Friday, June 29, 2012

Devils sign five players, but is Marty set to become UFA?

In a note that could mean absolutely nothing, or be a severe warning sign, goalie Martin Brodeur hired agent Pat Brisson to represent him in anticipation of going UFA for the first time ever on Sunday afternoon.  For 99.9% of NHL players, this would not be a big deal since 99.9% of NHL players already have agents.  However, for a guy that hasn't employed an agent for years and always negotiated his own deals with the Devils, this is legitimate news.  What it may or may not mean is another story however.  It could be as benign as Marty hiring someone just to take phone calls in case something dramatically changes with the Devils, or perhaps just compiling offers to see what fair market value is, since it's extremely unlikely GM Lou Lamoriello would low-ball his legendary goaltender.  Predictably in the few hours since this news broke, Twitter and the internet have exploded with rumors of Marty's supposed interest in Tampa and Florida, among other things.

It's reminiscent of when baseball legend Derek Jeter became a free agent a few years back and all of a sudden reporters couldn't wait to drive a wedge between him and the Yankees to enhance the juicy storyline, but in the end Jeter stayed and I still think Marty will too.  I mean really just from a logical perspective, not many playoff teams need a goaltender anyway and I'm 100% sure Marty's not going to a loser at this point of his career for a payday.  The same guy who left millions of dollars on the table from the Devils to enhance their chances to win is all of a sudden going to go for a few extra dollars to a hopeless non-playoff team at the end of his career?  Pigs will be flying over Newark before that happens.  Even just the mere thought of Marty coming back to the Rock in another jersey provides a little more unneccesary drama that Devil fans don't need right now, with the Zach Parise negotiations still up in the air.

At least Parise and the Devils are still negotiating, for what that's worth.  If Zach was aiming to go UFA, he's picking a funny way to go about it.  Meeting with Lou throughout the week as much as he has seemingly goes above and beyond the call of mere courtesy meetings, and after stock quotes earlier in the week both sides are in full lockdown mode now.  With approximately 42 hours to go before free agency, it's still up in the air whether there will be a resolution by then.  I wouldn't put any money on Zach avoiding the July 1 frenzy, but I wouldn't be entirely shocked if there was a deal before then either.  That would be beneficial to my stress levels at least.

If one good thing came out of today, it's that the Devils have been able to retain most of their role players, announcing no fewer than five signings this afternoon.  Our entire fourth line of Ryan Carter, Steven Gionta and Steve Bernier is back in the fold, as well as defenseman Peter Harrold (Cam Janssen was the fifth signing announced but that was pretty much a given for a couple of days).  Each of the three fourth-liners signed two-year deals, with Carter reportedly getting 775k on a one-way contract, Bernier getting 750k also on a one-way contract, and Gionta getting 750k on a one-way deal for this year, before the contract converts to a two-way deal next year.  To retain a threesome that was dynamic throughout the whole postseason at under $2.5 million for the next two years is an absolute coup by Lou, and before July 1 to boot.  I'm also pleasantly surprised we were able to retain Harrold - terms undisclosed - who I figured would be looking for a starting spot in someone else's lineup.

After today's signings, the Devils chopped their number of UFA's in half with only Zach, Marty, fellow backup Johan Hedberg, defenseman Bryce Salvador and forwards Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovsky still unsigned.  Clearly Zach and the two goalies are the top priorities, with Salvador currently on the outside looking in though both sides have given lip service to wanting Sal to come back to NJ.  I really don't see it with seven defensemen under contract including Harrold and RFA Mark Fayne, but perhaps signing Sal and trading one of our other defensemen becomes an option if the captain walks.  With only two forward spots open and one hopefully being re-filled by Zach, it's also unlikely Sykora and Poni are both retained.  Besides retaining most of their own FA's, the Devils' only real need in FA is perhaps an extra forward that can do more than drop the gloves with enforcers Janssen and Eric Boulton (perhaps a buyout candidate) currently penciled in for our extra forward spots.

One thing's for sure, this is going to be a looong weekend, unless some more good news comes down the pike sooner rather than later.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

BoNY Announcement: Free agency livecap Sunday!

Normally for the trade deadline or free agency, I'm following the activity sporadically...perhaps refreshing my phone or work computer when I get a chance, but it isn't usually minute-by-minute.  However, since the first day of NHL free agency is on a weekend and I have no plans, I'll be able to be around for the festivities this time.  And now that I finally have a high-speed connection, and the NHL Network on tv, I can follow everything at once, and that's what I intend to do on Sunday.  Especially with a ton of FA's on the Devils, it will be an important day in franchise history that's for sure.  Granted, some guys like Zach Parise and others may wind up taking more than a day to sign, but history's shown that a ton of guys do sign during the first twenty-four hours of FA.  With FA's like the captain, both goaltenders, our entire fourth line and other role players, it will certainly be a more anxious time for the Devils than it will be for the Isles and Rangers.

Looking through the FA lists on TSN, the Isles' most important unrestricteds are winger P.A. Parenteau and injury-prone goalie Al Montoya, who will probably be let go with talented kids Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin in the system.  With the cap floor expected to go up to $54.2 million (and the cap celing at $70.4 million), the Isles will still have to spend on someone though, especially if Parenteau walks.  As far as the Rangers, their most important UFA's are winger Ruslan Fedotenko, backup goalie Martin Biron and fourth line fan favorite Brandon Prust, reportedly looking for a deal north of $2 million per year.  If anything the Rangers' real action might come in the trade market, where the Rick Nash rumors just won't go away.  Perhaps in this case there's a method to Scott Howson's madness at not trading him during the most recent trade deadline or at the draft, since teams that miss out on Parise and other key unrestricteds like the Coyotes' Shane Doan will be desperate to look for improvements via the trade market.

A couple of big non-FA signings today took place when the Penguins announced a lucrative extension for Sidney Crosby, giving the face of the NHL a 12-year, $104.4 million extension that kicks in after next season.  Yes, that works out to an $8.7 million cap hit, so certainly the deal's a good one from that standpoint though you have to wonder what happens if Crosby takes one more knock in the wrong spot, after missing the better part of the last season and a half with concussion and neck issues.  And in the last hour, the Kings announced a 10-year extension for Conn Smythe winner Johnathan Quick, a deal that reportedly comes in at just under $60 million, a bargain really.  Lengthy yes, but Quick is only 26 and is about as sure a thing in net as anyone at this point.  Also, the Bruins have extended Tuuka Rask for one season, perhaps a bit of a cautionary signal for Rask's long-term prospects in Beantown after drafting Malcom Subban last weekend.

Back to talking about Sunday though, I'll be posting not only confirmed deals but rumor, speculation and other random thoughts as well, but of course I'll be sure to differentiate between all of them.  Ideally I'd like to wait until seeing something reported in two different places before reporting it as confirmed, but if it's someone reputable like TSN's Bob McKenzie, I'll likely just go with that.  Perhaps whatever gets reported on the NHL Network also qualifies...not to mention Devils' twitter for our own signings, since it was the Devils' own twitter that initially broke the Ilya Kovalchuk signing two years ago.  That news was so stunning, people thought the Devils' twitter account was hacked!  I rarely use Twitter at all, and never tweet personally but I'll keep my shadow account open to keep track of Devils news (as well as looking on message boards).  An example of what I plan to do will go like this:

Rumor: According to St. Louis's Andy Strickland, the Devils will re-sign Cam Janssen to a two-way deal
CONFIRMED: 6/27 at 7:46 PM - Devils re-sign Cam Janssen to a two-way deal at $575,000 (NHL) and $105,000 (AHL)...and yes that actually happened lol.

Or for non-Devil deals:

CONFIRMED: 6/28 at 3:32 PM Predators re-sign Hal Gill to a two-year, $4 million deal
CONFIRMED: 7/1 Rangers sign player X
CONFIRMED: 7/1 Islanders sign player Y
Rumor: Former Ducks draft pick Justin Schultz has reportedly narrowed his list of teams to the Canucks, Maple Leafs, Senators, Oilers and Rangers

I'll try to cite everything and include links, but things will happen at rapid-fire speed no doubt once the festivities get under way so bear with me.  Especially if a certain player with a C and a number 9 winds up bolting on Sunday afternoon...I might have to count to ten before posting lol.  Either way, it should be interesting.  I'll update throughout the day, from just before noon when I begin my post on throughout the day, then after I finally get to bed near midnight I might update once more in the morning if I have time before resuming a life work.

Flame Out

Have you ever seen flames bursting out of control? That's how I'd describe what's happening in Calgary. Jay Feaster was the architect of Tampa Bay's only Cup. However, I'm lost as to what he's doing in Alberta. If the plan is to be as old as possible, then the Flames certainly will have no problem with AARP.

In the latest puzzling move, Calgary acquired the rights of vet defenseman Dennis Wideman from Washington for defense prospect Jordan Henry and a 2013 fifth round pick. It wasn't so much the pick up of a player who can help their back end but the absurdity of the contract speaks volumes. Before you knew it, Feaster signed off on a five-year contract worth an average of $5.25 million.

To sum it up, I will reference Tom Arnold's True Lies character in response to Arnold Schwarzenegger's request to follow his wife:

"Insane!!!!!"

I'm not saying Wideman is a bad player. He had a very good '11-12 with the Capitals, posting 11 goals and 35 assists for 46 points over 82 games. The 29-year old Kitchener, Ontario native added three helpers in the playoffs. One could argue that it was one of his best seasons. Coincidence that it was a contract year?

