We just spent a few minutes wandering blindly around stately IPB Manor repeating over and over through our giggles, “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!” That can only mean one thing: the Devils advanced out of the first round. As our biorhythms have settled back into a state of relative normalcy, it’s time to assess the good, the bad and everything in between from our beloved boys’ series with Tampa
Our Three Stars for the series:
1. Duh — Zach Parise. This series gave Zach a chance to demonstrate to the league something he’s known since 2003: he shouldn’t have fallen so far in the draft. (We bet the Islanders would really have liked to have had a player like him during their first-round loss… And no, we’ll never get tired of saying that.) He’s had that crazy motor all year, but in the first four games he just kicked into overdrive. He got skill goals, hard-work goals, lucky goals… whenever the Devils needed it, Zach was there to score. The best part about having a player like Zach on the second line is that externally it takes a lot of pressure off the top line as they know there are other reliable sources of offense, but internally it puts a ton of pressure on the EGGers to keep up. At least we hope that’s the case. Surely Gio, Gomer and Patty have enough pride to want to be more than just the nominal top line. Right? Right?
2. Richard Matvichuk. How is it possible that a guy who played only one game all year makes us completely unconcerned that Colin White missed the bulk of this series? Matvichuk led the way for our entire D-corps, playing smart, solid minutes and blocking shots as consistently and intelligently as any guy in the NHL does these days. (The general media obsession with defenseman shot-blocking is one of our major pet peeves. So often you see guys leave their feet and get out of position, or stick out vulnerable body parts and end up injured, or deflect pucks into the goal, or screen their goaltender. But the Devils, and Matvichuk in particular, are brainy blockers, knowing when to let Marty handle shots and managing to stay engaged in plays or in position when they do take the blocks.)
3. Scott Gomez. It almost seems as though he’s realized he squandered his contract year and now needs a big playoffs to drive up his value on the UFA market… Oh, is that too cynical of us? No matter, he was a difference-maker. Gomer and his linemates did have a bit of a disappearing problem during the meat of Games 2-4, but when he did show up, he demonstrated how unwise it is to build a one-line team like Tampa has. After potting the series-turning OT goal in Game 4, Gomer ramped up his game and the Devils never trailed again.
Paulie Martin. Matvichuk got all the press, but Paulie was the workhorse. He quietly but emphatically showed what we’ve been hoping to see since he first came into the league. No, he’s not Niedermayer, but for most of Nieder’s tenure with the Devils he wasn’t Niedermayer either. There were very few moments in these six games where he was anything less than steady, and quite a few moments where he was remarkable. PaulieMartinNation is pleased.
Andy Greene. Dude, where did this come from? He’s sporting a beard, which suggests he knows it’s the playoffs, but he never once looked like a first-timer out there (unlike Johnny “put the team down two men” Oduya in Game 1, and, over in the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series, the entire Penguins lineup). Pookie has now dubbed him Captain Unflappable. Well, maybe, because of his age, Ensign Unflappable. Or Lieutenant Unflappable.
Travis Zajac. He got benched in Game 2 because he was being killed on faceoffs, but other than that, he made even Lieutenant Unflappable look like a jittery panic machine. Travis is so subtle on the ice, but does so many things right. And none of Zach’s brilliance in this series would have happened without his linemates stepping up with him.
The Power Play. Normally IPB rolls its collective eyes at the Devils PP; we just don’t expect much from them and tend to be pleasantly surprised when the boys actually score on the man advantage. Well, color us delighted with the power play here. What a strange and wonderful habit the Devils picked up in the first round, actually making Tampa pay when they lost their discipline.
Things We Were Lukewarm On:
How long it took the EGG line to get going. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Patty used to be one of the top players in the league… and now he’s not even the top player on his team. (What can we say? We have to hold a hard line with Patty, because the instant we let up on him, he wilts. Always. And we’re Devils fans. We’re never happy.) Sure, they came up big in Game 1, but it looked pretty damn bleak in the next three games. Because they were offensive reason for the Games 5 and 6 wins they get upgraded from “disappointing” to “lukewarm”.
Marty Brodeur. Shockingly, this series actually could have been a sweep if the Marty who played Games 5 and 6 had shown up at the start of Game 1. That said, at least he did figure his shit out. (Have we mentioned here yet how much we take Brodeur for granted? Now might be a good time for us to bring that up again…)
The Penalty Kill. Sure, Tampa scored some momentum-shifting goals on their power play, and we suffered through some very tense moments where it looked like they were going to get even more than they did, but overall the PK was pretty good. We like how at times it looks like the Devils’ PK unit is getting inside other teams’ heads.
Things We Outright Disapproved Of:
The Penalties. Overall the Devils were hardly a Nashville-esque model of lack of discipline. But in six games we should not see two delay of game penalties by D-men, we shouldn’t be taking too many men penalties, and we really shouldn’t be going down two men. Oh, and the diving! Travis, what were you thinking? Oh wait, that’s right. That was a bullshit call. But anyway, even being manhandled by Lecavalier, Richards and St. Louis, the Devils managed not to take a string of interference-type penalties. So why were they putting the Lightning on the PP for lazy, stupid stuff? Not good.
Pierre McGuire. No, not the Devils fault. But we can’t not mention it here.
Ottawa. Can’t we play the Penguins in the next round?
Stay tuned, Gentle Reader, for a full second-round preview (another IPB exclusive!) in the coming days. Until then, let us savor the moment. Go Devils!