New Jersey Devils
forward Zach Parise
believes special teams will ultimately determine a winner and loser in the opening-round series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers
"I think it'll come down to power-play and special teams," Parise told NHL Live! Tuesday. "We did a really good job of being disciplined this year and were one of the least penalized teams in the League. So if our penalty-killing can remain good and we can convert on the man advantage, that would make a difference."
New Jersey was whistled for the third-fewest penalties in the League (319), including 264 minors. Nashville (302) and Detroit (318) ranked first and second, respectively. The Flyers, meanwhile, not only led the League in penalties (496), but majors (80) too.
To a man, no player on the Devils can seem to pinpoint what went wrong against the Flyers during the regular season though. The Flyers not only dominated the series by winning five of the six games, including three straight in the second half of the season, but had the better power-play efficiency (23.5 percent to 15.6 percent) and penalty-kill percentage (84.4 to 76.5) over the six meetings.
"It was just one of those small things where teams match up differently," Parise said. "Why did we beat Pittsburgh six times? It's one of those things where a team just matches up well against an opponent, but I think we're playing a lot better now. For a chunk of those games (against the Flyers), we didn't have Paul (Martin) or Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk
), so I think we're a little bit of a different team right now."
Martin, the Devils' top defenseman who missed 59 games with a non-displaced fracture in his left forearm, played in just two games against the Flyers and finished with no points and a minus-2 rating. Kovalchuk faced the Flyers three times following his trade from Atlanta in February, notching 1 goal and a minus-1 rating.
Hockey prognosticators around the globe have labeled this best-of-7 series, which opens with Game 1 at Prudential Center in New Jersey Wednesday, as the ultimate slugfest between two division rivals. Parise won't dispute that forecast.
"That's the type of game that Philly plays and we always have tight-checking games and sometimes dirty games with them," Parise said. "You expect that going into a series against them. They play hard. They're tough and are physical so you have to be prepared for it. Sometimes they can get a few penalties and we have to make sure our power-play is working and take advantage of that if they do wind up in the box."
Parise said the Devils are eager to return to playoff form and advance beyond the first round since 2007. On top of that, future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur
, who finished 1-4-1 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .847 save percentage against Philadelphia this season, is also chomping at the bit.
"I'm sure (Brodeur) is as is everyone else," Parise said. "Marty is a competitive guy and there's a reason why he's set every goaltending record there is. The Devils are so used to winning, but it hasn't been like that lately in the postseason, especially after last season's loss (to Carolina). I think everybody came back with a bigger chip on their shoulder and we want to prove something."
When former coach Brent Sutter
left for Calgary in the off-season, Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello made certain to reel in one of the League's finest postseason commanders in Jacques Lemaire
. Lemaire enters the 2010 Playoffs with the most experience of any coach working the bench in terms of games (112) and victories (60).
"He knows so much about the game, but the biggest thing I've noticed are the adjustments he makes during games," Parise praised. "That hadn't been the case for a little while because we were so concerned about how we wanted to play. At times, you play against different teams that adjust to how you're playing, so it makes it a little tougher. I think Jacques has really done a good job of teaching us -- he makes the game so much simpler and you learn to play a lot smarter."
Parise feels last year's seven-game setback to the Hurricanes is now a thing of the past.
"I think we were guilty of not switching things up from time to time last year during the course of a game," Parise said. "It seemed like every game something would work and then the next game, Carolina would adjust and it wouldn't work for us anymore. I don't think we made the proper adjustments, whereas Jacques is really the perfect guy for that type of situation."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com