Returns of Sykora, Tallinder pay dividends
NEWARK -- Not many NHL teams can add 166 games worth of postseason experience overnight. But with his team down 3-0 to the Los Angeles Kings heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in Los Angeles and in need of a spark, Devils coach Peter DeBoer saw an opportunity to do just that.
DeBoer added a mega-dose of playoff experience for Game 4 by dressing defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who returned to the lineup after being out since Jan. 17 with blood clots in his leg, as well as forward Petr Sykora, who had been a healthy scratch since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Neither player had a point in Game 4, but both played well in the Devils' season-saving 3-1 win.
"They gave us a real shot of energy," said DeBoer, who showed concern for Tallinder because the blood clot forced the defenseman to remain mobile during the team's cross-country flight on Thursday. "Whenever you're out for an extended period, you worry about how they're going to get their timing. They had no hesitation when you talked to them about going back in, and that’s how they played.”
There aren't many NHL players with more postseason experience than Sykora, who's appearing in his sixth Stanley Cup Final with three teams -- he earned rings with the Devils in 2000 and with Pittsburgh in 2009. DeBoer put Sykora with Dainius Zubrus and longtime friend and teammate Patrik Elias, adding some life to a line that hadn't shown much in the series. The trio opened the scoring in the third period in Game 4 on a goal by Elias, giving New Jersey its first lead of the Final. Elias' backhander past Jonathan Quick was his first goal in two weeks and just his third goal since Game 3 of the Devils' opening-round series against Florida.
"He's obviously a very experienced player," Zubrus said of Sykora. "Me, him and Patrik played for pretty much most of the season. He knows where to be and how to support. In that way, I think we read off each other, whether it's forecheck or backcheck. I thought he played really goods. He seemed like he never missed a beat."
Playing his first playoff game in more than two years, Tallinder found himself on both the penalty kill and power play during his 19:21 in ice time. It was a strong return for a blueliner who played in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals with Buffalo in 2006 and 2007. In the first of those runs with the Sabres, Tallinder notched a goal and an assist in a Game 5 win that sent his team to the Conference Final. The following year, he logged an impressive 30:37 of ice time in a Game 5 overtime loss that sent Ottawa to its first Cup Final.
The decision to dress Tallinder and Sykora was the latest in a series of postseason moves by DeBoer and his staff that have generated positive results.
"With how much homework that they do, whatever they seem to change, we see the results right away," captain Zach Parise said of the coaching staff. "We believe in what they're saying and the way they want us to play. Throughout the whole playoffs, we've played a couple of games a certain way and then we find a different thing to do and find out that it works."
Tal Pinchevsky - NHL.com Staff Writer