|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2003||[Print without images]|
They live in the shadows of The Big Apple and play in a swamp. It is a place called East Rutherford, a place where the natural terrain seems to be pavement -- parking lots, interstates and off-ramps, a small, grey patch of what is an extraordinarily green and otherwise pleasant state.
They don't have the history of the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Islanders' Hall of Famers, or the style, speed and talent of the Edmonton Oilers. Their home doesn't even have a quaint nickname like that of its current rival for greatness, Hockeytown USA.
The New Jersey Devils will start their third Stanley Cup Final in four years Tuesday night against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Along with the Detroit Red Wings, they are the only team to make it to four Stanley Cup Finals since the end of the last true dynasty, that of the Edmonton Oilers in 1990.
With a win over the Mighty Ducks, the Devils would lay claim to their third Stanley Cup in nine years, matching the Wings as the teams with the most Cups since the demise of the Oilers' glory days.
That is about as close as get to a dynasty in today's NHL.
The Devils won Cups in 1995 and 2000 and lost another when they dropped a seven-game series to the Ray Bourque-led Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
They have had five different coaches since 1995, but they keep coming back to play in June.
There is one constant off the ice, general manager Lou Lamoriello. Nothing escapes his eyes and ears. He is always there, up in the stands in practice, patrolling the hallways outside the Devils' dressing room before games.
He just might be the most controlling executive in pro sports, routinely whipping out his bosses' checkbooks to pay fines he incurs for keeping his players away from the media.
Lamoriello had the Devils fly home from Ottawa between Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern final, incurring a fine -- rumored to be $10,000 -- from the league. It doesn't seem to matter who is behind the bench or who is on the ice; the Devils keep winning.
They do it with defense.
"I don't think their play has changed from coach to coach; it pretty much has always been the same type of hockey," said Senators general manager John Muckler, a long-time acquaintance of Lamoriello's.
"Lou has always been that way. He was the coach at Providence College, and I was the coach of the Providence Reds. He was the rink manager, too, and I used to sit in his office for hours and talk about hockey. He's been a good friend for a long time. He's always been a defense-first and offense-second kind of guy and the coaches he's hired over the years have always been strong in that area."
The Devils' style of play is a reflection of Lamoriello -- controlled, wary, rigid in its standards.
It is the style of choice for all the teams that made up this year's final four.
Coaches and players have come and gone. The Devils no longer have the "A Line" of Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias which powered them to the Cup in 2000.
Only Elias remains from that top line as Lamoriello has not been reluctant to revamp and retool his lineup. He has turned his back on other key performers who became too pricey for the Devils' budget, like Bill Guerin, Alexander Mogilny, Vladimir Malakhov and Bobby Holik.
They move along and the Devils keep winning. They have been replaced with younger, hungry players like John Madden, Brian Rafalski and Colin White.
There have been constants in the dressing room. Defensemen Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko and goaltender Martin Brodeur are the longest-serving Devils and have come to embody what the Devils are all about.
"There have always been good people here," said Stevens. "There have been character people in the dressing room who get along really well. I think that's biggest reason why we've had the success we've had. Lou has done a good job of picking character people."
A lot of the Devils' success begins and ends with Brodeur.
|“||There have been character people in the dressing room who get along really well. I think that's biggest reason why we've had the success we've had. ”|
|— Devils defenseman Scott Stevens|
Brodeur is on track to surpass Patrick Roy -- some might say he already has -- as the NHL's current money goaltender.
"This team is based on the team concept. There's not really anybody (among the forwards) who is going to go out and put a show on for you. I think there's a superstar on our team ,and he's the goaltender," said Devils coach Pat Burns. "I think he's the most valuable player in my books.
"Scotty Stevens is the old master that glues all this together. He leads by example. He goes out there day and day out, practices, never says anything. He's just one of those rangy veterans that every team should have."
The Devils' nucleus is getting old, and this might be the end of the line for Daneyko and Stevens. Daneyko has been a healthy scratch for the first time in these playoffs, and Stevens said the other day he has a year, maybe two, left.
"We've been lucky that we've put ourselves in this position often, to get this opportunity," said Brodeur. "But at some point, it's going to stop. That's why we have to take hold of this situation. It might never come back."
Don't count on that.
The Devils seem to find a way.
Chris Stevenson of the Ottawa Sun is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.