When the puck drops tomorrow night, probably at 8:22 p.m. local time, Jonathan Quick will be at one end of the ice, in his first Stanley Cup Finals game. There’s a chance Anze Kopitar will take the opening faceoff, in his first Stanley Cup Finals game. Same goes for Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and a few others. Sprinkled among them, though, will be battle-tested veterans. Colin Fraser, Dustin Penner, Rob Scuderi and Justin Williams have won the Cup. Jeff Carter, Matt Greene, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll have previous Finals experience. Those players will lead the way, not necessarily with words but with actions, attitude and poise. The Finals are fun, the culmination of a dream for those playing in them for the first time, but there’s no time to, as Quick might say, “bird watch.’’ The games will be immediately intense, and the Kings know a strong start will be critical. What do those young players need to know about the first five minutes of a Stanley Cup Finals game? Scuderi (2008, 2009), Williams (2006) and Greene (2006) gave some thoughts.
SCUDERI: “I think it’s all about striking a balance. You’re excited to play. It’s been a while for us. It’s the Stanley Cup Finals. But you also realize that it’s a real hockey game to be played, and we can’t just run out like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off. We’ve got to realize what got us here, and try to strike that balance between being excited, and your responsibility as a player to this team. … In my mind, I know it’s the Stanley Cup Finals and there are only two teams left, but we were playing for the Stanley Cup in Game 1 vs. Vancouver. So, we’ve been trying to play the same game. The stakes were just as high then as they are now. So, I don’t think our game changes much. It is a bit of a spectacle, but I don’t think it’s very hard to get zeroed in on what you want to do and how you want to play.’’
WILLIAMS: “Usually, at the start of games, in someone else’s building, the home team usually comes out with some spunk, with some fire. We obviously anticipate that. We need to duplicate that and give more. We’ve had success at the start of series, and we need to just harness that, bottle it and continue to do it.’’
GREENE: “Come out and play your own game. Make plays. The best way to slow this down, if you’re coming out on the road in the first five or 10 minutes, is to make strong plays. That’s what is going to slow the game down for yourself. If you give them the opportunity to get momentum the whole time, then they’re going to keep building on that. If you’re making the right plays, if you’re breaking out of the zone and getting pucks deep, that slows things down for us and it gets our game going, and that’s what you’ve got to do.’’
Perhaps better than anyone, Greene understands the situation the Kings’ young players face. When the Edmonton Oilers made the Finals in 2006, Greene was a 23-year-old rookie. Asked about keeping emotions in check, as a young player, Greene said it’s also important to embrace the moment.
GREENE: “You’ve got to enjoy it. You have to enjoy it. That’s the main thing. You’ve got to enjoy it while you’re there. You’ve got to enjoy it while you’re playing. At the same time, you have to realize what you did to give yourself success to get there. That was making plays, doing the right things and the things that your team wants you to do. As long as you do that, you’ll be fine.’’
Drew Doughty, now in his sixth playoff series, seems as though he will follow Greene’s advice about enjoying the moment.
DOUGHTY: “Me personally, I want to know it’s a Stanley Cup Final game. It’s the biggest thing in my life. It’s what I’ve dreamt about my whole life, being in the Stanley Cup Final, and now it’s time for me, and all of us, to pick up our games and be at our best. We can’t look at it as if we have to a lot of pressure on us to win, or anything like that. We’ve just got to go out there and have fun, and do everything we can to win.’’