NEWARK, N.J. - If there was a dash of doubt that the New Jersey Devils were not zeroed in on making the Stanley Cup final a series then examine the level of concentration head coach Peter DeBoer exhibited the other evening.
With his Devils facing elimination, the New Jersey head coach kept his attentiveness on his players and not the distracting silhouette of the attention-seeking Canadian-born adult film star, Taylor Stevens, sitting behind the Devils bench on Wednesday.
After New Jersey's practice on Friday, DeBoer was asked a rambling question about his team's focus and then said, jokingly, "I thought you were going to ask about the lady behind the bench. You saw my 100 per cent focus on the game. That's discipline."
That distraction aside the Devils appear to be a focused group that believes it can send the Stanley Cup final back to Los Angeles for a Game 6. The Devils have overcome difficult situations in this playoff run before and seemed convinced they can beat the Los Angeles Kings at home in Game 5 on Saturday.
"In the first round against Florida, that was a tough series and we grew as a group with that series," said defenceman Bryce Salvador, whose Devils overcame a 3-2 series deficit with two overtime wins to advance. "We've found ways when we face adversity.
"It's very easy when you're down 3-0 to start questioning or pointing fingers - it's the PP or the PK, or it's this player or that player. We just never see that in this room. It's so easy to start pointing fingers when you face adversity. But this team is made up of a bunch of guys who when they face adversity they put it upon themselves. That's a big plus we have in this room."
Salvador has been a big plus for the Devils. He missed the entire 2010-11 campaign with an inner-ear concussion. He was involved in a pre-season fight with New York Rangers forward Kris Newbury on Sept. 25, 2010 and then took a hard hit three days later from Philadelphia Flyers James van Riemsdyk.
But Salvador believes his head issues stem from a puck he took in the head on a shot by then Pittsburgh defenceman Alex Goligoski on Dec. 10, 2008. He never felt 100 per cent after that shot. But he sure has enjoyed a comeback in a big way this season, especially in the playoffs with some unexpected offence (three goals and 13 points) playing alongside Marek Zidlicky.
Last year at this time, he and teammate Zach Parise (knee surgery) were a few weeks into their comeback bids. Now Salvador and Parise each will play in his 105th combined regular season and playoff game of the year.
"This wasn't one of the goals we were looking at immediately," Salvador said. "We were just worried about tying our skates back up and getting back to camp, and for myself just getting through camp.
"To be here a 100 games later, it's nice to have the path go the way it did. It has taken out any doubt that I had that I could continue to play. That was important and I needed that to be able to come back and play at a high level."
This is the longest playoff run the 36-year-old native of Brandon, Man. has been involved with since he helped the 1996-97 Lethbridge Hurricanes capture the WHL championship and advance all the way to the Memorial Cup final, only to lose to the host Hull Olympiques. The veteran defenceman sees some similarities with that Hurricanes team - which included Chris Phillips - and this Devils group.
"This is a good team in terms that nobody gets on each other," Salvador said. "We had our ups and downs throughout the season, but everyone has been really positive with each other. When adversity was there we found ways to overcome, whether it would be a losing streak or injuries. We stayed positive with the situation.
"It was just a great experience [with Lethbridge]. The similarities are the chemistry you feel in the room. This year, we really sensed it."
Fisher, MacGregor and Jeanneret
On a personal note I would like to congratulate Red Fisher for his brilliant and long career with the Montreal Star and Montreal Gazette as well as Roy MacGregor and Rick Jeanneret for being named the 2012 Hockey Hall of Fame media honourees.
Mr. MacGregor co-authored my favourite sports book with Ken Dryden, Home Game: Hockey Life in Canada, and penned too-many-to-mention, must-read columns about hockey, politics and Canada in his lifetime.
I had the privilege working with Roy at the Globe and Mail and now that I've moved on my life brightens every time I see him at the same event. I can even forgive him for his annual unfavorable columns about Don Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada. Roy's winning of the Elmer Ferguson Award was an honour long overdue. His exclusion from covering this year's final was a pity.
Mr. Jeanneret has easily been my favourite play-by-play man for four decades now. His enthusiasm and creativity made listening to Buffalo Sabres games on the radio a wonderful treat, whether hiding a transistor under my pillow as a kid or later driving around in a car. He was a homer without being a blatant homer, and this honour of winning the Foster Hewitt Award should have been bestowed earlier.
Like MacGregor and Jeanneret, Fisher is a national treasure. When his retirement at age 85 was announced on Friday morning, stories about him dominated Stanley Cup media room.
He began covering the Canadiens on March 15, 1955. The Rocket Richard riot was two days later and Red still was going strong 57 years after that After having dinner with him in Buffalo during the Sabres-Dallas Stars Stanley Cup final in 1999, we became friends.
It always was special to stop by and say hello and catch up when our paths crossed, something I hope won't stop now that he has put away his notebook for good.
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