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Posted On Saturday, 05.26.2012 / 12:10 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Brodeur and Devils slay the ghosts of 1994

It took 18 years, but Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils finally got it done.

The Devils saw a trip to the 1994 Stanley Cup Final vanish when they couldn't hold onto a 2-0 lead against the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at home. New Jersey blew another 2-0 lead Friday night -- again in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final -- but, this time, they got to overtime before Adam Henrique's goal at 1:03 gave the Devils a 3-2 win and their fifth trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1995.

Game 6 in 1994 marked the sixth straight playoff start for a rookie goaltender named Martin Brodeur. Friday's game marked Brodeur's 188th consecutive postseason start -- no one else has started a playoff game for the Devils since the series with the Rangers began 18 years ago.

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Posted On Wednesday, 05.23.2012 / 11:45 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Unlikely contributors fueling Devils' playoff ride

The New Jersey Devils have plenty of star power in players like Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. But they're one win away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in nine years thanks to some of their foot soldiers.

Ryan Carter
Center - NJD
GOALS: 3 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 5
SOG: 13 | +/-: 5
The Devils got two of their goals in Wednesday's 5-3 victory against the Rangers from the one trio of forwards coach Peter DeBoer has left relatively intact -- the fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier. Gionta opened the scoring 2:43 into the first period and Carter broke a 3-3 tie with 4:24 left in regulation, finishing off a passout by Gionta.

While most teams are happy if their fourth line can get off the ice unscathed and maybe provide a little energy for the big guns, the Devils continue to get scoring from their fourth unit. The Carter-Bernier-Gionta unit has accounted for eight goals and 16 points in 17 games -- even though Carter and Gionta see less than nine minutes of ice time per game and Bernier plays less than 11 minutes per night. Also, all of the unit's production has come at even strength -- Carter and Gionta (3) have accounted for more 5-on-5 goals than Kovalchuk (2).
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.23.2012 / 1:52 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Los Angeles is Kings of the road

The Los Angeles Kings will have the road-ice advantage when the Stanley Cup Final starts next week.

Most teams would rather open a series at home, but the Kings will take the longest road winning streak in Stanley Cup history with them when they open in New York or New Jersey on May 30. The Kings made it 8-for-8 on the road this spring and 10 in a row away from the Staples Center overall by beating Phoenix 4-3 on Tuesday to close out the Western Conference Finals in five games.

The Kings' 10th straight road win moved them past the New York Islanders of 1982 and '83, who won nine straight road games on the way to the last two of their four consecutive Stanley Cups. 

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Posted On Friday, 05.18.2012 / 1:14 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Quick having a spring for the ages

Though Jonathan Quick is a Vezina Trophy finalist, few people would have mentioned him in the same breath with Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk before the playoffs started. But the two now share an accomplishment that no one else achieved in a six-decade span.

Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 11-1-0
GAA: 1.41 | SVP: 0.951
Quick has won 11 of his 12 starts this spring while leading the Los Angeles Kings within one victory of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1993. Thursday's 2-1 victory against Phoenix marked the eighth consecutive game in which Quick won without allowing more than two goals. The last goaltender to put together that kind of streak was Sawchuk, who went 8-0 while leading Detroit to a sweep in the 1952 playoffs -- a stretch of brilliance in which he allowed just five goals and posted four shutouts.

Quick wasn't quite that good -- he allowed 10 goals in the eight wins -- but he's been the best goaltender to take the ice so far this spring. In 12 games, Quick has 11 wins, a 1.41 goals-against average, a .951 save percentage and two shutouts -- putting him first in all four categories.
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Posted On Thursday, 05.17.2012 / 12:06 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Tight games continue to be the rule this spring

The hardest thing to get in this spring's playoffs is a big lead.

Martin Brodeur
Goalie - NJD
RECORD: 9-4
GAA: 2.05 | SVP: 0.921
New Jersey's 3-2 victory against the Rangers in New York on Wednesday night got the Devils even in the Eastern Conference Finals heading into Game 3 in Newark on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). It also marked the 44th time in 73 games this spring that the winning margin was a single goal -- and in eight other games, the two-goal margin of victory included an empty-netter.

There have already been more one-goal games this spring than there were in all of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Last spring's playoffs had 48 games decided by one goal, a total that's a pretty good bet to be exceeded as well. The most one-goal games in the past 10 years came in 2007, when there were 51.
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Posted On Wednesday, 05.16.2012 / 12:48 AM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Los Angeles now Kings of the road

The Los Angeles Kings were among the poorest road playoff teams in NHL history -- until now.

Jonathan Quick
Goalie - LAK
RECORD: 10-1
GAA: 1.45 | SVP: 0.951
Before this spring, the Kings had won just 29 of 95 playoff games away from L.A. since entering the NHL in 1967 -- and that included wins in their last two games at San Jose during their six-game loss to the Sharks in 2011. The back-to-back wins matched the longest road winning streak in the franchise's playoff history.

But the Kings have been flawless away from home this spring. They improved to 7-0 on the road Tuesday night by dominating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-0 in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. The seven straight wins match a single-season record for consecutive road wins last accomplished by the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks.
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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 11:24 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Bracket Challenge Blog

Rangers advance despite lack of firepower

There are two ways to win in the postseason: You can try to outgun your opponent (think Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh in the first round), or you can try to play shutdown defense, get great goaltending and hope to get enough offense.

The New York Rangers have opted for Plan B -- and they're playing it to perfection,

The Rangers survived Game 7 for the second time in as many series by beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Saturday night. It marked the NHL single season-record 14th consecutive playoff game -- every one they've played this spring -- in which the Rangers held the opposition to three goals or less.

