- Chris Stevenson
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They are named after a legendary demonic son of an 18th century witch.
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.
It seems an unlikely home of a Stanley Cup dynasty in the making.
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
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
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
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.
Approaching dynasty status without a dominating goaltender is a difficult
thing to do. The Wings have managed to have three different goaltenders win their
three Cups since 1990, but the hallmark of the great dynasties has been
having a dominating goaltender of his time in goal: Jacques Plante for the Habs of
the '50s; Ken Dryden for Montreal in the '70s; Billy Smith for the New York
Islanders in the early '80s; and Grant Fuhr for the Edmonton Oilers in the latter
part of the '80s.
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.