A year ago the New Jersey Devils missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Fast forward a year and the Devils are heading back to the Eastern Conference Finals. It will be the Devils sixth trip to the Conference Finals and their first since 2003.
The Devils eliminated the Flyers from the playoffs with a 3-1 victory in game five. It was the Flyers not the Devils who were supposed to be winning this series in five games. However, the Devils’ relentless attack proved to be too much for the Flyers. Bryce Salvador, David Clarkson, and Ilya Kovalchuk scored goals for the Devils in their victory.
The turning point of the series came in game two for the Devils. The Devils star player Ilya Kovalchuk did not play because of a back injury, and his teammates needed to respond being down a game in the series. The Devils responded by scoring four goals in the third period. Adam Larsson seeing his first action of the playoffs scored his first playoff goal. Players like David Clarkson, Travis Zajac stepped up their games for the Devils to lead them past Philadelphia.
The Devils never looked back after winning game two in Philadelphia. The Devils received contributions from all their lines in this series against Philadelphia. They pressured the Flyers defense with their tenacious fore-check. The Devils top players for Kovalchuk, Parise, and Elias combined for 5 goals, 9 assists, and 14 points. They stepped up their games when it mattered most for the Devils.
The Devils also got contributions from their defensemen in the series. Bryce Salvador, who did not score a goal all series long, scored two goals in the series against the Flyers. He tied game five at 1-1scoring an empty netted goal in game two. Adam Larsson and Marek Zidlicky also contributed with goals for New Jersey in this series. The Devils defense did not allow the Flyers to cycle the puck in the Devils defensive zone. They stymied the Flyers attack on every shift.
The Devils not only frustrated the Flyers with their fore-checking, but with their discipline as well. The Devils did not fall into the same trap the Penguins fell into in the first round against the Flyers. The Flyers baited the Penguins to take dumb penalties and it cost the Penguins the series. The Penguins lost their discipline and focus and the Flyers capitalized on their opportunities.
The Devils would not fall into that trap. The Devils were walking away from the little skirmishes after the whistle. The Devils would not allow the Flyers to get into their heads. The Devils were focused on playing their game and not the Flyers’ game. The Devils were emotionally checked into the series and the Flyers were not.
Martin Brodeur did not have to be at his best in the series, but he made timely saves for the Devils. He turned the clocks back in the series against Philadelphia. He was moving the puck well and his defensemen were thankful for that. When he did make mistakes with the puck, his teammates bailed him out. Some will say he did not play his best, which is fair, because he did give up some weak goals. But when the game was in the crucial stage he came up with the big saves.