Travis Zajac and Zach Parise celebrates a goal in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The New Jersey Devils are the ultimate underdogs in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings are the team with all the buzz and center of attention after they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in a remarkable five games. They won eight straight games in the postseason, and are now four wins away from their first franchise Stanley Cup ring.
Surrounding all the media attention, the New Jersey Devils have hovered under the radar so far in their quest towards their fourth Stanley Cup ring in 17 seasons (prev.1995, 2000, 2003).
On the dark horse Devils team, let's take a look at five most underrated players on New Jersey uniform.
Game 3: Steve Bernier tussles with Rangers forward Ruslan Fedotenko.
Steve Bernier is a Cinderella story on the New Jersey Devils team this season. General manager Lou Lamoriello acquired Bernier from free agency after Florida GM Dale Tallon chose not to grant him a qualifying offer to the restricted free agent.
New Jersey called Bernier and invited him to join the Devils training camp in September on a tryout basis. Soon after, Lamoriello offered Bernier a two-way contract to join the Devils organization, but he chose to decline the offer.
When it was clear that none of the 29 other teams would offer Bernier an one-way contract, he came to terms to play for the Albany Devils, New Jersey's AHL affiliate.
With the NHL trade deadline approaching, Lou Lamoriello was successful on signing Steve Bernier on a formal two-way contract so that he can be called up and play in their NHL lineup at some point this season.
Bernier appeared in 32 regular season games with New Jersey, and he scored one goal and five assists for six points. He was a plus-six in that stretch. When the Devils started the postseason, Steve Bernier was in the lineup as a fourth line winger. He gradually earned the trust of his coaches and teammates with his hard-nosed, grinding and physical style of play.
Currently, Bernier averages a little above 10 minutes of ice time per game, and he is mainly used for five-on-five situations.
Bernier's game is unique on the Devils, and he allows coach Peter DeBoer to roll four lines every night. He is ranked third on the team with 42 hits in the playoffs, behind teammates David Clarkson and Dainus Zubrus.
Considering the fact that Bernier only cost the Devils $196 000 against the cap this year, he is quite a bargain for Lamoriello's Devils.
When Ponikarovsky joined the Devils, he provided instant depth on the Devils forward group. Coach DeBoer was able to make the necessary line changes that he sees fit. With Ponikarovsky's combination of size and skill, the Devils were able to insert him in the third checking line and let him go to work on the Devils fore-check.
During the playoffs, Ponikarovsky's highlight so far is his game-winning goal in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers that sent the team on its way to winning a short series.
Having scored five points, plus-six rating, and a total of 40 hits in the playoff games, the Devils are happy with the element Ponikarovsky brings to the team.
With three lines that can play offensively and defensively at any given moment, Ponikarovsky adds value to the team that cannot be overlooked.
Ponikarovsky averages about 13 minutes of ice-time per game, and he also has assignments on the Devils penalty killing unit.
RW David Clarkson is enjoying the time of his hockey career. The Toronto, Ontario native has reached the furthest point in the Stanley Cup playoffs in his six season NHL career.
Clarkson is the type of player that every team in the NHL want on their team. He brings plenty of scoring touch, physical presence, and hard working mentality every night.
During the Devils playoff run, Clarkson has provided the team some timely scoring, and three clutch goals that were game winners. He has scored a game winning goal in each of the last two playoff series—one in Game 2 against the Rangers and two against the Flyers.
The scoring line for Clarkson so far is three goals, six assists for nine points.
Speaking of hits earlier, David Clarkson leads his team in the department with 47 hits in the playoffs. That is only three hits off pace of Dainus Zubrus.
The Devils will continue to rely on Clarkson to bring them timely goals, hits, and game-changers that give them an edge over the New York Rangers. He can be a good net presence in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist to create havoc.
Adam Henrique, the reigning Calder Trophy finalist this year for Rookie-of-the-Year in the NHL, dropped the gloves with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.
He was instrumental in the Devils 4-1 win in Game 4 by taking out one of the Rangers' top defenders, and it eventually led to a two-on-one odd-man rush that was capitalized on by the Devils Travis Zajac to beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Not only that, Henrique continued the night by tallying a second assist on Zach Parise's power play goal early in the second period.
With the series tied at 2-2 for a short best-of-three, Henrique now has a vital role of second line C playing alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. The team will count on him to be smart in all three zones in Game 5.
Marek Zidlicky was probably the best addition that Lou Lamoriello made this season for the New Jersey Devils.
Although Zidlicky did not fit into the philosophy in Minnesota, he clicked instantly when he became a New Jersey Devil on February 26. Knowing that the Devils have struggled with allowing shorthanded goals all year long, Zidlicky provided the peace of mind and security knowing that there is a mobile defenseman that can break up potential breakaway opportunities against.
Also, Zidlicky has given the Devils service playing for over 24 minutes a night almost on a nightly basis during the playoffs. Coach DeBoer counts on him to quarterback the Devils power play, he uses him on the penalty kill, and more minutes five-on-five too.
In 16 playoff games, Zidlicky has produced one goal, six assists for seven points.
With Zidlicky in the lineup, the Devils are able to manage the ice time of players such as Anton Volchenkov, Andy Greene, and Mark Fayne. His partner, Bryce Salvador, is also having a fantastic post-season for the New Jersey Devils.
Hats off to Marek Zidlicky.
Honourable mentions on the Devils this playoffs include:
Thanks for reading.
This is Joseph Trenton reporting on the New Jersey Devils quest towards the Stanley Cup.
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