By adding Wideman, the Flames may decide to shop Jay Bouwmeester. However, it should be tough considering that he has two years remaining with a $6.68 million cap hit.  If he stays, Calgary's top four would be Bouwmeester, Wideman, Mark Giordano and Anton Babchuk. On paper, it doesn't sound bad. However, with Olli Jokinen available July 1, Feaster needs to free up room to re-sign him. They also might want to bring back David Moss and Lee Stempniak.

As usual, the Flames will rely heavily on franchise leading scorer Jarome Iginla, who is entering the final year of his contract. It's hard to picture him in another uniform. He is Calgary. Perhaps that's why they refuse to rebuild. Instead Alex Tanguay, Mike Cammalleri and probably Jokinen will make another push to crack the top eight out West. A tall order considering how deep it is. With Miikka Kiprusoff still in the fold, they actually believe they're good enough to make it.

They're much older than the Kings, who became the first eighth seed to win Lord Stanley. I just don't see how they succeed. Los Angeles, Vancouver, Nashville, Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix, San Jose and St. Louis are all better. That excludes emerging teams like Colorado, Dallas, Edmonton and Minnesota. It's a young man's league. Tying up cap space with an uncertain CBA in the future is a recipe for disaster. Unless there's an influx of talent coming through the system, it could be a Flame out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

HHOF: Sakic, Bure, Oates and Sundin elected

Today, the league announced its newest Hockey Hall Of Fame members. Included in the list are Joe Sakic, Pavel Bure, Adam Oates and Mats Sundin. Let me just preface by saying all are deserving. Sakic being the slam dunk, playing with one franchise (Quebec/Colorado) where he led them to two Stanley Cups while winning a Conn Smythe and Hart.

I have been a big proponent of Bure for years. It took the Russian Rocket seven tries to finally get the phone call that he'll be going to Toronto. The induction ceremony will be on November 12. According to Steve Lepore, there'll be no games for the first time. The Battle originator is hoping NBC Network picks it up, which would make sense. We'll have to wait and see.

Joining Sakic and Bure is Oates, who was one of the game's greatest passers. Ironically, it was his set ups for then Blue teammate Brendan Shanahan that helped turn him into one of the game's best power forwards. Of course, Oates was also there to find Brett Hull, who once scored 86 goals to capture the Hart. Hard to believe Shanahan didn't get in on his first try. I have no problem with putting Oates in as he had longevity and was also an instrumental part of those Boston, Washington and Anaheim teams that challenged for Cups.

It's a bit mystifying how Sundin made it over Shanahan. Nothing against Mats. The big Swede was a great player but he's not in Shanny's class. I don't know if maybe him serving his first year as League VP worked against him. But it's ridiculous that he's not in.

Equally as baffling is the continued oversights of Fred Shero and Pat Burns. Both great coaches who led teams to Cups and had big influences. Especially Shero, who time and again is passed over, prompting Larry Brooks' justified criticism of the selection process. As for Burns, he should've made it two years ago. It is incredulous that they still haven't put him in. But then again, look at Shero. Led the Flyers to their only Cups back-to-back while introducing different coaching methods.

Here are the newest four members outlined:


CLASS OF 2012
                Teams                     Years   Goals    Assists     Pts        Honors
Joe Sakic  Que/Col                  20       625       1,016      1,641    Conn Smythe Hart Pearson Byng




Pavel Bure Van/Fla/NYR         12       437       342         779       Calder Rocket Richard (2) All-Star MVP



Adam Oates Det/Stl/Bos          20       341      1,079       1,420    5 All-Star Appearances 2nd All-Star Team           Wsh/Phi/Ana




Mats Sundin  Que/Tor/Van       18       564        785        1,349    9 All-Star Appearances Olympic Gold Medal

In Prust We Trust

In Prust We Trust. That became somewhat of a cult for #TwitterBlueshirts. Since coming over as an extra in a trade with Calgary, Brandon Prust has become a fixture on Broadway. All we heard about him was how tough he was. I'd seen him play and battle all comers. So, I liked his inclusion.

Never did we envision the kind of hard working player he became under John Tortorella. Prust evolved into more than a scrapper in his time here as a Ranger. It's hard to believe the key situations Tort used him for, deploying the popular 28-year old London, Ontario native on a checking line with chief partner in crime Brian Boyle and usually sidekick Ruslan Fedotenko, who also can turn unrestricted in five days.

I don't think there's anyone who doesn't want Prust back. Who ever would've thought a throw in would lead us in shorthanded goals (5) one year and the next tie with Shawn Thornton for the league lead in fights (20)? That's Prust's two full seasons in the Big Apple. Oh. He also played all 82 meaning that's 164 for a pair that saw him become a key player who brings energy to each shift. Was it a coincidence how flat our team looked minus No.8 during a pivotal Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final at New Jersey? They sure missed the physical forward who served a suspension for his elbow on Anton Volchenkov. Unfortunate. Who knew Game Three would be our final hurrah?

It was Prust who started a three-goal comeback in Game Five at MSG with the kind of gritty hustle play you'd expect. A loose puck in which he broke in on Martin Brodeur and flubbed a backhand past him that got the building back in it. I remember saying to Dad at the time they could do it. Lo and behold, Prust's goal was the start of a resilient effort before Ryan Carter broke our hearts. You never had to question the effort of the Blueshirt warrior, whose seven shorthanded goals over two years pace the club. He sacrificed for our team, playing bruised and battered. Amazing to think he never missed a game due to injury.

That's the kind of player Prust is. If he really does test the market and leaves for more money and years, it's his choice. Like many, I don't want him to go. I believe Prust is like Sean Avery- having more value to our roster than anyone else. We saw how well Avery in Dallas worked out. Dion Phaneuf/Elisha Cuthbert aside, it was never a good marriage. They would've found a way out of it. Seeing Prust respond via Twitter to Glen Sather's message that he doesn't think they'll be able to get it done is damaging. There are many Prust supporters who love what he brings.

@BrandonPrust8: “I wish management wanted me back as much as the fans.. Thanks for the love everyone.”



I really think he loves it here. He's become a celebrity. For a good looking guy with a great personality, New York City is as good as it gets. That's why Avery worked even if he was a little rough around the edges. Prust has no baggage. If he can find it in his heart to take one less year and less cash, then he'll be back. If not, he won't be easily replaced. Even if I tweeted bye bye, it's not without concern. The Brandon Prusts and Brian Boyles are what's made our team so tough to play against. Same with Ruslan Fedotenko who played his best hockey against the Devils.

I'm hoping Slats is true to his word regarding our core. But I'm definitely rooting against the GM with Prust. I tweeted the guy twice over the past 24 hours begging him to stay. Here, he can win a Cup. Not that he couldn't say in Pittsburgh. A team that might bid on his services. I think I speak for everyone. I can't picture Prust a Pen. I'd be as sick to my stomach as I was seeing Stephane Matteau don a Devil cap with his son at the Draft.

I'll say it again for everyone to hear:


IN PRUST WE TRUST

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reviewing The Draft

The 2012 NHL Draft was this past weekend. There weren't many surprises with Edmonton again opting for a forward over a defenseman. They couldn't pass up No.1 rated Russian Nail Yakupov, who joins an already stacked lineup that features Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Sam Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Magnus Paajarvi. The Oilers do have a couple of young blueliners in Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry but still lack a true No.1.

With all the talk surrounding Rick Nash, even GM Scott Howson couldn't screw up the second pick tabbing defenseman Ryan Murray, who should bolster the Blue Jackets back end. However, most discussion has centered around Garth Snow's ridiculous proposal in which he offered every Islander draft pick including their No.4 for the second overall. Snow has done some crazy things before moving up three different times to take Calvin de Haan in '09. To this day, he's yet to debut but is expected to be ready for '12-13. Instead, Snow went strictly D, selecting seven altogether including No.1 pick Griffin Reinhart. With the acquisition of vet Lubomir Visnovsky from Anaheim in exchange for a 2013 second rounder, Snow is loading the deck. The Islanders will lose P.A. Parenteau to free agency and must find a replacement. Whether it's a bargain basement type or via a trade, they need help for John Tavares. Expect Nino Neiderreiter to have a bigger role while the organization keeps a close eye on Ryan Strome and Brock Nelson.

D-SESSED ISLANDERS 2012 DRAFT
Round  No.         Player           
1         4       Griffin Reinhart
2         34     Ville Pokka
3         65     Adam Pelech
4         103   Loic Leduc
5         125   Doyle Somerby
6         155   Jesse Graham
7         185   Jake Bischoff

Here's a look at the Top 10:

1.Nail Yakupov  Edm   RW   Rus
2.Ryan Murray  CBJ    D      Can
3.Alex Galchenyuk Mtl C      USA
4.Griffin Reinhart  NYI D      Can
5.Morgan Rielly    Tor  D      Can
6.Hampus Lindholm Ana D    Swe
7.Matthew Dumba   Min D    Can
8.Derrick Pouliot     Pit   D    Can
9.Jacob Trouba       Wpg D   USA
10.Slaeter Koekkok  TBL D   Can

Note: Eight of the top 10 are defensemen.

