Tonight is the first game of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings will play for the greatest trophy in all of sports. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Broadcast: TV - NBC, CBC, RDS; Radio - 1130 AM WBBR
The Series Preview: I wrote a comprehensive preview of the Stanley Cup Finals, so please read it if you're looking for details on each team broken down from goaltenders to special teams.
The Tickets: The Devils sold all of theirs, so your option is to pay quite a lot for something from the secondary market. I recommend our Tickets section, where SBN Partners TiqIQ can help you find some. Why so much? Because it's the Cup™.
The Goal: The Devils must be willing to adjust and quickly. The Devils and Kings have played similar styles of hockey to get this far in the postseason and they both have quite a lot of talent. Since the Devils will have home ice tonight and on Saturday, they'll get the benefit of the last line change. That hasn't faded Darryl Sutter and his players as the Kings are 8-0 on the road. However, it can become an advantage if Peter DeBoer, his coaching staff, and the Devils players recognize what Los Angeles is doing and try and counter it during the game. I don't think the Devils are going to be very successful just coming straight at LA unless, well, they are. Unlike their last three opponents, the Kings will be well prepared - after all, they do a lot of the same things as New Jersey.
Therefore, the Devils must be ready with Plans B and C when Plan A inevitably falls apart. I'm not saying DeBoer has to mix up the lines like crazy or throw out tactics entirely. I'm just saying that I want to see the Devils account for the Kings' approach to this game, use that last line change to get certain lines out there in match-ups in response to what they've been doing, and make changes before the Kings surge and take the game over. Barring their initial gameplan working wonders, the Devils' willingness to be flexible can make or break them tonight, much less in this series.
For an opposition's take on tonight's game, please go to Jewels from the Crown. For a few more thoughts on tonight's game, please continue on after the jump.In addition to Tuesday's Media Day activities, both teams held practice today. According to this post by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, it appears that Peter DeBoer will ice the same lineup from the end of Game 6 against New York. Here are those lines:
I can't say I think moving Patrik Elias down in place of Alexei Ponikarovsky is a good idea. Ponikarovsky hasn't done a whole lot and I think his style of game would mesh better opposite David Clarkson. As much as we all want Elias to break out of his slump, it's not likely to happen with Clarkson isn't shooting a lot and Jacob Josefson is still getting into form. More importantly, while Elias has been slumping on offense, he has been generating many more shots than either Clarkson or Ponikarovsky and has been able to push the play forward against tough competition. That third line isn't going to see tough competition, so that element of Elias' game is negated. While he's not good at faceoffs, his two-way game and vision with the puck is better suited at center than wing; though Elias has played so long at wing before, I don't think it'll be that huge of an issue. If there's an in-game change to be made, I think it would have to be with the veteran forward. I'd keep an eye out on where DeBoer moves Elias during the game.
I'd also keep an eye on two players on the Devils' defense: Marek Zidlicky and Peter Harrold. Zidlicky was very good against Florida and excellent against Philadelphia, however he has come back down to Earth in the Eastern Conference Finals. Zidlicky struggled with the puck and in his positioning, sometimes at the cost of goals. I'm hopeful that's just a few bad games. DeBoer relies on the top four on defense, so if he's continuing to struggle, that's going to be a big problem for the Devils.
As for Harrold, he's been perfectly fine as a #6 defenseman. OK, he's been picked on a bit, but he hasn't been abjectly bad and he's chipped in a few assists. That said, he's not all that big or particularly strong in his own end. Should the Kings pound him physically enough to neutralize him or if the Kings forecheck makes a mess out of him and his partner, Anton Volchenkov, then we could see Adam Larsson in the near future. Larsson may be prone to making some bad decisions due to his inexperience. However, he's much larger, more mobile, he's shown he could withstand the Flyers' physical play, and he's excellent with long passes that could help the Devils breakout against the Kings' forecheck. How Harrold performs in Game 1 will determine whether we'll see a change sooner rather than later.
The Kings also practiced on Tuesday. According to this brief post by Rich Hammond at LA Kings Insider, they made no lineup changes either. This means this will be their lineup.
For the Kings, I'd keep a particular eye on that Richards line. Sutter's been using them as a power-for-power line, and that unit hasn't been very good in possession. Yet, we know full well what Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are capable of at both ends of the rink. Dustin Penner is no slouch as he adds a further physical element to an almost Flyers-typical unit. Should the Devils be able to keep Anze Kopitar and his line's impact to a minimum, keeping them pinned back is paramount to New Jersey's success tonight, much less in this series.
I'd also see how the Devils approach Quick. The Devils were able to beat Henrik Lundqvist with a combination of good luck, catching him on the flank on rushes, and enough power play success. I suspect the Devils will need the same to beat Quick tonight, and I think they'll need to get closer for shooting opportunities. The Kings won't collapse down low like New York, but they're not going to allow the Devils to waltz right into the slot either. Hopefully, they'll move the puck enough to get him moving and take shots when he's not fully set. He'll be more vulnerable then.
One final thought: it's only the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals, but it's an important one - and not just for either team to get a good start in this series. The Devils have home ice for the first time in this postseason. We know the place will be quite loud and energetic. Anyone who was at Game 4 and 6 against New York knows exactly how loud and energetic the place can be. The fans will definitely bring the enthusiasm and the noise. Hopefully, the Devils can draw something from the crowd, even just a little bit, as they attempt to maintain their home ice advantage for another day. A loss would not only dampen the crowd but take away the advantage for the time being. If they have to split, I'd prefer it in Game 2. How? By Any Means Necessary. If you're unsure, then ask yourself: so far, so good, so why not?
Now that the two teams will finally play the first game for the greatest trophy in all of sports, I want to know your opinion. Who do you think will succeed with their forecheck? Do you think Elias will stay on the third line? Will he stay at wing? What would cause you to want in-game adjustments from DeBoer? Who takes Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals: New Jersey or Los Angeles? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this game in the comments. Thank you for reading.