The New Jersey Devils face the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a nerve wracking and unnecessarily close first round series with the Florida Panthers.
If we learned anything in the Florida series, it’s that the Devils are still as unpredictable as ever. Many of the bad habits that haunted them during the regular season came back to hurt them again in the playoffs.
I thought they appeared to be waiting for the wheels to fall off many times against the Panthers. But, they hung in there long enough to win and hopefully put their shaky start behind them.
The Devils advanced into the second round for the first time in five years and that in itself has lifted the 2500 lb. gorilla off of their backs. I expect the team to show more composure against the Flyers, especially after two gutsy overtime wins to preserve the season.
New Jersey heads to Philadelphia in an attempt to extinguish the red hot Flyers, a team that dismantled and dismembered a Pittsburgh Penguins club that many of us thought would win the Stanley Cup this season.
New Jersey and Philly split their six meetings in the regular season. This will also mark the fifth time in the Brodeur era that these two teams have met in the playoffs; Philadelphia won in 2004 and 2010, while New Jersey knocked out the Flyers on their way to Cup titles in 1995 and 2000.
If the Devils are to win this series and advance to their first conference finals appearance since 2003 than they have a lot of work to do.
I have narrowed New Jersey’s objectives in the series down to 5 key areas and they are as follows….
1. Kill them with kindness - The Devils possessed a record setting penalty kill during the regular season, but it’s been an entirely different story in the playoffs. Florida picked them apart to the tune of nine power play goals in the seven-game series. On the other side, the Flyers led the NHL in power play goals with 12 through round one. The Devils are a much more effective team at 5-on-5 play. They must keep their composure against Philadelphia and stay out of the penalty box to have a shot in this series.
2. Back to the drawing board - Had New Jersey been able to win face-offs with any kind of regularity they would have dispatched Florida much sooner. Coming into the series with Philly, Jersey is a league worst 45.5% on the draw. Outside of Travis Zajac, not a single Devils center has even looked remotely competent from the circle. The Devils must show a considerable improvement in this area and fast.
3. Last line of defense - Martin Brodeur will be 40-years-old by the time we drop the puck on game four of this series. He was sensational against the Panthers despite being pulled in the game three loss. He finished with a GAA of 2.06 and a save percentage of .920. His counterpart Ilya Bryzgalov was the exact opposite with a GAA of 3.89 and sub-par save percentage of .870. This is the one area in which the Devils may hold a clear and distinct advantage in the series.
4. Oh Captain, My Captain - Zach Parise had a decent first round. He collected four points (2g 2a) and led the team in shots with 32. If Ilya Kovalchuk truly is banged up than Parise must step up and start burying some of these chances. I believe he has to be New Jersey’s best offensive weapon form here on out.
5. Regulators, mount up - Calder Trophy finalist Adam Henrique finally woke up in game 7 with two goals including the double-overtime winner. He has to build on that experience and have it carry over into the Flyers series. Philadelphia boasts a formidable posse of young guns themselves with Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Coutourier. Read led all rookies in goal scoring during the regular season with 24. Many Philly faithful believe Read should have been nominated for the top rookie honors instead of Henrique. The 22-year-old Devils center has a chance to step to the forefront and show the world that his nomination was no fluke.
While many may think this pick is biased, I’m basing it on the history between these two clubs and the slight advantage I give the Devils between the pipes. That’s why I’m calling for Devils in 7.
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