Interestingly enough, Filip Forsberg fell to Washington at No.11 and Buffalo took a calculated risk selecting Russian playmaker Mikhail Grigorenko. Both could be steals. Grigorenko slipped due to injury and attitude. There's also the question of when he'll come over. The harsh reality of the KHL influence and why we're seeing less and less Russians. The Caps are still waiting on '10 top pick Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ironically, Grigorenko wants to wear former Sabre great Alexander Mogilny's No.89. That can be seen as positive for a team that also grabbed forward Zemgus Girgensons with their second pick of the first round (14th). Here's the complete Buffalo list that includes possible second round gem Jake McCabe:

SABRES 2012 DRAFT
Round No.  Pos         Player             

1        12    RW   Mikhail Grigorenko
1        14    F      Zemgus Gergensons
2        44    D     Jake McCabe
3        73    C      Justin Kea
5       133    C      Logan Nelson
6       163    G      Linus Ullmark
7       193    D      Brady Austin
7       204    RW   Judd Peterson


The biggest story of the Draft was the Pens dealing Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes where he'll team with big brother Eric and Jeff Skinner to form a dynamic trio. That should certainly improve Carolina in a winnable division. Jim Rutherford did pay a nice price to Ray Shero, parting with checking center Brandon Sutter, prospect Brian Dumoulin and the Canes' eighth overall pick that saw Pittsburgh take the Portland Winterhawks Derrick Pouliot. A defenseman who will be a big part of their future. Sutter is a solid replacement for Staal, who turned down a reported 10-year $60 million offer. The Pens were never gonna be able to keep both Staal and Sidney Crosby. At least they tried. Shero wasn't done unloading vet blueliner Zbynek Michalek back to Phoenix for Harrison Rupp and the No.81 selection, taking goalie Marc Chevrie. He's also looking for anyone to take Paul Martin, who's signed through '14-15 at $5 million a pop. Good luck with that. It all translates to the Penguins freeing up a ton of space, which could signal a big push for Devil captain Zach Parise. I can't imagine him signing there. It'd be almost as bad as crossing the Hudson to play for us. I'm sure Hasan has his own thoughts.


While Devil fans hold their breath with Parise hitting the open market in six days, they can take solace in Lou Lamoriello's first round choice. When I received two texts simultaneously including one from Buffalo resident Brian Sanborn, I knew it was bad. That they actually took Stefan Matteau at No.29 just blew my mind. Remember. The Rangers picked right before, tabbing defenseman Brady Skjei. I was floored. It's not so much that Skjei won't be good but the feeling is that we have enough D. Oddly, he and Matteau both played for the US National Team. Now, they'll be battling each other in the future. Addmittedly, I like Matteau who sounds like the kind of big, physical forward we lack. Kinda sounds similar to Dad Stephane Matteau, who the Devils never have to hear about again. It just seems like a cruel joke. I kinda lost it in a text to buddy Rob Davis, saying something to the effect of 'I hate your team. Why can't they just die?' Of course, it was tongue in cheek. Lamoriello was pleased with a draft that also included possible steal Damon Severson, who he didn't expect to be there at No.60. What else is new? Here are the Devil selections:

MATTEAU MATTEAU DEVILS 2012 DRAFT
Round  No.          Pos           Player         
1         29             F     Stefan Matteau
2         60             D     Damon Severson
3         90             LW   Ben Johnson
4         96             LW   Ben Thomson
5        135            C      Graham Black
5        150            C      Alexander Kerfoot
6        180            C      Artur Gavrus


For the Rangers, it was a quiet weekend due to only four picks including aforementioned Skjei, who sounds very excited to be part of our team. He's already on Twitter and can be followed.I sent him a welcome tweet yesterday. Hope the kid pans out. Though I wonder what it means. Is Glen Sather gonna deal? He keeps mentioning how he doesn't want to break up the core, including Brandon Dubinsky and Mike Del Zotto, who celebrated a birthday while Dubi got married. At least he stayed put unlike Staal, who was traded on his wedding day. The Blueshirts qualified Anton Stralman, who may or may not return. Either way, they maybe in the market for a D. The cost for Keith Yandle is too much. Of course, Slats going public could be a way of bargaining with Don Maloney. He also indicated that they might not be able to re-sign Brandon Prust, who seems intent on July 1. I'll have more on this tomorrow. They're expected to be in on former Anaheim No.1 Justin Schultz, who will also be chased by rival Philadelphia. Speaking of the Flyers, they swapped James van Riemsdyk for Luke Schenn. A bit perplexing. I just love JVR. Schenn is physical and can aid their D. If JVR gets it, watch out. All indications are that Sather wants to sign players. Does he really think Parise meant what he said or is the plan to go for a vet like Ray Whitney? You never know. The Blueshirts did well to land Cristoval "Boo" Nieves in Round Two at No.59. He expected them to take him. Here's a short list that includes former Black Ace Peter Andersson's son:

RANGERS 2012 DRAFT


Round     Pick      Pos              Player               
1            28          D             Jared Skjei
2            59          F           Cristoval Nieves
4            119        D           Calle Andersson
5            142       RW         Thomas Spelling


Draft Note: The Rangers moved their third round pick to Nashville for their 2013 third round pick.

Week two of the hot stove: Draft and schedule thoughts



With less than a week left before FA, you would think the last few days would be the calm before the storm.  Guess again, with the NHL schedule release last week and the draft taking place over the weekend, there's plenty to talk about in the hot stove.  Not to mention the announcement that next year's draft (2013) will be at the Prudential Center.  Hopefully we'll even have a first-round pick for the occasion, since it's our last chance to voluntarily forefit our first-rounder before the NHL does it for us in 2014.  It'll still be nice to have a chance to attend the draft next year, it doesn't come around a lot though East Coast fans certainly are having a field day with this year's draft in Pittsburgh and the 2014 draft slated for Philadelphia.

I couldn't watch the draft live Friday, since I was at Mets-Yankees waiting out pouring rain during a fifty-minute rain delay and then dodging raindrops all night, but I was following it on my phone as much as I could before the battery died.  During commercials, I found out about the big Jordan Staal trade barely twenty-four hours after it came out he turned down a ten-year extension to remain in Pittsburgh.  GM Ray Shero did both him and the team a favor by shipping him to Carolina, uniting him with brother Eric and getting back up-and-comer Brandon Sutter, the eighth overall pick in the draft (defenseman Derrick Pouliot) and another defensive prospect in Brian Dumolin.  That move, combined with Pittsburgh reuniting Zybanek Michalek and Phoenix for a fifth-round pick had the entire hockey world buzzing about the Pens' sudden cap space, and whether they would make a play for FA's to-be Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, or both.

Other interesting draft-day news included a trade the Isles did make - acquiring Lubomir Vishnovsky for a second-round pick next year, as well as one that was offered and refused...a rumored swap with Columbus where the Isles would give up their entire draft (including the #4 overall) just to move up two spots to #2 and select defenseman Ryan Murray.  If that deal was offered, and actually refused, that would tell you all you need to know about the current state of both franchises.  Among the biggest draft-day winners were the Caps, who worked out a trade to acquire talented Stars center Mike Ribeiro, then drafted highly-regarded Swedish center Filip Forsberg and winger Tom Wilson with their two first-rounders.  Other interesting draft picks include goaltending prospect Malcolm Subban going to the Bruins, where he'll get plenty of chances to see brother P.K on the other side of one of the fiercest rivalries in hockey.  Of course, Nail Yakupov went #1 to Edmonton, their third straight overall number one pick, and third straight forward drafted in that spot after Taylor Hall and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins.

And then there was the Devils' first-round pick.  Rumored to be selecting a goalie in many mocks due to the advanced age of Martin Brodeur, the Devils could only watch as Subban, and Russia's Andrei Vasilevsky (both graded as two of the top three goaltending prospects along with Sweden's Oscar Dansk) each went off the board way before the Devils' pick at #29.  After their contreversial decision to keep this year's first-rounder, the Devils made an even more eye-opening selection by drafting Stefan Matteau, son of former Ranger Stephane Matteau - best known around these parts for his two OT goals in the '94 Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, including the double-OT winner in Game 7.  Ironically the Devils banished the Matteau ghost for good by winning this year's ECF against the Rangers, perhaps they don't make this pick otherwise since it would have been too painful a reminder.  Make no mistake though, the younger Matteau is a hockey player in his own right, projected to be a good two-way player with some 'sandpaper' to his game, leading all first-rounders in PIM's.

After selecting defensive prospect Damon Severson at the end of the second round, the Devils drafted exclusively forwards after that with their five remaining picks.  Size was the order of the day early with Matteau, Ben Johnson late in the third round and Ben Thomson early in the fourth, but the Devils rounded out their draft with smaller forwards in Graham Black, Alexander Kerfoot and Artur Gavrus.  In this case, drafting for need makes sense since the Devils' defensive cupboard seems pretty stocked right now, not so much up front though Calder finalist Adam Henrique certainly has a bright future ahead of him.  Apparently, the future goalie question will have to wait for another day and it will surely be a pivotal year for prospects like Scott Wedgewood and Keith Kinkaid.

As far as the schedule goes, the NHL season is scheduled (italicized for emphasis) to open on Thursday, October 11 with four games including Ottawa at Montreal and Boston at Philly as the first games at 7 PM.  All the local teams open the next night on the road, with the Isles at Pittsburgh, the Rangers at LA to witness the Kings' banner raising and the Devils at Washington.  Both the Devils and Isles play their home openers on the 13th, with the Isles hosting the Flyers and us hosting the Bruins, while the Rangers' home opener is...November 1 against the Stars after the second of three straight offseasons with major renovations taking place at MSG.

Major schedule notes for the Devils include their third game of the season on October 17, a Conference Finals rematch at the Rock against the Rangers.  Our first playoff rematches with the Flyers and Panthers both take place in early November (11/1 at Philly, 11/6 at home against Florida) while the SCF rematch will be on February 9, a Saturday afternoon visit by the Stanley Cup champs to New Jersey.  While seven of the Devils' first ten games will be at home, amazingly they will have only nineteen home games until February.  Twenty-three of our final thirty-seven games will be at home, including an eleven out of thirteen stretch from the end of January till the last week of February.