Of course, it's not like the Rangers are filling the net. After scoring four times in their playoff opener against Ottawa, the Rangers have gone 13 straight games without getting more than three goals in a game.
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:39 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Coyotes play down underdog staus

The Phoenix Coyotes seemingly are perpetual underdogs. Between their struggles on the ice and their unsettled ownership situation, it's easy to forget that they've made the playoffs three years in a row and are the reigning Pacific Division champions.

The Coyotes earned the third seed in the West this spring by virtue of their division title, and they'll have the home-ice edge for the third series in a row against Los Angeles. It's the third year in a row they've been in the top six in the West -- a fact that Phoenix captain Shane Doan doesn't want people to forget.

"No one seems to mention that two years ago we finished with 107 points and we were three points away from leading the West, and five points away from leading the whole NHL," Doan said during Thursday's conference call with the media. "But no one recognizes that. We got knocked out in seven games by Detroit. Had a couple things go wrong with a couple of injuries in the playoffs that really hurt us. But I think that it's kind of been it's been kind of the next step as we move along, and we want to keep it going."

Coach Dave Tippett doesn't mind having his team labeled the underdog against the Kings -- after all, the Coyotes weren't favored to beat Chicago or Nashville in the first two rounds, and they did.

"Hasn't bothered us much yet, so we'll find where we are," he said of being the underdog. "It was very competitive all year in our division. I think we won the last couple of games of the regular season to get the third seed, which turned out to be very important to us for home ice advantage.

"But our team, I think, a lot of people always view us as a smaller-market team that we're in the hunt, but nobody views us as a contender. I look at our game as kind of evolved [during] the last part of the regular season into the playoffs, where we have the confidence we can beat anybody. We recognize that we'll probably always be looked at as the underdog, but that hasn't changed for us in the last three years. So we're comfortable in that mode."

Tippett said his team benefitted by having to deal with fewer off-ice distractions this season.

"The distractions were less this year," he said. "I thought the NHL did a very good job of keeping it away from us. The thing about last year, we were going through a situation where it looked like there was an owner and then lawsuits, and gold water groups. There was a lot of stuff going on that we didn't have to deal with this year.

"I think ultimately what's happened is we've become very hardened to it. Our group has always used it as a motivating factor, not a crutch. This year as much as it was still around, it seemed less infectious on us."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:21 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings bring back memories of '04 Flames to Sutter

The Los Angeles Kings haven't been this far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1993 -- but their coach has. In fact, Darryl Sutter took Calgary to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 before the Flames came up a goal short against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Sutter was asked during a media conference call on Thursday to compare two of the key players on this year's team, captain Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick, to Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff, their counterparts on the '04 Flames.

Sutter, who has guided the Kings to the Western Conference Finals, noted that Iginla has much better offensive numbers than Brown, but found several other similarities between the two captains.

"The big difference when I went to Calgary with Jarome, Jarome was already a Hart Trophy winner, had won a scoring race, and he had won all the major awards. That is significant," he said. "There is a big difference in terms of Jarome Iginla -- he is a 50-goal scorer over and over. Other than that, in terms of personality and character and what they bring, there are real similarities."

For his part, Brown said Iginla was one of the players he tried to model himself after.

"He's been a top player in this League for quite a few years now," he said. "You look at the goal scoring and all of that with Jarome. But he also brings that mean streak and that physical edge in the way that he plays.

"I probably don't score to the extent that he can score. But a lot of other things that I try to do -- I grew up watching him in my first few years. He was one of those guys that I looked and watched how he played the game because he led by example on the ice, and I think that's probably the best way to do it.

Sutter saw more similarities between Quick and Kiprusoff.

"I think they play a lot the same way in their styles," he said. "It's a little bit different than other guys. Same practice habits -- both have real similar work ethics, both have the same demeanor in the locker room -- but there are real similarities between these two guys."

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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 9:05 PM

By John Kreiser -  NHL.com Columnist /NHL.com - Coyotes vs. Kings series blog

Kings eager to get back to work

The best news the Los Angeles Kings got Thursday was finding out when they'll be going back to work.

The Kings had a long break after beating Vancouver in the first round, then found themselves with another in-season vacation after they completed a sweep of St. Louis in the second round on Sunday. L.A. finally learned on Thursday that its Western Conference Final series against Phoenix will begin Sunday night in Glendale, Ariz. (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

Kings captain Dustin Brown is glad to have a starting date after three days of not knowing when the series would begin. He just wishes it were sooner

"Does it bug me we have to wait till Sunday to play? Definitely I'd rather play today," Brown said during a media conference call. "It's one of those things that just the way the scheduling works with the TV games and trying to put it on national TV, and the East going as long as it is, it's one of those things that is part of getting yourself ready.

"From a playing standpoint, I think if you ask any player in Phoenix or L.A., I think they were probably wishing we were playing tomorrow night."

Coach Darryl Sutter has been careful to walk the fine line between rest and rust for his team.

"We gave everybody two days [off], so that cut into it," he said of the long break. "We've had two days of practice, and I don't think anybody gets stale. Some guys are still very much in recovery mode from injuries, so the more you can get them healthy, the better you are."

The Kings didn't necessarily prefer to play the Coyotes rather than the Nashville Predators, but there is one benefit -- Phoenix is only about 350 miles from L.A.; Nashville is nearly 1,800 miles away.

"Well, I thought that was one of the breaks of playing in the Western Conference. We got a little bit of less travel like the East," Sutter deadpanned when asked about playing what passes for a local rival in the spread-out West. "God bless Los Angeles and Phoenix."

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Quote of the Day

Philadelphia is where I started my NHL career and this is where I want to be so I am really happy. This definitely gives me a lot of confidence by the Flyers showing that they have confidence in me. I know they want to see me get better as a player and this is the place to do it.

— Zac Rinaldo to the Flyers website on signing a two-year contract extension with Philadelphia