After a rare one-year hiatus, the New Jersey Devils
are back where they usually are every April -- in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
New Jersey became the sixth team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a playoff berth with Saturday night's 5-0 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes
at PNC Arena. How did the Devils do it? We can think of at least six reasons:
1. Clarkson's breakout season: We always knew David Clarkson
was a rugged forward who was capable of scoring 15-to-20 goals. But 30? After scoring 12 times in 82 games in 2010-11, Clarkson reached the 30-goal plateau in the opening period of Saturday's victory. He has played a huge role in New Jersey's success, with 23 of his tallies coming at even strength.
2. Henrique's a top rookie: Nobody could have expected what Adam Henrique
has been able to accomplish as a 22-year-old rookie. Henrique certainly helped fill the void left by Travis Zajac
's injury, as he has 16 goals (four shorthanded) and 34 assists in 71 games. Used in all situations, Henrique is primed to be a very good player in the Garden State for a long time.
3. Kovalchuk is "Mr. Consistency": You always expect production from Ilya Kovalchuk
, and this season hasn't been any different. The superstar forward reached the 30-goal plateau for the ninth consecutive season and has been a leader for the Devils on and off the ice. Fans don't have to worry about Kovalchuk playing for another team anytime soon -- he's signed in New Jersey through the 2024-25 season.
4. Marty's Marty: Ilya Kovalchuk
isn't the one who brings consistency to the Devils' lineup. Martin Brodeur
is in the midst of yet another tremendous season, as he earned his 29th victory of the season Saturday night. The 39-year-old entered the game with a 2.48 goals-against average and .905 save percentage and is now one win shy of reaching the 30-win plateau for the 14th time.
5. Balanced attack: When Petr Sykora
assisted on Kovalchuk's second-period goal Saturday night, he became the seventh player on the roster to reach 40 points. It's the balanced attack that Peter DeBoer
has established that has allowed New Jersey to get back into the postseason.
6. Leadership: The Devils' core is comprised of some of the best people in the sport. Zach Parise
, the team's captain, is as good as they come. Both alternate captains -- Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias
-- are widely respected throughout the League. Add in the likes of Brodeur and Clarkson, the Devils have one of the stronger dressing rooms in the League.
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL