NEWARK, N.J. – Simon Gagne is finally healthy enough to play for the Los Angeles Kings. But with as well as the Western Conference champions have been playing, it is tough for the former All-Star forward to get back into a loaded lineup.
Gagne has been medically cleared to return to the ice, following a concussion that sidelined him on Dec. 26. It will likely take another injury or perhaps a loss to prompt coach Darryl Sutter to shake up his personnel and put Gagne into action.
"It's going to take something for me to get in," Gagne said. "If we win four in a row, it might not happen. I am not going to wish anything bad."
Gagne was held out of the lineup on Wednesday night for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, and Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter has quickly grown impatient with questions about the left wing's status.
"I'm not answering that question again about Simon," Sutter said. "Cleared for contact, cleared for practice, traveling with the team. So there won't be any further update on that one because, quite honestly, the answer's the same. I don't know how to answer it, right? You tell the truth or don't say nothing."
Gagne played in the 2010 finals for the Philadelphia Flyers, who lost to Chicago in six games.
NEW YEAR'S DAY: What a difference a year makes.
Back in 2011, when the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks squared off in the Stanley Cup finals, Peter DeBoer was unemployed and hoping to get another chance to coach in the NHL. The call from Lou Lamoriello, the New Jersey Devils president and general manager, came shortly after, and one year later, DeBoer has led his new team to the finals.
DeBoer and the Devils had something negative in common: he had failed to get the Florida Panthers to the playoffs in his three seasons as their coach, and the Devils missed the postseason in 2011 for the first time since 1996.
"Like most unemployed guys, you're sitting at home wondering where you're going to work next," DeBoer said. "You're thinking about your future, talking about selling your house.
"It seems humorous now, but when you go through something like that, you know ... I have a rock-solid wife who I thought kept me in a good place through that time. It wasn't that long ago."
The Devils were a mediocre 12-12-1 through Dec. 3 before surging to a 36-16-5 finish that pushed them over 100 points. New Jersey settled for the No. 6 seed out of the tough Atlantic Division before eliminating Florida and division foes Philadelphia and the top-seeded New York Rangers to advance to the finals for the fifth time.
DeBoer has little sympathy for those who were hoping for a Los Angeles-New York matchup.
"The glamour of New York," DeBoer asked with a smile. "Tough luck."
RED, WHITE AND BLUE 'C': For the first time, both teams in the Stanley Cup finals have an American-born captain: Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings, and the New Jersey Devils' Zach Parise.
"It's great for the game in the U.S.," said Parise, a native of Minneapolis. "That says a lot for American hockey."
And they already know each other quite well.
Both Brown and Parise are 27. They were teammates on the 2010 Olympic hockey squad that captured the silver medal at Vancouver, and played on the same team in the World Junior championship.
"(Playing) with him it's a lot of fun, he's a special player. Playing against him is not," Brown said. "The one thing I say about Zach is that you're not going to find a more skilled guy who competes harder. He has first-line skill and a fourth-line mentality and work ethic. He probably works harder than any high-end skill guy that I've seen."
Either Parise or Brown will join Derian Hatcher as the only American captains to win the Stanley Cup. Hatcher did it in 1999 with the Dallas Stars.
Parise was every bit as complimentary toward Brown, who hails from Ithaca, N.Y.
"Even if he's not scoring, getting assists or anything, you know when he's out there," Parise said. "He does a lot of things out there that might not wind up on the scoresheet, but he's a very effective player, even if he's not scoring.
"I do think we play pretty similar styles of hockey. He's a great player. He's physical. He does everything out on the ice."
KING-SIZED TURNAROUND: As late as March 28, and only six games left in the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings were on the outside of the Western Conference playoff race.
Under the leadership of new coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings finished 3-0-3 to earn the No. 8 seed and then began one of the most amazing postseason runs in NHL history.
Los Angeles, which began the season 15-14-4 before Sutter took over as coach on Dec. 21, reached the Stanley Cup finals for the second time ever and needed only 14 playoff games to get there. The Kings went 12-2 in the first three rounds to eliminate top-seeded Vancouver (5 games), No. 2 St. Louis (4 games) and No. 3 Phoenix (5 games).
"I don't think we're surprised," forward Mike Richards said. "We worked hard to get to this point. Had a good team all year. We struggled I think early on with consistency which put us in some holes throughout the regular season.
"Once we found that consistency, started scoring more goals, playing just with more confidence, I think we've done well in that situation."
The Kings went 25-13-11 with Sutter behind the bench, and the 14-game trip to the finals ties the mark for fewest games to get there since all series went to the best-of-seven format in 1987. Los Angeles is the seventh team to accomplish the feat.
"We've overcome a lot of adversity already," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We took on the Western Conference first-place, second-place, third-place team. That's no easy task. Maybe because we did make it happen so quick, only losing two games so far, it looks easy. But it wasn't easy.
"We played our hearts out. Every single guy played for the other guy beside them. It was a tough task to overcome."
The Edmonton Oilers won the Cup in 1987 and 1988 after 14-game runs to the championship round. Chicago (1992), Detroit (1995), Anaheim (2003) and Pittsburgh (2008) all came up short in the finals after running through three rounds.