New Jersey goaltender Marty Brodeur is an obvious key to any hopes that the New Jersey Devils have of winning the Stanley Cup again. His excellent puck-handling skills have proven to be a strength and advantage for the Devils in the first three rounds.
Brodeur told the media how his father had mentioned to him about adding that dimension to his game when he was a young teenager aspiring to be an NHL player. His dad told him about how this "Ron Hextall guy in Philadelphia" was exceptional at handling the puck, and that was an aid in him becoming an elite NHL goaltender.
Brodeur began to work on and stress that part of his game. Now, he is without peer among NHL goaltenders in his ability to handle the puck.
Ron Hextall is now the assistant general manager of the Los Angeles Kings. He probably wishes he hadn't been such a great role model.
Willie Mitchell: a success story
A year before Sidney Crosby suffered his concussions and made hits, concussions, head injuries, player safety, equipment and many other issues a hot button sports topics, Willie Mitchell was suffering and fighting the same battle with a much smaller profile.
Mitchell is in an interesting story. He began his NHL career with the New Jersey Devils and he is currently among the top defenceman on the Los Angeles Kings as he logs about 26 minutes of ice time each playoff game.
Actually, the New Jersey Devils lack a defenceman like Mitchell to deal with the size, strength and aggressive checking of the Los Angeles Kings' forwards.
Two years ago it almost all came to an end. What Mitchell felt was a cheap shot resulted in him playing only 48 games with the Vancouver Canucks in the 2009-2010 season. Mitchell spoke out that he felt the there wasn't enough supplementary discipline for that hit.
He also was upset with the stark reality that the hit cost him millions of dollars. He was viewed as one of the top free agents for the summer of 2010. Because of the concerns about his future with his concussion, the Canucks lost interest in signing Mitchell and the Kings signed him for millions less than had he not received the the concussion.
The hit in question was delivered by none other than Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, teammate of Crosby, who would make it the hot button topic a year later.
A premiere free agent
That same summer of 2010 when Willie Mitchell signed as a free agent with the Kings, the premiere free agent was one Ilya Kovalchuk. Though he was rumoured to be signing with Los Angeles, and the Kings went at him aggressively, he ultimately opted to stay with the Devils.
Now if the Devils are to win the Stanley Cup final over the Kings, it is Kovalchuk that will have to shine as one of their stars against the team that looked most likely to sign him.
The long drought
Not that Toronto Maple Leaf fans need any more sand thrown in their faces, but the Leafs are one of just three NHL teams that share the longest drought of not winning the Stanley Cup. The Leafs were an established Original Six team when they last won in 1967, while that season the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings entered the NHL as one of the new six NHL teams in that first big wave of expansion.
A Kings' Stanley Cup will reduce that number to two teams.
The Montreal Canadiens won the last Stanley Cup by a Canadian-based NHL team when they defeated the Kings in 1993.
Vincent Damphousse led the Canadiens in scoring with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in that playoff. One reason that the Toronto Maple Leafs had traded Damphousse two years earlier (to the Edmonton Oilers) was his inability to thrive in the playoffs as he had scored just one playoff goal in 23 career playoff games with the Leafs. Damphousse certainly proved that to be a bum rap.
Current Carolina head coach Kirk Muller had 10 goals in that playoff run while Mike Keane had 13 assists. Patrick Roy was the story with his leading 2.13 goals-against average. But, how about the underdog story? Paul DiPietro had scored just eight goals in 62 career NHL regular season games - he matched that total with eight goals in just 13 playoff games.
Even though it was Montreal that won the Stanley Cup in 1993, my best memories are of it being the last time Wayne Gretzky truly was the "Great One" with his on-ice play. He led all playoff scorers that spring with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists), including his self described "best performance of his life" in Game 7 against Toronto.
Pulford's best work
Bob Pulford is best known for his time as a player with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a long-time executive with the Chicago Blackhawks. His "best" executive work may have been as the coach and general manager (at times both) with the Kings in the 1970's.
With an elite goaltender like Rogie Vachon to a dominant scoring force like the Triple Crown Line (Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor), the Kings were one of the top five or six NHL teams from 1977 to 1980. Each post-season they would be upset by a team that finished lower than them in the regular-season standings.
It remains Pulford's biggest regret in his career that those King teams never got appreciated for being a truly good (or great) NHL team because they continually came up short in the playoffs.
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