A few years ago you could always joke about the San Jose Sharks bowing out early in the playoffs. Now, it's no laughing matter and the only explanation to the Sharks significant drop in play from the regular season to the postseason is that they're cursed.
The Sharks take a lot of flack for being playoff underachievers, but if we look across the nation to Jersey, there's another team that hasn't fared well in the playoffs recently.
Yes, Martin Brodeur has three rings with the Devils and they've won three cups, in 1995, 2000, and 2003. But does this mean that New Jersey doesn't need to find success because they've won in the past?
Of course not.
We've got the salary cap set in now, and it prevents teams like the Devils, Red Wings, and Avalanche from acquiring all the good players. Post salary cap the Devils have struggled heavily to make a big splash in the postseason despite having solid regular season records.
There have been four seasons after the infamous lockout in 2003-2004—five seasons if you want to include this postseason we are watching unfold right now. For argument sake, let us go ahead and count this season.
The New Jersey Devils won the Atlantic Division four years out of the five and only finished with below 100 points once—2008 when they had 99 points.
Despite this success, the Devils find themselves with only two series wins in the five years since the lockout. The two years immediately after the lockout, they got out of the first round only to lose in five games to the Hurricanes and Senators respectively. The past three years they have been upset in the first round, most recently falling in five games to the seventh seeded Flyers.
I didn't post my predictions on this series on bleacher report, but I didn't believe the Devils would go deep in the playoffs—I had the Devils in six.
The Flyers lost their top two goaltenders to injury (Ray Emery and Michael Leighton) and were starting goaltender Brian Boucher, a really good goalie—10 years ago. He's still good, but he is not near his prime—kind of like a New Jersey Devil goaltender.
The sole reason I took the Devils was because I thought Brian Boucher would lose the series for them. Boucher, you can expect my apologetic phone call anytime now.
Boucher outplayed Brodeur and the goaltending match up was a big factor in this series. Boucher not only outplayed Brodeur, but he leads all goalies in the playoffs with a 940 save percentage and 1.59 GAA. Obviously this would have been a factor in the Devils demise, but New Jersey just got outplayed by a Philadelphia team picked by some to go the distance last preseason.
Simply put though, Brodeur had a less than stellar playoff and was a big reason the Devils couldn't overcome their previous struggles. The failed Kovalchuk experiment factored in also.
The Devils traded Johnny Oduya, rookie Niclas Bergfors, prospect Patrice Cormier, and a first-round selection in the 2010 NHL Entry draft. At the time, Thrashers GM Don Waddell was criticized for the lack of talent coming back, now looking at the deal (especially if Kovalchuk doesn't sign in Jersey) Waddell got some pretty good value.
Kovalchuk put up 27 points in 27 games with New Jersey in the regular season (rookie Bergfors had 17 points with Atlanta in the same span). Kovalchuks' numbers weren't really indicative of his play though—especially in the playoffs.
Kovalchuk had six points in five games, but ask any Devils fan and they will tell you they were not happy with his play; it was almost a lack of effort, but more so a lack of intensity. For a touted sniper like Kovalchuk, he should have potted more than two goals.
But again, we go back to the goalie factor. Boucher made an array of saves on Kovalchuk that he had no business making.
Today, head coach Jacques Lemaire stepped down.
His style, in two words, is the trap. It's a good suit for the Devils who have played defensive systems for a while now, but perhaps a new coach with a new system could bring playoff success to a team that always boasts a great regular season record.
If not, the Devils should do something fairly quick.
They have some good prospects and some good young players (namely Zajac and Parise), but a good amount of their core are in their mid to high thirties. Brodeur, Captain Langenbrunner, Elias, Pandolfo, and Rolston are all north of 34 and not getting any younger.
The window for the Devil's to get a cup again is closing, and may not open again any time soon.
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