- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup for the third time Monday night. And had they not stumbled two years ago when they held a 3-2 lead over Colorado and eventually lost in seven games, this championship would have been the Devils’ fourth in nine seasons.

The Devils are the same age as the Washington Capitals. The teams were born on the same day in 1974, although the Devils had to move twice (from Kansas City and Colorado) before taking root in the Meadowlands. But the similarities stop there. New Jersey, under the at times less than benevolent stewardship of general manager Lou Lamoriello, has succeeded on the ice if not the box office.

The Caps have survived, period, in far less glory but more red ink. While New Jersey has been to the Cup finals four times since 1995, the Caps have been there just once and were bounced in four quick games by Detroit in 1998. It is as close as Washington has come to postseason success despite finishing regular seasons with better than 100 points four times.

What’s more, it does not appear that the hardscrabble team in the Meadowlands is going into decline any time soon. The Devils brought a hulking 6-foot-5 right wing onto the roster to add some muscle for the finals, and Mike Rupp ended up with the winning goal and two assists in the clinching 3-0 victory over the outclassed Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

That could be one of the biggest differences in the two teams. The Devils’ pool of useful, grind-it-out players like Rupp seems endless. They may not be flashy or win scoring titles; all they do is get the job done. And obtaining the Rupps of the hockey world is more than luck. The right wing was drafted ninth overall by the New York Islanders five years ago but not signed. The Devils did not let him slip away.

To describe Lamoriello as a no-nonsense administrator does not do the term justice. He is a professional and expects those who work for him to be the same. He is not afraid to admit it when something goes wrong; Pat Burns, who coached the current Devils to the Cup on Monday night (and sought an interview from the Caps a year ago), is Lamoriello’s 10th coach in 16 years, with some of the turnover a result of resignations because Lamoriello is not an easy person to work for.

But he gets results. He believes in the less-is-more concept, meaning defense first, second and third. He is paid to produce winners on the ice, and he has, even if they are far from pretty to watch. He hires coaches who can and will teach that philosophy, hires scouts to find players with the special talent needed to play in that system and then brings in players who will believe in that system and play it to perfection. They may not like it; no-rules street hockey is a lot more fun, but they don’t hand out Stanley Cup rings for winners of shinny.

In short, Lamoriello has developed a plan under which he expects to succeed and does. The plan is the exact opposite of the one developed by general manager/coach Glen Sather in Edmonton 20 years ago, but it is no less successful. It was more fun to watch Gretzky and Co. back then when there was nothing to stop them, which is why the neutral zone trap was invented in the first place.

The Ducks tried to play like the Devils with a zone defense and an excellent young goaltender. But they were no match for New Jersey, no matter how heartwarming the stories surrounding the team. Heartwarming tales, Lamoriello might say, do not win championships. Superior, consistent, persistent play does. At home, the Devils outscored Anaheim 15-3, exposing goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. At home, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur shut out the Ducks three out of the four times they played.

“It’s not over for us,” Brodeur said Monday night, smoking a stogie that would have done Red Auerbach proud. “We’re going to try to build on this. We have a lot of young guys here. In 10 or 20 years, you can look back and say if we were a dynasty or not. Right now, I don’t think is the time to call us a dynasty.”

In Washington, meanwhile, fans just watch and wait.

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