Even the biggest fan of the New Jersey Devils didn’t see this one coming. Led by balanced scoring, timely goaltending and an unwillingness to retaliate the Undead Devils steamrolled the Philadelphia Flyers — winning four straight games, despite surrendering the opening goal in each of those victories. The Flyers managed only 11 goals in the series after blitzing Pittsburgh in round 1 with 30 goals; they also seemed to be lacking playoff hardened players such as, oh I don’t know, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter maybe?
These certainly aren’t your father’s Devils though, these Devils are winning with offense, which has become their best defense. Countless times during these playoffs, captain Zach Parise has uttered the same phrase, more or less, “The more time we have the puck, the less time they will have to score any goals.” Numerous times in the series, the Flyers went shot-less for long stretches of time.
Whatever universe or planet Ilya Bryzgalov was in, it wasn’t one of this world as he continued to make unforced errors, and looked extremely shaky. The ultimate gaffe came with 7:20 left in the first period of Game 5, with the game tied 1-1 he tried to pass the puck through David Clarkson (who was inches away from the crease) and it was batted into the net. Clarkson’s goal was the eventual game-winner, becoming the first Devil in these playoffs with more than one GWG (Ryan Carter, Parise, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Dainius Zubrus).
The Russian cosmonaut’s goaltending counterpart Martin Brodeur was also other-wordly in the series, playing like he just turned 30, not 40. He has found the fountain of youth and is especially enjoying this run after missing the postseason last year. “Especially coming back from last season when we missed the playoffs for the first time in (16) years,” said Brodeur to reporters after advancing to the East Finals for the first time since 2003, “to be able to bounce back, and make the playoffs and get to the third round of the playoffs so far, it’s rewarding for everybody that’s in here.”
These Devils almost didn’t make it to round 2, having to win two elimination games (in overtime) against the Southeast Division champion Florida Panthers. As they await an opponent in the Eastern Finals, it will be interesting no matter if they play the New York Rangers or the Washington Capitals. If the Caps can win two elimination games against the top-seeded Rangers, New Jersey would be in the odd position of having home-ice advantage, because they are the 6th seed and Washington is the 7th.
If their opponent is the Blueshirts, it would set up a rematch of the epic 1994 East Finals which saw New York win Game 7 in double overtime. The strange thing is the roles would be a bit reversed — the Devils, who have long run the Tri-State area as far as success goes, would be the underdogs, and the Rangers who were always more about offense rather than defense, have turned into a solid team with the foundation of defense and goaltending (a staple of New Jersey hockey for 20 seasons).
“The fact that we have four lines and roll six defensemen really helps,” coach Pete DeBoer said during his post-game press conference. ”It’s a team game. We play that way, and guys really believe in what we’re doing. But that’s a good team we just beat over there, and we have a long way to go.” Of note, the last two times New Jersey eliminated Philadelphia (1995, 2000), the Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup; but these aren’t you’re father’s Devils, they’re the Undead Devils. Who knows what will happen next?
Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiablo321 and email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.