We’ve had a few days now to sit back and process how the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended for our New Jersey Devils. That’s not to say the past few days have been easy because they haven’t been. Yesterday would have been Game 7 had the Devils found a way to win on Monday night and yesterday also happened to be Peter DeBoer’s birthday. So, knowing now that we could have had the opportunity to deliver a cup to DeBoer on his birthday was a little hard to swallow yesterday. None the less, we shouldn’t let the fact the NJ came up a little short in their run for the cup take away from all the achievements we saw them make this Spring. Afterall, the team went from missing the playoffs to ending up 2 games short of a cup. Nothing to be ashamed of there.
Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals
If you had told DeBoer last summer when he took the Devils job that the first team he would face in the playoffs would be the team he just left, I don’t know if he would have believed you. The Devils entered this series as the NHL’s hottest team having won the final 6 games in the regular season. The Panthers were struggling to get wins entering the playoffs but deserved respect because of the veterans there with massive playoff experience. As Devils fans, the one thing I think we can take away from that series is that having the number 1 penalty kill during the regular season means absolutely nothing when it comes to the playoffs. It failed us over and over and we were lucky to survive. Panther’s defenseman Jason Garrison had a canon of a shot and was deadly on the power play but he ended up missing a few games which ended up being a huge advantage for us. Marty didn’t have a strong opening to this series but once we blew a 3 goal first period lead and lost 4-3 at home in Game 3 and then lost 3-0 in Game 5, a different Marty showed up. He’s the main reason Henrique had the chance to bury the Panthers in double OT in Game 7. It was a great win and a great confidence builder as the Devils finally got out of the first round.
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
The last time we made the playoffs was the 2009/2010 season when we ran head on into the Philadelphia Flyers, the eventual Eastern Conference Champion. In that year, they out played us, out muscled us and sent us home in 5 games. It was a horrible way to end Kovalchuk’s first playoff run with us. Many at the time questioned if the failures in the playoffs would keep us from resigning Kovalchuk, which of course it didn’t. This time, we were running into a Flyers team that just knocked out the team that 99% of the hockey universe predicted to win the cup. The Flyers were a physical team that made Pittsburgh lose their composure time and time again. After an OT loss in Game 1, the Devils found their game, found their patience and sent the Flyers the Flyers home in 5. There were a few reasons that the Devils were able to move on in this series but the main reason was the ability to frustrate the Flyers by not engaging in all the after the whistle nonsense that the Flyers like to try and pull you into. Many will talk about the Claude Giroux hit/suspension that kept the NHL’s leading scorer out of an elimination game. The thing to remember about this series is that DeBoer had all the right answers. The final goal of the series would come on a bizarre mistake made by goaltender Ilya Bryzaglov.
Eastern Conference Finals
1994 was front and center when the New Jersey Devils faced off against the New York Rangers. It was the last time we faced the Rangers in such an important series, the last time the Rangers had a successful season and there was no way New York was going to let us forget 1994. Afterall, it’s really all they have!! It was a tough series, a complete battle every night. The Rangers won Game 1 because of their ability to block shots and after the game DeBoer was asked about that. He responded by saying that shot blocking can’t be the story of the series and the Devils did an excellent job solving that puzzle and finding a way to get pucks to the net. The Devils won 2 of 3 games in the Madison Square Garden and finished off the Rangers in 6 at home in OT. Once again, Adam Henrique would step up in OT and put home the winning goal. Doc Emerick’s call on Henrique’s goal will go down as legendary. As Henrique put the puck in the net, Doc exclaimed “IT’S OVER!!!” which some can take as him meaning the series was over but I think most Devils fans took it to mean that the constant reminder of the Stephan Matteau goal, the constant reminder of the “Guarantee” was over. Those demons are buried forever and should a Rangers fan bring that up at this point, we will be able to just move on. The Devils won this series behind a very strong Marty Brodeur who stole Game 5 in Madison Square Garden in order to give NJ the chance.
Stanley Cup Finals
No one expected NJ to get this far in the playoffs, other than the organization itself of course. No one really expected LA to get here either but they steam rolled the top 3 teams in the West to get here. It became clear early on in Game 1 that these two teams were very even and that this series was going to come down to the men between the pipes. The Kings won Game 1 in OT on a Kopitar goal and then Game 2 in OT on a Jeff Carter goal. They would continue their winning ways in Game 3 that put NJ in a 3-0 hole. Give NJ credit, the scratched and clawed their way back to 3-2 before losing in LA in Game 6. Lots has been made about Bernier’s hit in Game 6 that led to a 5 minute major and 3 PP goals by the Kings as the point in which NJ lost the series. I’ll argue while that was bad, losing both games at home to start was the bigger issue. Other issues that led to the Devils coming up short was the inability to solve Jonathon Quick, another horrible showing by the PK unit and an ailing Ilya Kovalchuk didn’t provide one once of offense.
Like I’ve said, I am bummed about not winning the cup but this team did so much along the way that I am still proud to call myself a Devils fan. Then there was this little gem that happened during the final interviews with the Devils as they cleaned out their locker. We don’t know what the future holds for Zach Parise and the Devils but he gave us one last awesome little clip before he heads into free agency..
Thank you Zach, this is just another example of why we love you!!!