On the flip side, the Devils have a couple of long (in terms of mileage) road trips late in the season, with three games in four nights at Colorado, St. Louis and Dallas in early March as well as another three game in four day stretch in late March at Vancouver, San Jose and Anaheim.  Contrast that with this season, when the Devils only left the Eastern time zone once from mid-January until late May!  That is, of course presuming the season starts on time, which is certainly no guarantee with negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA slow to start and the looming lockout date of September 15, right when camps are scheduled to begin.

That's a worry for another day though, a more immediate concern for Devil fans is free agency.  Quite possibly at this very moment, Lou Lamoriello is in talks with Parise's agents hopeful of getting the captain locked up before the UFA clock strikes twelve on Sunday afternoon.  Parise's only the biggest question mark among several key FA's, as I highlighted in my previous blog.  I'm happy that I have the NHL Network this year to keep track of FA without constantly refreshing my computer or phone, but on the other hand I know now I'll be glued to the TV all day on what could very well be a beautiful weekend afternoon.  Oh well, at least it's better than having it on a weekday and not being able to keep track of it as much as I would want to, especially this year.  I can't remember a more critical FA period for this team, although surprisingly re-signing star winger Ilya Kovalchuk and also inking defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov turned into our most notable FA bounty two years ago.  It's one thing to bring in FA's though, it's another to prevent from losing them.

It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

BREAKING NEWS: And literally as I was typing this out before, the Devils announced that defenseman Mark Fayne would have wrist surgery and need approximately 3-4 months to rehab, though Lou claimed he would be back for the start of the season after playing through this injury during the playoffs.  Wonderful.  Oh well, at least that explains why Fayne's play dropped off in the Finals after three terrific rounds.

Monday, June 18, 2012

'11-12: Top 10 Rangers Moments

Summer is here and it's kinda hard to believe. The Stanley Cup is now part of Kings lore. Congratulations to them on finally winning after 45 years. Now St. Louis, Toronto, Buffalo, Vancouver and Washington have the longest droughts. Four of the five having never won while the Leafs continue to be haunted by 1967.

It's a lot to digest during the offseason along with the irksome Nash rumors that won't go away. I guess it'll continue this Draft weekend where there could be some activity. Friday is the first round with the blitz coming Saturday. The NHL will also be handing awards to this season's best Thursday in Vegas. Other than Henrik Lundqvist vying for two trophies with only one realistic against Conn Smythe winner Jon Quick, that's the only interest I have. The award show is cheesy anyway.

This was a great year for the Rangers. Their first Atlantic Division title since '93-94 and a trip to the Conference Finals before falling to bitter Hudson rival New Jersey. It was nice to see our Blueshirts play serious playoff hockey. A fun roller coaster ride from the seven-game wins over Ottawa and Washington right to the bitter conclusion. All season, they manned up earning the best record in the East. No small feat. Especially in the toughest division. When four teams finish with over 100 points, that tells you how competitive our division is. Maybe one day the Islanders will join the chaos.

It would be easy to still be upset about how the season ended. But it's been a few weeks and the worst part is over. At the end of the day, we can be proud of our team for showing that they should be heard from. With a young core featuring Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky (cue the rumors), Artem Anisimov, Mike Del Zotto, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, the future is bright. Indeed, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik should have help as our players mature. This was a good first step which they can learn from.

In thinking back on '11-12, I'm extremely proud of our team. One that I find myself so excited about. I miss them more than any other offseason. Before Gary Bettman and his cronies along with Don Fehr try to ruin '12-13, let's take a look at some of the best Rangers moments.

'11-12: TOP 10 RANGERS MOMENTS

10.October 18, 2011 What's A Canuck Rangers 4 Canucks 0-Many curious observers had their eye on this one at Vancouver. It was against the defending Western Conference champs and figured to be a must watch. With our team still winless following a bitter loss at Long Island, how would they respond? Rather Lundqvist who was at his absolute best denying the Sedins and their bag of tricks due to a ridiculous amount of undisciplined penalties. Some of which raised the eye brow. If ever there was a moment that defined these Blueshirts, it was during eight Vancouver power plays when they couldn't get one past Hank. Then came a third period onslaught on Roberto Luongo with Gabby and McD tallying half the output that also saw Brian Boyle and Rupp get on the scoreboard.

9.October 31, 2011 Trick Or Treat Sharks 2 Rangers 5-By now, the Rangers had returned from a hellacious seven-game road swing that began in Europe and journeyed to Long Island before hitting Western Canada. Following two home defeats to Toronto and Ottawa, they were still stinging. Then along came the Sharks on Halloween and what a treat it was. Led by Captain Cally and even Erik Christensen, our team finally got their first win in the World's Most Renovated Arena against what was supposed to be a  Cup favorite. Or at least mine. Funny but this game is best remembered for Joe Thornton's whine in which he labeled us "the softest team [San Jose] played." Yet you lost convincingly. I wonder if he cares to take a look in the mirror.

8.April 23-26, 2012 Games 6-7 vs Sens-Ottawa put our team on the brink following Craig Anderson's Game 5 shutout. Were they really gonna bow out early again? I didn't like the match-up but felt we'd prevail. After blowing off some steam by calling Devil pal Rob Davis following our losses, I guaranteed that if both teams won Game 6, they'd advance. For one night at least, I was proven right. While Hasan and Co. needed late dramatics to edge the Panthers, the Rangers came back to beat the Senators 3-2 in Ottawa thanks to some power play magic from Richards and Stepan. Good thing Kreider scored because Jason Spezza made things interesting. The heroes in Game 7 were Staal and Girardi, both tallying before Daniel Alfredsson. From there, it was ride Lundqvist, who was outstanding.

7.February 11, 2012 Statement Made Rangers 5 Flyers 2-All year, the Flyers couldn't beat us. It was mystifying except for our edge in net. The Flyers are one of the better teams yet they couldn't get one game. They tried everything, even gooning it up in an MSG loss six days leading up to the NBC rematch. Even with Claude Giroux tying it, they came unglued in a game where our boys scored three power play goals, including Captain Cally's winner. After Anisimov and Callahan put it out of reach, Dubinsky battled goon Zac Rinaldo as Philadelphia embarrassed themselves in front of their fans. Priceless.

6.March 19, 2012 Line Brawl Devils 2 Rangers 4-When Pete DeBoer submitted his lineup card featuring Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton, John Tortorella replied by starting Rupp, Brandon Prust and Stu Bickel at center. It didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out what would happen. Stemming from previous fisticuffs during two other games including one in Newark, the hatred was at an all-time high. Coincidentally, I had to rush back from the bathroom to see the bloodshed with Bickel pummeling Ryan Carter, who ironically got revenge. It was our team who responded with Dubinsky scoring early and Girardi later. Mats Zuccarello's final goal as a Ranger was sweet. A shame he got hurt.

5.May 14, 2012 Conference Finals Game 1 Devils 0 Rangers 3-I've never been so nervous. When the two teams came out for warmups to the time John Amirante sang the national anthem, I couldn't move. It wasn't until a few minutes in that I calmed down even if the Devils tried and tried to beat Lundqvist. On this night, nothing was getting past him. And well, they blocked so many shots that idiot columnists who don't cover hockey whined. That third period was unbelievable. Danny G! Kreids! And Arty!

4.January 2, 2012 Winter Classic A Ruppian Salute Rangers 3 Flyers 2-An epic scene in Citizens Bank Park as two old Patrick rivals did battle in hockey's signature event. From the Legends Game that featured old favorites on both sides to Rupp's two goals and Jagr Salute, it was awesome. The Rangers sent us a team photo they took following the win. A nice memento.

3.May 12, 2012 Conf. Semis Game 7 Caps 1 Rangers 2-If there was pressure versus Ottawa, then this was more intense. Considering how Washington had dismissed us in recent Springs, they had to win this game. Their reputation was on the line. So was Lundqvist's even if goals were at a premium. The Caps matched our work ethic by blocking more shots and delivering almost as many thunderous hits. No matter. Just like the first round, Dad went and was the good luck charm. More than that, our Blueshirts responded splendidly with goals from Richards and Del Zotto, who stood out. There were some anxious moments late but Hank shut the door.

2.May 2, 2012 Conf. Semis Game 3 Rangers 2 Caps 1 3 OT-One of the longest playoff games in club history needed triple overtime before Gaborik beat Braden Holtby on a perfect feed from Richards. The goalies were phenomenal. Lundqvist and the Caps rookie went toe to toe. Hank finished with 45 saves while Holtby had 47 in one of the best games of the postseason. A big bounceback after a flat Game 2.

1.May 7, 2012 Conf. Semis Game 5 Caps 2 Rangers 3 OT-How many True Blue Believers thought they could lose and still win the series like Round One? The tension was so much that I couldn't even stay in my seat. It looked like the Caps would steal it after John Carlson's power play goal. I went downstairs for the last minute and then the miracle happened. Richards found a way to score and Staal won it. I've never jumped so high.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Devils draft and offseason thoughts



Even as baseball is heading towards the heart of its season with the Mets surprisingly keeping their heads above water, and football is just around the corner, I still haven't emotionally let go of hockey season yet. Granted, it only has been four days since the Eastern Conference Champs' miracle run came up just two games short in LA on Monday, and less than two days since I could have been conceivably going to Game 7. After two months of intense emotional ups and downs, it's not that easy to pick up and get into something else.

