NHL Playoffs 2012: 5 Reasons to Believe the New Jersey Devils Can Win the Cup
That result may have been shocking enough on its own—especially considering the sheer dominance of the Flyers' offense in the first round, but the fact that the Devils managed the feat in just five games suggests the Devils may be a bit more threatening to the Cup than expected.
After all, once the conference finals begin, there are only the four teams left. They don't really seem that far off...
But they are still only halfway there. Can they keep going? Here are five reasons to believe the Devils can bring home the Cup one more time.
They're Hot at the Right Time
No matter how good a roster is, they still have to be on their game to succeed in the playoffs, and no one can deny that the Devils are playing their best right now.
The Devils actually came into the postseason with the longest active win-streak at six games, but that ended with their struggles in Florida.
However, the Devils have now won six of their last seven and are starting to look like real competitors. Three of those wins—and both elimination games—came on the road. Their defense is looking strong and near-impenetrable at times. Their fore-check... oh, we'll get into that.
The point is, the Devils look GOOD. It wasn't a sweep, but they just won four straight against a team that many picked to make the finals after the first round.
Compare that to their possible competitors, the Rangers—New York came into the playoffs as favorite in the East and struggled mightily against the eight-ranked Senators before winning Game 7. In the second round, they split the first four games with the Washington Capitals, and now hold a 3-2 series advantage.
It would seem that the Devils could enter a possible match-up having played fewer games, resting more and with more momentum.
The Devils' forwards were fabulous at forcing turnovers this series. In Game 5—a game where the Flyers were battling for their season—they forced 14 giveaways. Last game, it was 19.
Ilya Bryzgalov's gaffe tonight that resulted in Clarkson's game-winning goal was the result of a forecheck.
Every game, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Dainius Zubrus, Ilya Kovalchuk, Adam Henrique, Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Stephen Gionta and David Clarkson—among others—are forcing errors by putting extra pressure on the opponent, and they are reaping the rewards in a big way.
Marty Bein' Marty
Martin Brodeur turned 40 on Sunday, and celebrated by stopping the Flyers 4-2. Though he started slow during the regular season, he finished strong, posting a 2.41 GAA and .908 save percentage to go with a 31-21-4 record.
It's not Marty at his best, but it's certainly the play of someone who's still capable of playing at the NHL level.
And Marty's only gotten better in the postseason. He's 8-3 with a 2.05 GAA and a .920 save-percentage. While he isn't stealing any games for the Devils, he's giving them a good chance of winning every game.
On top of that, he's just as crafty with his stick as ever. While he hasn't scored any goals (yet), he has three assists this postseason.
Any team attempting to dump the puck in experiences the same frustration when Brodeur cuts off the puck and dishes it out to a teammate 50 feet away. That advantage means one of two things: teams have to alter their game plans, or they have to accept that Marty is going to steal some possessions from them. Either way, it pays off big-time.
And of course, there's the fact that he's been there. Marty has hoisted the cup not once, not twice, but thrice. He's got more than 100 postseason wins, 24 postseason shutouts and no shortage of experience.
When a goalie has too much experience, that usually means he's too old to play. But as long as Marty can keep performing like he has been, it's extremely reassuring to know such a cool head stands between the pipes.
Everyone Is Stepping Up
The Devils are showing depth that some of their own fans didn't even realize they were capable of putting out. All four lines have come up huge in big situations so far, and there's no reason to expect that to slow.
Sure, the top scorers are producing well; Kovalchuk, Clarkson and Parise have combined for 28 points so far. But even the third- and fourth-liners are scoring—Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter have three points apiece, while Alexei Ponikarovsky, Stephen Gionta and Petr Sykora each have four.
Rookie sensation Adam Henrique has seven points, as does Zubrus. Really, the only forward underperforming so far is Patrik Elias, the Devils' second-leading scorer from the regular season.
Even without the Czech veteran's normal contributions, the Devils are thriving. And that's what makes them so scary: Every roster player poses a possible threat.
The Devils Are Playing Their Own Game
For some many years, it's seemed like the Devils were trying to cling to past glory; They played a rigidly-defensive game without too much offensive pressure, usually capitalizing on the other team's mistakes.
Unfortunately, they tried doing this even without Hall-of-Fame defenders Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens—and of course Ken Daneyko—leading the way, and that's where the trouble started.
But this year seems different. With a new coach and a different-looking lineup, the Devils are playing a game their fans aren't used to: an offensively-charge, physical game. They're second in hits behind the Rangers in the postseason.
After tonight, Ilya Kovalchuk is leading the remaining players in points. Travis Zajac is also tied for third. That's not a position Devils are used to.
With seasoned vets like Patrik Elias, rough-and-tumble producers like David Clarkson, a two-way superstar in Zach Parise and one of the game's best snipers in Kovalchuk, the Devils have a very difficult team to play against.
When all of those players are playing like they're capable of playing (and they're not far off), it's unclear who—if any—in the league can put out a squad to match them.