NEWARK, NJ- In the boxing ring, a fundamental tool of success is a good left-right punch combination.
The New Jersey Devils have a great left-right wing combination that’s been known to throw a few punches, with left wing Mike Rupp and right wing David Clarkson on the fourth line, the heart of the team’s toughness.
On a team with a balanced attack of youth and experience, and skill and toughness, Rupp and Clarkson represent the grit that the post-season requires.
“I think in the history of the NHL playoffs, it’s kind of cool because it’s not always the most skilled players that make the difference,” Rupp explained. “You look in the past at guys who have been big in the playoffs, you look at Darren McCarthy in Detroit and some of these guys that just by grit alone are getting the job done.”
Clarkson and Rupp hope to have that kind of impact during the run for the Stanley Cup this season.
Clarkson led the team during the regular season with 164 penalty minutes, many from big hits or fights to defend and inspire his teammates.
“There’s no fighting in the playoffs, or not as much, but going around crashing, hitting guys. If I get a chance to finish a check, doesn’t matter who it is, I need to make sure I finish it,” Clarkson said. “That’s the way I can help.”
Finish he has, scoring two goals in the first five games of the opening round, including the game-winning goal in Newark on Thursday.
Clarkson scored on the power play 11:22 into the second period to give the Devils a 1-0 lead that would hold until the final buzzer. The tipped shot from Andy Greene came as a big surprise; Clarkson doubted he would be used on the power play at all.
Rupp knows what it feels like to score a big goal during the post season, too.
Rupp worked his way into the Devils line-up just in time to score the Cup-clinching goal in game seven of the 2003 Finals. He earned his spot in this year’s playoff line-up by refusing to quit when he was forced out of the starting rotation for several games at a time after the Devils acquired Brendan Shanahan.
“It’s a long ride, and skill can take you so far, but the heart and the determination I think is really what can put you over the top,” Rupp said. “I think a guy like myself and Clarkie, and a lot of our team, we pride ourselves on that and I think that’s good. If your hands are failing every night, it’s a matter of your determination.”
Determination from this duo has led to points during the regular season; 32 from Clarkson (17g, 15a), and nine from Rupp (3g, 6a).
“You know guys are going to turn away from you when you hit them. Our job is to get in the corners, bang and crash, and cycle the puck,” Clarkson said. “We’re going to try to build through it in the series and create more offense for the team.”
Part of the Devils success this year has been the ability of all four lines creating offense, something Clarkson credits to the team’s depth.
“There’s not many teams in the league that have depth we do, where you can have certain guys on your fourth line or certain guys on your third line. I think if a lot of guys on our team were on other teams, they’d be top two, top three line guys and here it’s third or fourth,” Clarkson said.
The experience and the versatility of the team are not lost on Rupp, either.
“We were going around the room and counting how many Cups each guy has and its pretty impressive. You rely on that, you rely on your skill, your youth, your energy. You rely on your grit, your goaltending. We’re able to lean on any one of those crutches,” Rupp said.
The deeper the Devils go into the playoffs, the more they will be able to rely on the toughness of Rupp and Clarkson, when grit alone is what’s needed to get the job done.
[*] This article appears courtesy of Gannett, Inc. newspapers Courier News and Home News Tribune, and has been updated and modified by the author specifically for use by NY Sportsday and NY Sportscene.