Part of what makes it so hard to let go however, is due to the natural cycle of life as a fan of any sports team. As one season ends, another is just around the corner - particuarly the longer your own team's playoffs last. With the draft (and likely a draft party at the Rock) next weekend, and UFA beginning two weeks from Sunday the offseason seems insanely short for Devils and Kings fans, though at least the Kings have the big trophy to get drunk with - as Johnathan Quick found out when he gave an entertaining alcohol-induced speech during the Kings' Stanley Cup rally yesterday afternoon. Go to YouTube to find the audio, I can't post it on a family blog but it's not fit for network TV, that's for sure!

Obviously, it's a welcome change from the last few years when the offseason dragged on forever after early eliminations basically caused the hockey season to be dead to me by the end of April at best. This year, we were playing hockey in early June! After four years of playoff failures at the Rock, Newark was finally the place to be during the postseason as the Devils put up a 7-4 record with many memorable home wins. Travis Zajac's OT winner in Game 6 of the first round that kept the Devils alive and Alexei Ponikarovsky's OT winner in Game 3 of the second round that gave us an edge we wouldn't relinquish against Philly were exciting in their own right. Adam Henrique's series and conference-clinching goal against the hated Rangers was arguably the best non-Cup victory in franchise history.

If the season couldn't end with the giant silver trophy, at least the Devils went out on a good note in Newark winning a tight 2-1 game 5 against the Kings that ensured there would be no enemy celebration on our ice this season, unlike the prior four playoff appearances where the Devils' season ended at home. Having Game 6 get away from us in the first period after Steve Bernier's costly major penalty was hard to live with at the time, but having Bernier get emotional - in a good way - after the fans' support of him when the team returned to Newark the day after somehow was, in its own right a heartening moment.

Enough looking back however, preperations for the 2012-13 season won't wait for trips down memory lane. With UFA's such as captain Zach Parise, franchise legend Martin Brodeur and playoff hero Bryce Salvador, the next few weeks are going to be critical in determining the direction of the Devils heading into next season. Especially with role players such as Ponikarovsky, Bernier, fellow fourth-liners Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta, twenty-goal scorer Petr Sykora, fill-in defenseman Peter Harrold and vet backup goalie Johan Hedberg all unrestricted free agents as well. It's safe to say not everyone is coming back, but vital that more of the above return than not.

Even before free agency is the draft next weekend, thought to be an afterthought by many including me when it seemed obvious GM Lou Lamoriello would take this opportunity to forefit our first-rounder and fulfill the Ilya Kovalchuk contract penalty. However, it took Lou less than two days after the end of the season to throw his first curveball of '12-13 when he announced that we would not be forefiting our pick after all. I figured there'd be no better opportunity to bite the bullet with us picking at twenty-nine in the first round, but obviously it wasn't a matter of position for Lou, since he claimed he wouldn't have forefited the 30th pick either, if we'd gotten that.

With that, it seems obvious that development time with a prospect is more of an issue than actual draft position and that we'll probably either forefit the pick in 2014 (the last year we can do it), or somehow challenge the ruling yet - a scenario that I still think extremely unlikely. Also, Lou could have a trade in the works for this year's draft and need to keep the first round pick for that...though what that move could be is anyone's guess. Whatever the reason for keeping the pick, I'm now anxiously hoping to get back to the Rock next Friday for one final salute to the Conference Champs, and another opportunity to hang out with fellow Devil fans before many of us go our seperate ways for the summer.

I might as well enjoy this season for all its worth, before the potential dark clouds looming over the offseason. Not only with free agency itself, but the fact that our ownership question still hasn't been settled, with barely two weeks to go before many key players hit the open market. Granted, Brodeur's basically a lock to return - especially after he turned back the clock during a memorable playoff run - perhaps the only realistic thing that would prevent him from being in a Devils' sweater in '12-13 is the other major issue hanging over the offseason...more potential labor strife as another CBA is set to end in early September, just before camp is set to begin. That's a worry for another day, however.

Playoff hero Salvador is probably the most likely to go, as the 36-year old warrior will almost certainly get a multi-year deal elsewhere that we're not likely going to give him. Barring any moves, our defense next season seems set thanks to the returning Henrik Tallinder (out half the season with a blood clot in his leg, but played some of his best hockey in the Finals upon returning) and the highly-touted Adam Larsson, who should resume the everyday role he had for most of this season next year. With Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene signed for multiple years as well, along with the emerging Mark Fayne due a hefty raise as a RFA and deadline acquisition Marek Zidlicky locked up next year, there's really no room for Sal unfortunately.

Who fills out the seventh spot on defense is also a question mark, with Harrold a UFA and Matt Taormina a RFA. Perhaps one, or neither is brought back. Harrold proved he deserves a shot to stick in someone's defense next year. Taormina didn't look too bad when he played the last couple seasons either, but he became the forgotten man after the acquisition of Zidlicky, with Harrold playing as well as he was after the journeyman started to find his way into the mix during the winter. Whether Lou brings someone in to fill that role, or gives still-young Alexander Urbom, a prospect like Eric Gelinas or even Jon Merrill a shot remains to be seen.

Up front, things are no less certain with the entire fourth line set to hit the open market - a fourth line that became a revelation during the postseason, with no fewer than ten even-strength goals (one less than our top line). Other than one game at the end of the regular season this year and a few forgettable ones during our nightmare first half last year, there wasn't much to suggest that Gionta would become the factor he did during the postseason with seven points, including two goals in the first round against Florida. Carter and Bernier also put up seven points in the postseason each, with Carter coming up big later in the playoffs - three of his five goals coming against the Rangers, including the Game 5 winner.

Ponikarovsky only had one postseason goal - and boy was it a doozy! - but finished with nine points and was a solid role player during the regular season as well. Sykora was a nice comeback story with over twenty goals and forty points, playing every game in the regular season, but his effectiveness gradually diminished in the postseason (two goals and five points in eighteen games). And while people are rightly going to remember how good Marty was in the postseason, it was actually Hedberg who was the better goalie in the first half and helped stabilize a season that could have gone the other way early when we were on the bubble.

It's hard to predict among all of them who will be back and not, if I had to guess I'd say at least Gionta and Bernier would be back among the fourth liners, especially now that Bernier will be a man on a mission to redeem himself after Game 6. Carter became a folk hero between his big postseason goals and memorable mustache, but may have been so good he could wind up getting an offer we're not likely to match. I don't think Sykora will be back either after being a healthy scratch later in the postseason, at least not right away. He could wind up getting another camp invite, but it's hard to see a second act in what was a surprising comeback this year.

Ponikarovsky is a question mark, it probably depends on what his market value winds up being. He was still a steal for a fourth-round pick. As far as the Moose, he obviously proved he could still play at a high level and I wouldn't be opposed to giving him and Marty another go-around as one of the best tandems in hockey though admittedly it would be nice to get some of our younger goalies' feet wet next year. Whether he wants to play again or retire is another matter, or if he wants to be closer to home and play more elsewhere.

Of course, the free agent that everyone's talking about is the captain. Throughout this whole process and even after the season ended Parise gave every indication of wanting to be back, even going so far as to refer to his 'first season as Devils captain', among other hints that he wanted to return. However, contract negotations are getting more complicated with the not-so-subtle hints that his hometown Wild are willing to offer a virtual blank check - a reported offer of (at least) ten years and ninety million with a NTC! Obviously teams aren't supposed to have direct contact with players, but the Wild are making every attempt to get their message out there, using friend and former GM Lou Nanne as a public go-between to relay the interest of owner Craig Leopold and current GM Chuck Fletcher through the media. Nanne also has ties to the Parise family as well, having played with Zach's dad J.P. for several years.

Among other things, Nanne claimed that the Wild 'would not be outbid' and in subsequent days, rumblings of a contract in the $8-9 million per year range, followed by a report of 10-90 with a NTC today basically did everything but put the contract language in print. Honestly, this kind of chicanery is making a mockery of the 'exclusive negotiating' rights the Devils have. No, the owner and the GM aren't physically negotiating with Zach - as far as we know - but they've clearly not left much room for interpretation. To the point where if the Wild DO make such an offer, and Zach takes it, you can bet your bottom dollar there's going to be a tampering investigation. At the very least, they've made it next to impossible for Zach to forego waiting until free agency, especially with his agents and dad in his ear.

Be that as it may, the most important news on the Zach front may be imminent, with reports surfacing during the Finals that another investor may be lined up to help settle our debt issues. I'll believe it when I see it, but combined with our postseason revenue from eleven home games, this could be another big boost in our hopes of retaining Zach and other key FA's. FA's might not be the only defections however...assistant coach Adam Oates is one of the two finalists for the Caps' vacant head-coaching job (along with another ex-Cap, Craig Berube), and the possibility of fellow assistant Larry Robinson retiring was floated by Chico Resch during the final MSG+ Devils' postgame of the year. At least barring something astonishing, we'll begin next season with Pete DeBoer as the head coach - the first time we've had a coach open two straight seasons since Brent Sutter in 2008 (and the last time before that was Pat Burns in 2004) - and the calm, intelligent DeBoer went a long way towards proving he would be the man to end our coaching carousel at last.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marty a champion in defeat

There he was following a heartbreaking conclusion to a fourth Stanley Cup. No matter. One of the greatest goalies the sport's ever seen, Martin Brodeur still stood tall following the Devils' Game Six 6-1 defeat that allowed the Kings to finally win their first Cup.

It's never easy when you lose. Especially when you get as close as Brodeur and these Devils did to pulling off what would've been the greatest comeback ever. Sure. Marty's accomplished everything. Three Cups. Four Vezinas. Olympic gold. All-Star appearances. All-time winningest. All-time in shutouts. Those records will probably never be broken, speaking to the model of consistency No.30 has been for the only franchise he's known. A gold standard other goalies dream about unless you're boyhood idol Patrick Roy. Of course, there are other greats like Ken Dryden, Terry Sawchuk, Dominik Hasek, George Hainsworth and Georges Vezina.

