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Unlikely contributors fueling Devils' playoff ride

Wednesday, 05.23.2012 / 11:45 PM

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

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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).

An even more surprising offensive contributor is defenseman Bryce Salvador, whose first-period assist on Wednesday gives him 11 points -- tying him for the most points among blueliners in the playoffs. What's so amazing about that? Consider than the 11 points in 17 playoff games are two more than Salvador had in 82 regular-season games. He has 21 shots on goal in the playoffs after managing only 52 during the season.

Zajac's back -- The return of center Travis Zajac has also been a major boost for the Devils. Zajac missed most of the regular season while dealing with the effects of offseason Achilles tendon surgery and had just two goals and six points while playing only 15 games. But he shares the team lead in playoff goals after scoring his seventh on Wednesday night -- and those come after he managed only three goals in his first 28 career playoff games.

Travis Zajac
Center - NJD
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 12
SOG: 37 | +/-: 0
Sorry, wrong number -- Zajac's goal was one of four shots to beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist -- marking the first time in 19 games this spring that he allowed more than three goals in a single game.
Lundqvist allowed four goals on just 16 shots (New Jersey's final goal went into an empty net). The .750 save percentage was the second-worst of his career in a playoff game -- he allowed five goals on 17 shots (.706) in Game 3 of the second round against Pittsburgh in 2008, stopping just 12 of 17 shots. The Rangers hope Lundqvist bounces back this time like he did four years ago, when he followed that loss with a 29-save shutout.

They'll have to make history -- It's hard enough to overcome a 3-2 lead to win a postseason series, especially when you're playing Game 6 on the road. But to get to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, the New York Rangers will have to become the first team ever to win three straight Game 7s in the same year.

Not only that -- the Rangers will need to win a Game 6 on the road for the second time this year. They did it in the opening round, beating the Senators 3-2 in Ottawa before winning Game 7 at home. They also beat Washington in Game 7 of the second round at Madison Square Garden -- and hope they'll have the chance to get the chance to make history with another Game 7 win on Sunday night.

Winning Game 6 at Newark won't be easy, but in this case, the Rangers have a little history on their side. Friday is the 18th anniversary of one of the most famous wins in Rangers history -- the famous Mark Messier "guarantee game" that saw Messier score a hat trick to rally his team to a 4-2 win in Game 6 of the conference finals, a win that also came after New York lost Game 5 at home.

History is against either the Rangers or Devils beating Los Angeles in the Final. Since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format for all rounds of the playoffs in 1987, just six teams have won the Cup after playing as many as 18 games in the first three rounds -- no one has done it playing more. If New Jersey closes out the series in Game 6, they'll have played 18 games to get to the Final; the Rangers will need 21 to get there.
Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie