May 9, 2012
Five reasons the Devils aren't a surprise
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY
PHILADELPHIA - As much as a team that put up 102 regular-season points can be a surprise, the New Jersey Devils have turned some heads during the playoffs.
A gritty seven-game win over the Florida Panthers set up a dominating 4-1 triumph over the Philadelphia Flyers and suddenly the sixth-seeded Devils are bound for the Eastern Conference final.
It's quite a turnaround for a team that didn't even make the playoffs a year ago -- and indeed, finished four points below the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings. But this is not a miracle turnaround. While the Devils had an off-year, they were plagued by injuries and a poor start.
Here are five reasons the Devils' quick rebound shouldn't be seen as a surprise.
1. The Coach
The playoff success Peter DeBoer has had over the past month can be attributed in part to some of the nice long runs he had through the Ontario Hockey League playoffs as coach of the Kitchener Rangers.
DeBoer never made the post-season in two seasons with the Florida Panthers (2008-10) but was stuck with a bad group and a poor front office, before Dale Tallon came in this season. But DeBoer has proven himself in tough competition. During seven years with the Rangers, he led the team to the 2003 Memorial Cup championship and 2008 OHL title and twice was named the OHL coach of the year.
2. The Goalie
King Marty my not have many years left to wear the crown and, in fact, he would have to be considered well down the list of strengths of the team thus far during the playoffs.
But Martin Brodeur's pedigree and leadership skills are intangibles at this time of year. Almost every player on the team looks up to him, and his history of playoff success offers a big edge.
3. The Rookie
Much was made of the Flyers starting six rookies in the opening game of their series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. As impressive as that was, it was probably too much, too soon.
But the play of Devils freshman Adam Henrique throughout the playoffs has been impressive, thriving largely because he has been surrounded by so much veteran leadership. A native of Brantford, Ont., Henrique's play has prompted more than one voter to wish they had their rookie of the year award ballot back.
4. The Captain
Zach Parise has been touted as the free-agent prize of the summer and indeed he stands to hit it big. But will the Devils captain want to leave Jersey now?
Parise has been a key player in the high-end depth and leadership group that has allowed the coaching staff to rely on production from all four lines. Always a tough competitor, the 27-year-old is headed to the conference final for the first time in his seven-year career.
"He leads by the way he plays out there," Devils winger David Clarkson said. "It's not hard to play all out when you see how hard he's working."
5. The system
While it traces back to DeBoer, the type of game the Devils are playing is not just a polar opposite to the grinding, tough to watch trapping style the Devils franchise has used in the past, but it is a perfect fit to the personnel.
Aggressive, attacking forechecking allows the Devils' skill players to thrive. Ilya Kovalchuk, for example, would be a waste under previous Devils regimes.
The emphasis on puck possession also masks some flaws such as the Devils' no-name defence and Brodeur on off-nights. Against the Flyers, the 40-year-old netminder never had it so easy.