When it comes to netminding, Brodeur has had the longevity. You look at all those consecutive seasons he won 30-or-more (12) including over 40 a remarkable eight times during his career. It's jaw dropping. He hadn't been this far since he was 31 when he led the '02-03 team to a third Cup. The most unlikely of three Devils winners, overcoming the Senators thanks to a clutch performance from the big man in net. That still was one of the best teams that year. So, what came as a surprise to most really shouldn't have been.

Our resident Devil blogger Hasan has documented how tough it's been for the red and black since the lockout. Brodeur and Co. hadn't been past the second round since that third championship. There were some awful defeats with none worse than Carolina. The worst of his career because of the severity. Then, they missed the playoffs last year for the first time since '95-96. Unthinkable. Brodeur was hurt throughout and not the same. The team still made a miraculous run at it under originator Jacques Lemaire, who started it all. It wouldn't have happened without Marty. The same guy who at 40 proved he's still got it.

Considering early season struggles that saw first-year coach Pete DeBoer go with Johan Hedberg for a stretch, it's pretty remarkable. That's the special quality Brodeur has brought to New Jersey for almost 20 years. With Nick Lidstrom gone, there's still one guy left from that fun era. Thanks to a great run in which he showed he can still compete with the game's best, Marty all but assured reporters that he'll return next year. Hopefully, it will be in the only place he belongs. A New Jersey Devil. Something he emphasized.

On a night it didn't fall their way with poor Steve Bernier ejected for a controversial major penalty that saw the Kings cash in three times, Brodeur still was there as was every Devil during the best tradition in sports. They all shook hands and congratulated Flyers West. It may as well have been with no less than four on the receiving end in Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Justin Williams. What must Philadelphia be thinking? They cleared all that cap space for Ilya Bryzgalov. Oops.

The best part of the handshake line was seeing Brodeur congratulate deserving Conn Smythe winner Jon Quick (16-4 1.41 .946 3 SHO)and reminding the 27-year old from Hamden, Connecticut to enjoy it. You never know when you'll get back. Something the elder statesman knows well after winning three over eight years ('95, '00, '03). There also was a bitter defeat to Roy in '01.

It's still unbelievable that Brodeur's been there for all five Devil trips. His team totaled eight goals in the series yet scared the Kings, who once led 3-0 before facing the daunting prospect of returning to Newark for Game Seven. The ultimate reason the Devils stayed alive was due to their rock, who coincidentally plays in a place called The Rock. It was Brodeur's big saves that gave them a chance to make history. The slogan, "Why Not Us" became their rallying cry.

It ended sourly but every teammate consolded their hero, who then was classy enough to do a post-game interview with NBCSN's Jeremy Roenick, who paid tribute to his former adversary. Marty stood there calm, cool and collected just as he was throughout his team's run. You could tell how proud he was of everything. A man who still irks me for his flops and hatred of MSG. But there's so much more to this man. A champion who gets it. He's been a great ambassador for hockey. Hopefully, we'll see him and maybe Zach Parise as part of the Battle Of Hudson next year.

It wouldn't be the same.

Devils return home to cheering fans



After their Stanley Cup Game 6 defeat in LA last night, hundreds of Devil fans expressed the same sentiments I did in the last paragraph of my blog about wanting to do something to show the team our appreciation for a great playoff run. A groundswell of internet support eventually led to the info that the Devils' plane would be landing in Newark at about 4 PM, with the players and coaches showing up at the arena to get their cars and drive off. $3 parking at the parking garage, a team poster and discounted merchandise (30% off) at the Devils Den were offered to those who came out and a good number of fans showed up in the rain to greet the team. Not exactly the throng that would have greeted them if the Devils had won the series in Game 6, but in some ways more heartfelt. I was only sorry I couldn't make it, but hey I got my chance to send them off after Game 5 and tons of enjoyment at the Rock this year.

Even the mayor of Newark - who was engaged in a running battle with Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek earlier in the playoffs - was moved by the display:

Cory Booker ‏@CoryBooker
Just watched Devils player's bus returning to The Rock & a large crowd of fans cheering their return. Here is to loyal & committed fans

Maybe over this weekend I'll get around to looking ahead to FA and the many questions ahead for the Devils heading towards next year. For now, this seems like an apropos close to the 2011-12 season.

Kings win Stanley Cup, end Devil season



Accepting that the Devils' season ended the way it did last night still hasn't gotten much easier the morning after almost six hours of sleep last night. What's hard to accept about last night isn't so much that the Devils lost. For whatever I'm about to say regarding last night, the Kings were the better team in the majority of this series and deserved to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Through long stretches of the series, we weren't even able to get shots on Johnathan Quick, much less goals and at times the Kings dominated the attack but only the valiant goaltending of Martin Brodeur was able to keep them at bay long enough for us to scratch out two wins and get back into the series. And I certainly have nothing bad to say about any individual on the Devils, after the way they spit blood to get to this point and went from last year's lottery to this year's Eastern Conference Champs.

All that said, the fact that the refs took it upon themselves to decide a Stanley Cup clinching game last night midway through the first period is asinine, I'm sorry. I understand why the Devils had to take a pass at saying what they really wanted to - just read coach Pete DeBoer's lips during the TV broadcast to know the truth - but after Dan O'Halloran called a five-minute major and ejected Steve Bernier I knew that could prove decisive with the way our PK's been scored on during the playoffs. Sure enough, the Kings pounded home three goals during the five-minute major, in effect ending the game against a team we couldn't score more than two on in any game with Quick (a deserving Conn Smythe winner) in net. Did Bernier commit a penalty, absolutely...I would have had no issue with a double-minor and ten-minute misconduct. Was it worthy of expulsion midway through the first period and a series-deciding five-minute major? Not to me. At least not in that situation. I'd have felt better about assessing a major if it was midway through the game and things were getting heated, but honestly it felt like we lost the opportunity to even compete for the Cup on-ice by having that go against us in the first period.

Maybe I'm wrong and it was a major - and even if it was, doesn't change the fact the refs also missed Stephen Gionta getting taken out (which would have ended the play before Bernier got involved) or Anton Volchenkov getting punched just before that - but it's still bothersome that the Devils wound up going out the way they did last night. This team deserved to go out on its shield, not have the opportunity taken away by a moment of stupidity and an overofficious ruling. I'm not even going to harp on the 47-6 difference in penalty minutes last night, honestly the Devils did lose their heads and came close to embarassing themselves after going behind 3-0, and eventually 4-0 early in the second period. At that moment I knew the game was beyond repair anyway, but I would rather not have seen the Devils go head-hunting at that point. Let's face it though, they're human beings and they were not only devastated over having a chance to compete for a title dissapear in the first fifteen minutes, but also I'm sure feeling horrible for Bernier - a gritty fourth-liner who revived his NHL career this season.

Looking at Bernier afterward, you could tell he was emotional during the game and he stood up to face all the questions. Given the fact he's a UFA after the season, what happened last night got an instant reaction from part of the fanbase that he can't come back, that it's somehow an unforgivable sin. I can understand Devil fans being hot at him, he did put himself in position to have that call made by running Rob Scuderi. That said, hockey's a forgiving culture. A lot more forgiving than the rest of sports, or society for that matter. It's part of what makes our sport so likable for true hockey fans. If the Oilers had jettisoned Steve Smith after his gaffe in the 1986 Campbell Conference Finals, there wouldn't have been the feel-good moment there was the next season, when Wayne Gretzky handed the Stanley Cup to Smith first.

Plus one of the things that made this Devil team so likeable is the fact they were all willing to lay themselves out for each other and their fans. After a series of teams that had become increasingly robotic and gutless on the way to easy playoff losses and the '10-11 first half disaster, the metamorphisis back to this point now was just about as meaningful as any title. Especially when the cost to these players individually becomes known in the next few weeks. Even early in the playoffs it looked like this team might be gassed, after a regular season in which the top three lines all had to play major minutes due to the then-ineptitude of the fourth line. Somehow, they perservered through a seven-game double-OT series against Florida, coming back from losing Game 1 against the Flyers to win four straight and coming back from being shut out two of the first three games against the Rangers to win a memorable Conference Finals in a Game 6 OT.

Yes, this team won't be all back next year...such is the nature of hockey. Even when it's possible to bring the same team back it might not be advisable given how much this run took out of everyone. Look at Boston, they brought back something like eighteen of twenty skaters other than Mark Recchi and Tomas Kaberle (a bit player in the playoffs), and still wound up having a bit of Stanley Cup hangover, losing seven of ten to open the season and eventually the first round of the playoffs - in a classic series, granted. Vancouver also lost in the first round after getting to the Finals last year. Some of those decisions are going to be out of our hands, but I don't really want to get into it now. Yes, everyone knows about Zach Parise's impending UFA status...but the fact is we have other FA's too, such as Martin Brodeur - though he's likely to return, playoff hero Bryce Salvador - who probably will get an offer too pricey for us next month, especially with the lack of spots for him next year with a returning Henrik Tallinder and maturing Adam Larsson - and our entire fourth line is UFA as well.

