Wednesday, June 4
June 5, 12:02 PM ET
Nieuwendyk out, Stevenson in for Game 5
By Sherry Skalko
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils center Joe Nieuwendyk won't be in the lineup for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks on Thursday, said coach Pat Burns.
Michael Rupp, who was inserted into Nieuwendyk's spot in the lineup for Game 4, will take his place again between Jeff Friesen and Jamie Langenbrunner.
Winger Turner Stevenson will return to the lineup in Game 5 after being sidelined with a groin injury since Game 6 against Ottawa on May 21. Stevenson is expected to replace Jiri Bicek in the lineup.
While neither Rupp nor Stevenson can compensate for Nieuwendyk's absence in the faceoff circle, they both bring size and toughness to the Devils' lineup. Stevenson is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds; Rupp is 6-5, 230. But Stevenson added that his return isn't about to change the course of the series.
"As far as changing momentum, I'm not that good of a player," he said.
Rupp, a rookie, is playing just his second playoff game after splitting time during the regular season between New Jersey (26 games) and Albany (47 games).
"I thought he was our best player on the ice (in Game 4). He had the most jump in his legs, the most energy, the most enthusiasm, the best hits, the most hits," said Devils center John Madden, before sarcastically adding, "I think he won the most faceoffs, too."
Nieuwendyk, whose all-encompassing "lower body injury" is speculated to be either his hip or back, practiced Wednesday for the first time since leaving Game 7 against Ottawa on May 23 after skating only three shifts. He participated in opening drills, but left the ice when the team broke down into line combinations.
Despite the abbreviated practice, Nieuwendyk said he's making progress.
"They indicated to me at the beginning of this it would be a week-to-week thing. I think we're kind of treating it as an hour-to-hour thing," he said. "There was no reason to push it. I think we wanted to get a barometer where I was."
Nieuwendyk's absence is felt most in the faceoff circle. The Ducks have won 167 of the 274 faceoffs (60 percent) in the series. However, the Devils' only glaring loss was in Game 3, when Adam Oates won the draw back to defenseman Ruslan Salei who scored the game-winning goal.
"It would help (having him in the lineup)," said Devils winger Patrik Elias. "Through his whole career, he's been one of the best faceoff men. We're not doing as well as we'd like to. We've done a good job without Joe, and we're going to have to step up again to replace that."
Even though this is the Stanley Cup finals, which brings out a hockey player's uncanny ability to put performance over pain, Nieuwendyk said he'd be a detriment to the team if he played in his current condition.
"I think certain parts of my game that I have to be effective in, whether it be faceoffs or anything, if I don't feel that I can do those things the way I can, and I don't want to be a liability out there as well," he said.
Time isn't on anyone's side
Format change? No thanks
If the Stanley Cup finals go seven games, both the Mighty Ducks and Devils will be flying from coast to coast three times in less than a week. Despite all the travel, neither coach has any interest in changing from the current 2-2-1-1-1 format to 2-3-2 format, like Major League Baseball and the NBA.
"I have been through it two times," said Devils coach Pat Burns. "It's really scary."
A 2-3-2 format doesn't give the better team true home-ice advantage, because they are forced to win the first two games at home and at least one on the road to maintain the advantage. In the 1994 conference semifinals, Burn's Maple Leafs split the first two games against the Sharks in Toronto, then lost two of the three games at San Jose. The Leafs were forced to win both Games 6 and 7 on home ice, which they did. In the next round, the Leafs split the first two games against the Canucks in Toronto, then lost three straight in Vancouver.
Ducks coach Mike Babcock, who has never coached a 2-3-2 series at the NHL level, likes things just the way they are.
"I think the travel is great," he said. "I think the key to the final is you get stretched, and you find out about the desire and will. And the teams that play the fewest games, because they won the quickest, should have the advantage. It didn't help us at all early. Now it should be an advantage to us."
The Mighty Ducks are only the fourth West Coast team to reach the Stanley Cup finals since the league expanded there in 1967-68, joining the 1982 and 1994 Vancouver Canucks and the 1993 Los Angeles Kings. None of them won the Cup.
While most members of the Ducks are accustomed to the travel, some haven't gotten the hang of adjusting to the three-hour time change.
"I don't think you really do. It's tough travel," said center Adam Oates, who spent most of his career with teams based in the Eastern time zone before signing with the Ducks last July. "When you come East, you try to stay up a little later to try and get on the East Coast clock. So having this day off (Wednesday) really helps. Last night it was tough to fall asleep. When you go West, you try to hang on as long as you can, but you're dead.
"All year long they've been great about making sure that we're rested when we come back from the East, we had a day off no matter how bad we played that given night."
Though the Ducks have dealt with travel more than the Devils (their last foray outside the Eastern time zone was a trip to Calgary on March 5), Oates said it doesn't present much of an advantage.
"We haven't done it in two months," he said. "Both teams are on the same exact schedule now, it's the finals and there is adrenaline in a game. (During the regular season) you can come back from a West Coast swing and have 12,000 in the rink. It's different than 20,000 screaming fans wearing white. I don't think there is any advantage or disadvantage now."
Ducks still counting on Kariya
Only in the Stanley Cup finals can a team win without its star players scoring. OK, make that only in the Stanley Cup finals between two positionally sound, defensive-minded teams.
No one on the Ducks is concerned that captain Paul Kariya has yet to score -- least of all, Paul Kariya.
"I'd love to help the team out offensively, but in a series like this when the games are so low scoring you can't take any risks, you've got to play well positionally and do the job on the defensive end," Kariya said. "Being out of the playoffs but scoring lots of goals doesn't do anything for anybody. Being in the finals and not producing as much, the winning is far better."
Though he's been held to only six shots, Kariya's been doing his part by using his speed to penetrate the Devils' zone and cycle down low. He's also forced the Devils to juggle their matchups, especially in Games 3 and 4.
"It's not all about stats," said Ducks center Jason Krog. "If you've watched him during the last couple of games, he's getting his chances, he's flying out there. He's motivating guys by doing other things than by putting the puck in the net. And it is only a matter of time before he's going to do that."
At least his disposition is sunny
Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur and defenseman Brian Rafalski didn't skate on Wednesday. Burns said Brodeur would rather face shots before the game on Thursday and that it's Rafalski's day to rest.
When asked if he feels 100 percent, Brodeur replied: "Yeah, I'm a little pale, but everywhere we go, it's raining, so ..."
Sherry Skalko is the NHL Editor for ESPN.com.