Meanwhile, Burns, 51, has adopted the role of professional curmudgeon. Too bad. He has a charm that is more rough-hewn than Babcock's, an excellent instinct for judging character and a strong sense of narrative, which makes him a fabulous motivator. During the first intermission in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last Friday in Ottawa, he plucked the emotional strings in telling his team that Nieuwendyk, whose injury had forced him to shut down after three shifts, was weeping in the trainer's room because his Stanley Cup run might end that night. "Best speech I ever gave," Burns said as he walked to the press conference after the 3-2 win over the Senators. Burns was an even less imposing hockey player than Babcock (the Devils' coach never made it past juniors) but absorbed the game while growing up within five minutes of the Montreal Forum. He says his earliest memory is of his father, Albert, taking him to witness the Richard Riot outside the arena on St. Patrick's Day 1955 following the suspension of Canadiens great Maurice Richard for punching a linesman.
Burns, among the most principled of coaches in his beliefs, has been St. Patrick of the Third Line in all four of his NHL stops ( Montreal, from 1988-89 through '91-92; Toronto, '92-93 through '95-96; and Boston, '97-98 through 2000-01, then New Jersey). He has innate trust in checkers, turning third-liners—Brian Skrudland and Mike McPhee with the Canadiens, Bill Berg and Peter Zezel with the Maple Leafs, Tim Taylor with the Bruins, and John Madden, Jay Pandolfo and Jamie Langenbrunner with the Devils—into featured players. The philosophy rarely has been more appropriate than in his first season in New Jersey, coaching the least gifted of the Cup-contending Devils teams since their first championship in 1994-95. As Burns notes, "There's not anybody who is going to go out and put on a show."
His checkers form a de facto first line, given Langenbrunner's playoff-leading nine goals entering the finals and the tireless work of Madden, the shut-down center who has averaged 2� minutes more ice time than any other New Jersey forward. Burns will use them liberally against the most dangerous Anaheim line of Paul Kariya, Adam Oates and Petr Sykora.
Giguere and Brodeur are Francophone netminders with improbable save percentages (.960 and .937, respectively, in this postseason), gaudy goals-against averages (1.22 and 1.62), precise control of their rebounds, and goalie gurus—Fran�ois Allaire in Anaheim, Jacques Caron in New Jersey—with whom they have a preternatural closeness. "It was almost funny to see [ Giguere and Allaire] in practice," recalls first-year Devils left wing Jeff Friesen, who was acquired from the Ducks last July with defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky for Sykora. "It was almost like they were separate from the team. Of course, it's not much different here."
Brodeur, 31, and Giguere, 26, might speak the same languages, but they read different books. Giguere is the technician, a classic butterfly goalie (box, page 48). He rarely has to attempt the Gumby histrionics of the retired Dominik Hasek or mimic the acrobatics of the Detroit Red Wings' Curtis Joseph because his positioning is so sound; the puck finds him before he has to find it.
Brodeur is, in Caron's words, "an all-around goalie," standing up, butterflying when necessary, and handling the puck more deftly than anyone else (box, left). Brodeur benefits from a longstanding relationship with veteran defensemen Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, and from New Jersey's hearty appetite for shot blocking, but the Devils don't afford him the same kid-glove treatment Giguere gets from his team. Anaheim cocoons its prized goalie, forcing shots to pass through a thicket of sticks and legs and torsos. After the puck sneaks through, the Ducks collapse around Giguere and clear the slot of rebounds.
Giguere and Anaheim were embarrassed only once in rampaging to the Cup finals, a 4-1 second-round loss in Dallas that provided a blueprint on how to beat the Mighty Ducks. The Stars ran Anaheim out of the rink, using their speed to forecheck, bang the Ducks' defensemen and harass Giguere, who was pulled after two periods. Anaheim, which is not very physical and does not overly indulge in those demeaning postwhistle scrums, has conscientious defensemen in Keith Carney, Niclas Havelid and Ruslan Salei, but the Ducks are vulnerable to a hard forecheck if New Jersey is willing to abandon its customary caution.
The Devils, however, are unlikely to put lampshades on their heads and go nuts, given that Anaheim has saintly patience and the front-end skill to exploit mistakes. The series ultimately could turn on the eight scariest words in hockey: Colin White with the puck on his backhand. If White, a hard-hitting defenseman in the mold of Stevens but without the polish of the New Jersey captain, doesn't limit his turnovers, the Devils could lose at their own game. Expect them to: the Mighty Ducks in six.