It will be very interesting to see what happens with the fourth line, which amazingly carried the Devils at times during the postseason. Ryan Carter, in particular will probably get some offers that might be too much to match, especially given what happens with the captain and other UFA's. Stephen Gionta was a relevation in this postseason, and Bernier for whatever you want to say about him now was part of a line that was a lifesaver for us the last two months. We have other FA's too, like Petr Sykora (the best Devil last night), Alexei Ponikarovsky and backup goalie Johan Hedberg, along with fill-in defenseman Peter Harrold who played capably in many postseason games. Obviously not everyone's coming back.

If this season proved one thing though, it's that GM Lou Lamoriello still has 'it'. After much criticism the past few seasons for trades and FA signings and defections that didn't work out combined with decreasing returns on the ice, he had the magic touch this year with seemingly every move he made working out. Starting with his hiring of coach Pete DeBoer, who was the right man at the right time. Obviously a lot of what happens this offseason will be out of Lou's control though, starting with how ownership gets resolved - or if it does - and what impact that has on Parise and other key FA's. People can harp on Zach till the cows come home, but one of the many reasons the Devils got as far as they did was their depth up front. And that depth is going to take a hit one way or another, there's no way around it.

I'd prefer not to look ahead though, especially since what's ahead is close enough anyway. We have fewer than two weeks till the draft and three weeks till UFA starts. Next preseason is in three months, barring more nonsense between commisioner Gary Bettman and player's rep Donald Fehr (the cause of much angst for baseball fans). I only wish I could show this group of players the appreciation they deserve, beyond blog posts. There isn't going to be a parade or ceremony, nor should there be...but they do deserve more than just a quiet return to Newark to clean out their lockers before an abbreviated summer off. This team did the franchise and its fanbase proud, every last one of them.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Brodeur, Parise lead Devils back to LA for Game 6



One common saying, repeated ad nauseum by Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is that your best players have to be your best players. While Martin Brodeur did his part in the first four games of the series, captain Zach Parise hadn't put up a point yet in the Stanley Cup Finals, leading to a testy exchange between him and the media before last night's Game 5. However last night both men did their part, as Brodeur made twenty-five saves en route to being the first star, while the captain was all over the place - blocking shots, backchecking and taking advantage of a puck-handling gaffe by Johnathan Quick to get the all-important first goal (and first power play goal of the series for the Devils) in a 2-1 Devils win that sends the series back to LA yet again.

Much has been said about the Devils' attempt to make history in this Stanley Cup Finals. Twenty-six teams have been down 3-0 in the final series, of those twenty six, twenty three of those series ended in four or five games. Last night, the Devils became the first team since the 1945 Red Wings to even force a Game 6 in a SCF down 3-0 (the Wings lost in 7). Clearly this team believes it can be just the second in history to win a Stanley Cup after trailing 3-0, as coach Pete DeBoer said, you'd have to figure someone's going to do it in the next couple hundred years...why not us? Unofficially, that's become our second slogan of this year's postseason after Ilya Kovalchuk coined 'swarm it up' at the start of the playoffs.

Belief isn't going to be enough however, especially against a good team like the Kings. LA came out at the start of this game like they meant business, dominating play until an interference penalty on Willie Mitchell gave the Devils their first power play. After going 0-15 with the man advantage in the first four games of the series, the Devils perhaps needed a break to get them going. Quick gave it to them, trying to play the puck backwards off and around the boards, but instead the puck caromed out front towards a vacated net. Parise pounced on it and just barely was able to beat Quick, who nearly was quick enough to atone for his gaffe. Looking at the replay afterward, I'm stunned Quick even got that close to saving it but fortunately things are finally starting to go our way now. Parise's goal at 12:45 gave the Devils a home lead in the series for the first time and the captain his eighth playoff goal.

Even that goal didn't deter the Kings, who continued to dominate in the first period and early into the second. Fortunately Brodeur's stellar goaltending and some timely shot-blocking from guys like Parise, Adam Henrique and Anton Volchenkov (who swatted a dangerous floater out of harm's way with a high stick) kept the LA onslaught at bay...until early in the second period, when Justin Williams caused a breakdown in the Devil defense juking by Andy Greene, and then taking advantage of the red sea parting in front of him by firing home a wrister from the slot at 3:26 of the second. Perhaps not so surprisingly, Williams (one of the few prior Cup winners on the Kings) was their best player last night, and he nearly got another one later in the period when Brodeur somehow managed to stop him on the doorstep with an instinct save.

After the Kings tied it however, the Devils stayed the course and eventually caught another break when David Clarkson found himself between Quick and the net, clearly in the crease but he somehow managed to scoot out of there without making contact on the Kings' goaltender. Clarkson cleared out just in time to set a moving screen for a Bryce Salvador shot that hit off the shoulder of Slava Voynov and went past Quick at 9:05 for the amazing Salvador's fourth goal of the playoffs. Salvador's fourteenth point of the postseason tied him with the Kings' Drew Doughty for the scoring lead among defensemen in the playoffs, simply astounding for a guy who had no goals and eight points the entire regular season.

With the lead back, the Devils played their best hockey of the night in the latter half of the second period, despite having to kill off back-to-back penalties by Mark Fayne and Salvador. Most of our best even-strength shifts of the night took place at this juncture, with the Devils registering twelve of their nineteen shots in the second. Unfortunately our best chance to really establish some breathing room hopped over the stick of Ryan Carter when he was all alone in front of Quick late in the period. Clearly, the Kings needed the horn to sound on the second period and they came out in the third just like they did in the first - peppering Brodeur and hemming us in our own end. On more than one occasion last night, I said to my fellow sth next to me that this seemed like a Ranger game. Get pinned in your own end for much of the game, get great goaltending with timely shot-blocking and score just enough to win.

After getting six shots in the first six minutes though (without any for us), a penalty on Dustin Brown slowed the Kings' momentum. Perhaps that's one reason why the captain didn't see the ice in the final few minutes of the game. Kovalchuk had a great chance to score soon after, but a quick glove save by the Kings' goaltender again prevented us from getting an insurance goal. Fortunately the Devils' defense clamped down after that, only allowing three more shots the rest of the way with a few crucial shot blocks in the final minutes helping the cause. Maybe the Kings' frustration started to show last night, with a couple of after-the-whistle scrums near both goaltenders punctuated by an unnamed King on audio calling Volchenkov a '****ing p***y' after going down on a high stick that caused blood to flow, and the Kings' bench also accused Elias of diving while Mike Richards went down quicker and easier than anyone last night on an attempt to draw a call in the third.

One of those scrums led to a four-on-four in the final minute and a half of the game when Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dustin Penner got matching roughing penalties after Henrique battled for position in front of the net and wound up on his stomach, head facing towards the King goalie. For his trouble, Henrique got a rabbit shove to the head and chaos nearly ensued. With more open ice, the Kings' Alex Martinez got a couple of one-timer chances at the left side of the net late but fortunately Brodeur stood his ground and a couple more timely blocks helped us hang on to a hard-fought 2-1 win that now puts us just two wins away from history. Despite the increased number of Kings fans who made the weekend trip up to New Jersey (including Matthew Perry, who got obligatory boos when he was shown on the jumbotron) hoping to see history, the Rock was rocking last night much more than even the first two games.

It's really bizarre just how much time the postseason encompasses. We're almost in the middle of baseball season and I've paid scant attention to the Mets so far, not even realizing Johan Santana had thrown a no-hitter until after the game was over. It's early June, getting humid outside last night and still we have playoff hockey going on. Last night when my sth neighbor was counting the number of home games and I realized it was in double digits - Saturday was the eleventh postseason game of the playoffs in Newark to be exact - I was stunned at that. To put it in perspective, there's just twelve days until next season's draft takes place (almost certainly without a first-round pick for the Devils) and free-agency is just three weeks away. If this playoff run becomes a blur to the fans, imagine what it must be for the players. Henrique put it well when he said, 'You travel here and there between games. You lose track of what day it is, but that doesn't really matter. I guess you either know it's game day or it's not game day. That's all that matters'

At least the Devils didn't go down like the Kings' other three opponents, without winning a home game. Last night finally ended the Kings' spotless road streak, giving them their first loss in eleven road games. Now they return home with another chance to hoist the Cup in front of their fans. Meanwhile, the Devils hope to give the Cup even more frequent flier miles with one more cross-country trip. If last night was a hard game to win, Game 6 will be even harder. Fortunately the guys in the room know exactly what it'll take. Parise himself said the team has to play better going forward than they did last night, and I agree with him. I've said this already but whatever happens from here the Devils can be proud of their reslience this postseason.

All that said, now the pressure's clearly on LA to win it at home before they completely blow a 3-0 lead and face a winner take all Game 7 back in Newark on Wednesday night, despite Darryl Sutter's lame attempt to say we had the pressure because we had home ice and finished with more points in the regular season. If this playoffs has proved one thing it's that this regular season has been completely irrelevant for the sixteen teams that made the cut. Particularly the sixth-seeded Devils and eighth-seeded Kings. All that matters is being ready to play and executing. Both our teams will be ready to play tomorrow night. We're going to need to show the same poise and execution we've exhibited throughout this postseason to have a chance to see another home game and a Stanley Cup presentation in Newark on Wednesday.

