At long last, the New Jersey Devils have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the first time they've done so in five years. If they want to top the Philadelphia Flyers and make it to the conference finals for the first time since 2003, though, there's some things they need to do and some adjustments from the Florida series that they need to make over the next couple of weeks.
Florida scored nine power-play goals against New Jersey in seven games, even though the Devils had the top penalty-killing unit in the NHL during the regular season. Facing such scorers as Claude Giroux (six goals, eight assists in first round), Danny Briere (five goals, three assists), Jakub Voracek (two goals, five assists), Jaromir Jagr (one goal, seven assists) and several others, the Devils simply can't give the Flyers as many man-advantage opportunities as they gave the Panthers if they want to win.
The Flyers goaded Pittsburgh into fisticuffs and taking penalties in the first round, and it paid off for the team in orange and black in the form of a dozen power-play goals. They'll most likely try to do the same to the Devils, so even if the first instinct is to fight back, New Jersey skaters can't get caught up playing that game—and playing into Philadelphia's hands.
Even though Philly ousted the Penguins rather handily in the first round, the Flyers' on-again, off-again netminder, Ilya Bryzgalov, still surrendered 21 goals in six games.
New Jersey needs to go hard to the net, get deflections and rebounds and try to camp out near Bryzgalov as much as possible, looking for loose pucks it can convert into goals.
The almost 40-year-old netminder saved the Devils' season several times in overtime in Game 7 in Florida—but his teammates can't get caught up sitting back and watching him trying to work his save magic again, not against a better opponent in Philadelphia.
And as much as they should work to set up shop near Bryzgalov, the Devils can't let the Flyers do the same to Brodeur, or it'll be a short series. Plus, Brodeur himself needs to be on his game as much as possible to give his team a fighting chance.
It's no secret the Devils can't let the Flyers, well, fly around. They need to make it a grueling and punishing series, which means playing physical hockey and finishing their checks without taking penalties as much as possible. It also means not missing checks, as some Devils did in the opening round, which ultimately led to Florida goals.
Of course, you know Philly's going to hit New Jersey back—so this may well be a war of endurance and attrition when all is said and done.
New Jersey's fourth line came up with some key goals in the Florida series while also spelling the first few lines and not being a defensive liability. Continued contributions on defense from the third and fourth lines, plus chipping in with a timely goal here and there by players like Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier, will definitely help the Devils' cause.
The Devils' best players have to play their best. It can't be the unheralded skaters doing all the scoring.
Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, Petr Sykora and David Clarkson have to be the go-to guys for the Devils against the Flyers offensively. They're going to have to fight through tighter checking, obviously, but they have to get the job done on the scoresheet if the Devils are going to win this series.