then the game wasn't as quick, and you didn't have all that size. Almost everybody now is [at least] six feet and over 200 pounds, and they're all trained to the gills. If Hartley's going to use them that much, we have to take advantage of it by wearing them down."
New Jersey planned to dump the puck behind the Avalanche defensemen—send medium-paced floaters to the corners or use cross-corner shoot-ins to entice Roy far from his net—and then hammer the Colorado blueliners. Given the size and speed of the Devils' forwards, it seemed like a reasonable approach. It just didn't work. "Until the third period I don't think Blake or Ray or Foote got hit all night," Robinson said after Game 1, "and Sakic could have worn eggs in his pants."
Then again, the Big Three II aren't the easiest of targets. They are all adept at employing survival tactics to fend off forecheckers, especially Bourque, who broke wing Randy McKay's left hand early in the second period of the opener with an awkward check near the New Jersey bench. Bourque wouldn't still be playing five years after last call if he couldn't protect the puck and himself, which he did with 12 minutes left in the third period by dumping Arnott along the boards seconds after Arnott had knocked off Bourque's helmet with his stick when they tangled at center ice. The 6'1", 205-pound Foote merrily jumped into the ensuing scrum, taking a double-minor penalty for roughing.
The 6'4", 227-pound Blake can more than handle himself too, but Hartley said he wanted him close at hand when the frustrated Devils began running around near the end of the game. That explanation defied credulity: Why would Hartley keep sending out the grizzled, 5'11", 219-pound Bourque but feel the need to coddle the much younger Blake? The question may have been answered after the game when Blake was seen limping slightly outside the dressing room.
Maybe the biggest difference between the OBT and the Big Three II is that Robinson, Savard and Lapointe won five Stanley Cups over seven seasons in Montreal. Bourque, Foote and Blake might stay together for four months and one Cup. Bourque will ponder retirement after the finals—he will receive $6.5 million next season if he plays and a $1 million thank-you buyout if he doesn't—while Blake becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, which was the reason he was traded by the Kings on Feb. 21.
Blake said publicly for the first time last week that he would consider re-signing with Colorado, but he's keeping his options open, and Lacroix must also deal with his other star free agents, Roy and Sakic. Forget 3-D. The final time you see Blake, Bourque and Foote, who's signed with the Avalanche through. 2004-05, in the same picture, they may be holding the Stanley Cup.