Friday, June 8, 2012

NHL Awards Picks

The NHL Awards will be handed out following the Stanley Cup. Once again, the stars will come out to Las Vegas on June 20 to honor their peers. Here are the nominees for each award:

CALDER

Adam Henrique, NJD
Gabriel Landeskog, Col
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edm

LADY BYNG

Brian Campbell, Fla
Jordan Eberle, Edm
Matt Moulson, NYI

SELKE

David Backes, Stl
Patrice Bergeron, Bos
Pavel Datsyuk, Det

MASTERTON

Daniel Alfredsson, Ott
Joffruy Lupul, Tor
Max Pacioretty, Mtl

JACK ADAMS

Ken Hitchcock, Stl
Paul MacLean, Ott
John Tortorella, NYR

VEZINA

Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
Jon Quick, LAK
Pekka Rinne, Nsh

NORRIS

Zdeno Chara, Bos
Erik Karlsson, Ott
Shea Weber, Nsh

HART

Henrik Lundqvist, NYR
Evgeni Malkin, Pit
Steven Stamkos, TB


My Picks

Calder-Adam Henrique

Byng-Brian Campbell

Selke-Patrice Bergeron

Masterton-Max Pacioretty

Adams-Paul MacLean

Vezina-Henrik Lundqvist

Norris-Shea Weber

Hart-Evgeni Malkin

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Devils' resilience shows yet again in Game 4 win



Despite being behind 3-0 in games to a white-hot Kings team heading into last night's Game 4 after being shut down 4-0 in Game 3, the Devils vowed not to give in to the overwhelming odds against them. And as has been the case throughout these playoffs, they did not buckle to adversity in a hostile building with the Stanley Cup in the house. Yet, for the longest time it looked as if the series was going to end with one final frustration. Even when the Devils finally were able to grab their first lead of the series at 7:56 of the third period, a questionable penalty call on David Clarkson led to a Drew Doughty power play goal exactly a minute later that could have been the final, crushing blow to the Devils' psyche. Maybe for a lesser team it would have been just that.

Then again, a lesser team wouldn't have gotten this far in the first place with all the obstacles the Devils have already faced. True to form, they fought their way through when Adam Henrique - sporting much less facial hair other than a Ryan Carter-esque mustache - scored yet another big goal with just 4:31 left in regulation to restore the Devils' lead. Shortly after, Willie Mitchell took an ill-timed (for them) high-sticking penalty on Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovy would get the last laugh on the Kings and their booing fans, by scoring an empty-netter for his eighth goal of the playoffs to seal the game with just twenty seconds remaining, ensuring both teams a trip back to Newark for Game 5 Saturday night.

Prior to last night's game, after making no changes to the lineup through the first three games, coach Pete DeBoer made two pivotal ones last night - restoring vets Petr Sykora and Henrik Tallinder to the lineup - at the expense of Jacob Josefson and Peter Harrold. I was in the minority of Devil fans in that I was in favor of both changes. Sure, Josefson brings speed and Sykora's a one-dimensional player right now, but after scoring two goals in three games plus two OT's, it's a dimension we sorely needed. And while Harrold's played well, the Kings' size has really hurt us in the series. Tallinder adds both that and a veteran presence to the lineup, not to mention gives us another defenseman who can play on the PK, which has struggled throughout the playoffs.

Of course, there were emotional reasons to want to put them both in the lineup as well. Tallinder's fought back from a blood clot in his leg which has kept him out for over four months, and was only recently cleared to return to action. Not to mention Tallinder's been a vet in this league for a long time and never was able to take the ice in a Stanley Cup Final game. Brian knows how close Tallinder came in 2006, when injuries to he - and other Sabre defensemen - derailed them just short of the Finals that year. For Sykora it's just the opposite, he's been to a remarkable six Stanley Cup Finals in twelve seasons ('00-01 Devils, '03 Ducks, '07-08 Pens and now this year)...but after a Cindrella season where he came back from the scrap heap to put up 20+ goals and 40+ points, this could be his last opportunity on a big stage with the team he started out with.

Results were mostly positive, as Sykora played just over twelve minutes and forced Johnathan Quick to make a tough early save. He also got a +1 for being on the ice when longtime buddy Elias scored off a rebound of a Bryce Salvador shot. Tallinder played nearly twenty minutes, registering two shots on goal and providing a boost to a defense that looked on the verge of getting overrun in Game 3 after performing valiantly in the postseason. Early on, the Devils played with the desperation of a team not wanting to go home yet but after a penalty-filled first period (two minors for each team) and a second period where the Kings held us without a shot for nearly fifteen minutes, things didn't look too good. Though Martin Brodeur was keeping the game scoreless, the low shot totals on both sides - fourteen for the Kings and eleven for us - magnified the importance of getting the first goal.

Knowing I would be uptown anyway after my own little playoff drama (a final in a kickball league that we lost due to a tough bounce off a tree that cost us three runs, but we still got a $75 food and drink gift certificate at a local bar/restaurant for coming in second), I figured I might as well stay at the bar for the duration of the game, hoping to change our luck. Between being at a bar and hanging out with my team for the last time, I wasn't paying as much attention to the first two periods as I'd intended to, but after everyone else left during the second intermission I was going to as well. Then I doubled back to go to the bathroom and started chatting up some girls from another team - all Devils fans staying at the bar for the game. Considering my team was filled with Ranger and Flyer fans for the most part, this was a welcome sight for me so I hung with them in the third period and was able to watch more of the drama that unfolded.

After Elias's goal I had hope, but when Clarkson got called for his 'boarding' (more like a love tap), I had a bad feeling. Of course, it only took seconds for Doughty to score and at this point it just didn't seem fair. Not so much for the bad call itself, but to play so hard and finally take a lead after over four games' worth of hockey - factoring in the overtimes - only to lose it a minute later like that, it just made me sad. Having a great season end this way with all of this effort being crushed without a sniff of hope didn't seem right. However, last night hockey justice did get served in the end when Clarkson wound up contributing to the goal that put us back in front. Clarkson's cross ice pass found the skate of Henrique and the clutch rookie made a brilliant play, kicking the puck to his stick, then rifling a high shot past Quick shortside for his fourth huge goal of the postseason. While his prior two goals eliminated another team, this one prevented our own elimination as the Devils took a 2-1 lead.

Thanks to Mitchell's penalty, the Devils were able to not only run off two vital minutes but even come up with some chances on a makeshift power play that employed two defensemen. With our normal power play 0-for the series (in fourteen chances), perhaps DeBoer should scrap the normal unit and just run our normal cycling offense with the man advantage? If pointmen Kovalchuk and Marek Zidlicky were healthy, it would be one thing but with both battling injuries and our third pointman on the power play (Harrold) sitting in the stands, it's not as if the normal power play is going to do much anyway...particuarly against a terrific Kings PK that looks for shorthanded chances. Five-on-five we've either held our own or dominated most of the postseason, maybe treating the power play like a five-on-five and keeping it simple will yield some unexpected dividends. It couldn't be any worse, other than actually allowing shorthanded goals, and theoretically having two defensemen are supposed to help prevent that anyway. Heck, throw out the fourth line too while we're at it, since they've been the only line consistently scoring goals over the last couple of weeks.

In any event the power play was beneficial to us, and we finished out a period where we more than doubled our shot total in style - with Kovy getting the empty-netter to ensure not only both teams went back to Newark, but the Stanley Cup as well. With the Cup in our building for Game 5 this time, I've been pondering how I'll handle things if Saturday's game goes the wrong way. Most hockey fans are good in that they stay for the ceremony itself - there's been plenty of evidence of that over the last few years with the last four Cups going to the visiting team. Even though I was in the building for 2003 when the 'right' team won, you can't take these ceremonies for granted. Hockey's got the best trophy in sports and is the hardest to win. Even just seeing the Cup presented itself is rare and staying an extra ten-fifteen minutes to commemorate the end of another NHL season on a Saturday night isn't the worst thing in the world. Of course, if the game goes to multiple OT's all bets are off. Me and my friend may just stay around long enough to see the Devils off if that happens and then get out of dodge, I can always see the ceremony on TV and I don't need to stick around to boo Gary Bettman (as I'm sure most Devil fans will do, vociferously) at one in the morning.

All that said, I have more belief in this Devils team down 3-1 than I did in the first round when we were down 3-2 to Florida. This team's proven so much already during this postseason, shedding its recent demons and showing they can handle whatever gets thrown at them. It's not so much a belief we will come back, the task still remains daunting and my respect for LA is still there. However, I do think we'll win Game 5, and then if it gets back to LA for Game 6 all the pressure in the world shifts to them. All bets are off if we're able to come out of there with a win. I do get tired of hearing the cliche 'one at a time' because however true it is, it's overstated to a degree. Everyone knows you can only win one at a time, but you still have to win three more in a row no matter how you want to slice it.

Someone else put it in a new way that I hadn't thought of before, but one that makes the task in front of us seem far less daunting. If you're a Devils fan, think of these four games (starting with Game 4) in the same way you would think of the NCAA tournament. Four straight single-elimination games - I know it's actually six in the NCAA but I digress - to win a Stanley Cup. College teams win four and even five-six straight single-elimination games every year in the NCAA tournament. We only have to win three more. That analogy really de-mythicizes history a little, the history that says only three teams ever in NHL history have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, only one in the Stanley Cup Finals...way back in 1942. Not to mention it did just happen with the Flyers and Bruins a couple of years ago in an East semifinal, and nearly happened with Red Wings-Sharks and Blackhawks-Canucks playoff series in the last couple of years as well. Both of those series went to a Game 7 and were decided by one goal, after a 3-0 lead was taken. With the parity in this league, it becomes less about talent and more about execution and who can get hot.

Make no mistake, this will be tough...and it still wouldn't shock me if the Kings won tomorrow night and completed their perfect 11-0 road record in the playoffs. However, if the Devils do manage to ride home-ice to a win, then the flicker of hope I now have will burst into a full flame. I'll be one of the 17,625 in the building on Saturday (well I'm not really sure about the 17,625 now that section 226 in the upper deck has been turned into another press room), hoping against hope for this magical run to continue.

The Puck Stops Here

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