The New Jersey Devils were not expected to be a Stanley Cup contender this season. They were coming off a disastrous season where they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
Jacques Lemaire, who had coached the team to a second half surge, retired. Pete DeBoer, recently fired by the Florida Panthers, was hired as the team's head coach. In goal, Martin Brodeur was coming off of his worst season as a pro and was approaching 40 years old. Expectations were for a team that would battle for a playoff birth and likely not make it past the first round.
The Devils benefited greatly from a bounce back year for Ilya Kovalchuk and a healthy Zach Parise. Adam Henrique emerged as a Calder Trophy candidate. Patrick Elias played like a younger man, finishing second on the team in scoring. David Clarkson emerged to score 30 goals, and Petr Sykora, who made the team on a tryout, was able to chip in with 20 goals. The additions of Marek Zidlicky on defense and Alex Ponikarovsky at forward gave the Devils two key commodities. Finally, top line center Travis Zajac returned from injury late in the year.
The Devils entered the playoffs with a much more potent lineup than was projected at the beginning of the season. Martin Brodeur had been very solid since the All-Star break. Their first round opponent was the Florida Panthers. Despite being the 6th seed, many expected an easy first round victory over the Panthers who (despite being a three seed) finished with less points than the Devils.
The Panthers were nothing of a pushover, pushing the Devils to a seven game series. Things looked bleak for the Devils following a loss in Game 5 that put them on the brink of elimination. However the next two games would start a magic ride for the team.
After blowing a 2-0 lead in the third period of Game 6, Travis Zajac scored an overtime winner, forcing a Game 7 in Florida. The Devils again blew a 2-0 lead in Game 7. Adam Henrique scored the series clincher in double over time though after Martin Brodeur stood on his head in the first overtime to keep the Devils alive.
The next opponent was the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers, who had eliminated the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1. Philly won Game 1 4-3 in overtime over a clearly exhausted Devils squad.
Game 2 looked bleak for the Devils as Ilya Kovalchuk was unable to play with an undisclosed injury. Trailing 1-0 after two periods, the Devils exploded, putting home four goals in the third for an emphatic victory. Kovalchuk returned with a vengeance in Game 3, putting up three points in a 4-3 overtime victory.
The Devils would win the remaining two games of the series to win in five. Their smothering forecheck proved to be too much for the Flyers to handle.
The arch rival and No. 1 seed New York Rangers were the Devils' opponent for the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers took two of the first three games behind two Henrik Lundqvist shutouts.
The Devils responded by scoring 10 goals on Lundqvist in the final three games, winning the series in six games. The Devils' fourth line of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta were extremely effective in shutting down the Rangers' top line and also chipping in with offense of their own.
Games 5 and 6 brought high drama, with the Devils blowing two sizable leads only to comeback and win. In Game 5, the Devils jumped out to a three goal lead in the first, only to see the Rangers tie the game by the beginning of the third period. A late goal by Ryan Carter stunned the Madison Square Garden crowd and gave the Devils a 3-2 series lead.
In Game 6, a similar tale unfolded as the Devils blew a 2-0 lead. Adam Henrique scored 63 seconds into overtime to send the Devils to the Stanley Cup finals.