NHL Playoffs 2012: Breaking Down the New Jersey Devils' Success so Far

Alex BaconCorrespondent IMay 9, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 06: (l-r) Head coach Peter DeBoer and assistant coach Adam Oates of the New Jersey Devils handle bench duties against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center on May 6, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Flyers 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After a 4-1 series win against the fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, the New Jersey Devils will move on to the Eastern Conference Championship. 

This is a team that has exceeded everyone’s expectations, not only during the regular season, but also during the playoffs.

Back on October 8, the Devils lost by a score of 3-0 to the Flyers in their first game of the season. The team has come a long way since then.

But what has changed since that opening day? How did the Devils win four out of five games against a team that was a Cup favorite?

For starters, the Devils have had contributions from many players who, earlier in the season, no one expected to make an impact, like Adam Henrique, Adam Larsson, David Clarkson, Petr Sykora, Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier.

Not to mention the coaching of Peter DeBoer.

He has really stood out in the playoffs; to be down 3-2 in the first round and come back and win two games, one in overtime and one in double-overtime on the road, is not an easy task.

With a nagging injury to the star player and the complete turnaround of what was the best penalty kill during the regular season, one could imagine how hard it would be to keep up the morale of a hockey team, and DeBoer did just that.

Then the Devils faced the task of outworking the Flyers in the second round, made difficult because Philadelphia was coming off of a week's rest.

Zach Parise has 4 goals and 4 assists in 12 games during the playoffs.
Zach Parise has 4 goals and 4 assists in 12 games during the playoffs.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

But effort was the reason why the Devils won this series.

This is the best the Devils have played in a while, mostly due to the outstanding forecheck. The Devils were able to pin the Flyers in their zone and did not allow them to even cross their own blue line.

There is a reason why Zach Parise is the captain; he was absolutely everywhere on the ice and won every single battle along the boards. That is what makes him such a complete player: skill is something that some players naturally have (not that Parise does not have skill), but what makes him so good is his work ethic, and his ability to come out with the puck in almost every battle along the boards.

He led by example, and the rest of the Devils rallied behind him and did not allow the Flyers a chance to stay in the series.

Then for the team to be able to sit back and play the trap when leading in the third period, especially in Games 4 and 5, says a lot about their ability. It is not easy to transition from a high-tempo offense to a more relaxed offense in the middle of a game, like the Devils were able to do.

The Devils played a very disciplined series and were able to stay out of the penalty box to avoid a very dangerous Flyers power play.

Going back to the first game of the season against the Flyers, the Devils had 41 penalty minutes; in this series the Devils had a total of 40 penalty minutes in all five games.

The Devils now will either play the New York Rangers or Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Championship. Regardless of which team they play, if they play with the same intensity as they did against the Flyers, do not be surprised if the Devils end up playing for the Stanley Cup.