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Why the Devils will win: Defense!

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Why the Devils will win: Defense!
Defense never gets old in New Jersey, where the Devils winning the Jennings Trophy is a sign of spring and playoff success.
Are the New Jersey Devils ready for redemption following their early dismissal from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring?

It certainly appears that way. New Jersey locked up the second seed on the final day of the regular season Sunday and are hoping for better results. As the third seed last spring, the Devils were stunned by the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes in seven games. The dagger came at New Jersey in Game 7 when the 'Canes connected for two goals over the final 1:20 of the third period to advance.

The loss sat with the Devils the entire summer, but the club played as if on a mission this season, winning its ninth Atlantic Division title along the way behind 48 wins and 103 points, and allowing the fewest goals in the NHL.

Coach Jacques Lemaire earned a reputation for defense-first while leading the Devils in the mid 1990s. Between 1993-94 through 1997-98, Lemaire's team yielded 2.35 goals per game. In 2009-10, his team allowed 186 goals for a League-low 2.27 per game en route to capturing its fifth William Jennings Trophy.

"The Jennings is not only about a good goalie, but about teamwork," Lemaire said. "The defenseman played great and forwards came back hard, so it's a combination of all the players on the ice."

Lemaire had his team among the conference leaders all season despite the fact he was without Patrik Elias the first month. He was also minus the team's best defenseman in Paul Martin for 59 games and without one of his top energy-line performers in David Clarkson for 36 contests.

Lemaire has given his forwards the green light as well as nine players have scored 10-or-more goals, including Ilya Kovalchuk, who was acquired in a five-player trade with Atlanta on Feb. 4. Elias, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and captain Jamie Langenbrunner have also played huge offensive roles.

And what team possessing a healthy Martin Brodeur wouldn't be considered a prohibitive favorite to take it the distance? Brodeur reached the 40-win mark for the eighth time in his career and led the League with 9 shutouts. He's two playoff wins short of becoming only the second goalie in League history to accumulate 100 Stanley Cup Playoff victories -- Patrick Roy is the other at 151 triumphs. One thing is certain, he's certainly capable of stealing a few games for the Devils when the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders.

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals