NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
Quarter Final Round:
#6 - NEW JERSEY DEVILS
#3 - Florida Panthers
Sunny and Too Hot
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Panthers in for a Hell of a Time.
Is this the last Dance With the Devils? Too many players are gone from those Stanley Cup seasons. Some remain. But this is by and large a different team than those. Once these playoffs are done for the Newark Demons, there will be another summer contemplating Martin Brodeur's retirement, and Zach Parise's inevitable free agency. And lest we forget, this team just missed making the playoffs last season for the first time in a long time. So, no, these are not the traditional Devils at all.
But they certainly aren't the Devils of last season either; the team that went through two coaches and neither one of them is here today. Lou Lamoriello builds winners. But no coach is safe working for Lou Lamoriello. The Devils' long-time GM may have struck upon a good one with Peter Deboer though. Peter DeBoer stepped in and tinkered around with his over abundance of wingers, and molded a mix of veteran Devils with new young blue liners, and created a #6 seeded team while playing in a ridiculously tough Atlantic Division.
In addition to Coach DeBoer facing his former team, this is a very favorable match-up for New Jersey. And Coach DeBoer might very well have the pulse of both. The Florida Panthers earned the #3 seed by winning the Southern Division. So the Devils will be headed to Florida for Game One of their quarter-final playoff series Friday night.
The Florida Panthers purged many players after last season in exchange for a pack of younger hungrier cats. And low and behold, here they are. But if Florida's rising April temperatures don't melt the Panthers chances of advancing, the Devils have a bunch of forwards that will surely set them aflame.
Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuck, and David Clarkson, all have thirty goals or more. Then bring in the old vet Patrick Elias with his twenty-six goals. Add Petr Sykora, and Dainius Zubrus, and what you have are two lines worth of frequent scorers. But beyond them, there's little else.
The x-factor in any Stanley Cup run, of course, is the goalie. The Devils still have Martin Brodeur; the all-time NHL wins leader, between the pipes. There were times this season he looked every bit of his thirty-nine years of age. But, if the way he played over the second half of the season is any indication, then he's still capable of taking any team on the magic carpet ride. He should be fairly fresh heading into these playoffs. For a goalie accustomed to starting nearly every game over his career, Brodeur started in sixty-one games this past season. And for the fourteenth time in his Devils' career, he surpassed thirty wins in a season.
Florida might be young, eager, and skilled, but the Devils will prove too much for them. As a matter of fact, I can see Coach Deboer and the Devils orchestrating a complete undressing of the Panthers over the series.