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Devils can relate to feat Ducks are trying to pull off

Friday, 02.17.2012 / 2:59 PM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

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Devils can relate to feat Ducks are trying to pull off
After nearly overcoming a 27-point deficit in the playoff race last season, the Devils can relate to the Ducks' recent climb in the West.
NEWARK, N.J. -- There's something eerily familiar going on with the Anaheim Ducks these days that players from the New Jersey Devils can appreciate.
That includes a sudden surge up the conference standings following a change in coaches.
The Devils were 9-22-2 and sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference by the time December rolled around last season, when general manager Lou Lamoriello rang Jacques Lemaire and asked his old buddy to step in behind the bench.


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Lemaire did, but despite guiding the club to a 29-17-3 mark after taking over on Dec. 23, it just wasn't enough in the end as the Devils would ultimately miss out on qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons.
They'd fall 12 points short of the eighth and final playoff spot in Eastern Conference -- the team was 27 points behind the eighth seed on Jan. 9, 2011 and cut the deficit to six points as late as March 19 before fading.
"Jacques mentioned in meetings that he wanted us to feel good about what we were doing out there," Devils forward Dainius Zubrus told "Instead of just coming to the rink, being mad at each other, he wanted us to get back to a happy place and it worked. The practices were more fun and, of course, winning helps everything. But that mentality showed on the ice."
This season, a similar scenario is brewing out on the opposite coast. When Bruce Boudreau stepped on the ice for his first practice as Anaheim coach last Dec. 2, he was taking over a team that had seven wins in 25 games and was 10 points out of a playoff spot.
While Anaheim adjusted to Boudreau's style early on, the struggles continued as the club dropped 20 points out of playoff spot on Jan. 6. But incredibly, the Ducks enter Friday's game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center just eight points behind eighth-place Los Angeles.
"We had lost confidence and didn't believe in ourselves," Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa said. "Even when Bruce came in, we still lost and were down on ourselves. But he came in every day and told us, 'Boys, keep your heads up and be positive.' We did that, and it started clicking. We were winning and then everyone's confidence rose."
And just like that, presto!
"I think it's your pride too," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "The way [last] season was going for us, we needed to come back and start playing the way the Devils play. This is an organization that everyone knows is competitive every year, but that was rough last season. I think going into this year we learned a lot from it, but [Anaheim] is in a similar situation. They're playing some good hockey and it's a scary team to play against … those top two lines can play."
Winning has suddenly been contagious in Anaheim -- the club is 3-0-1 on its current eight-game road swing and 5-0-2 in its last seven. The Ducks are 14-2-3 in their last 19 games under Boudreau -- only the Detroit Red Wings have earned as many points (31) as the Ducks in 2012. Anaheim's plus-20 goal differential is tops in the league since the start of the new year as well.
Ducks forward Rod Pelley was part of the Devils' turnaround last season, before being traded to Anaheim this past December.
Jonas Hiller and the Anaheim Ducks storm into New Jersey after capturing their third straight road win Wednesday in the Steel City. (Photo: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
"It's pretty amazing how similar these turnarounds have been," Pelley said. "I thought about it a few different times. It's a can't-afford-to-lose-many-games type of thing. We've been talking about the similarities in coaching styles between Bruce and Jacques, and wondering if they ever talked about it because they're pretty similar in how they approached it. It's pretty cool to see that two different coaches can get their groups to buy into a turnaround like this."
The odds of the Ducks accomplishing what the Devils couldn't do might be a tad more realistic since their lineup, at this stage in the season, appears to be in better health. When the Devils were riding their wave of emotion last season down the stretch, they did so without the services of Zach Parise, who was lost for all but 13 games because of knee surgery.
"It basically comes down to the fact you've got some proud men who are great players that are basically saying, 'We're not happy about where we are and we're going to fix this,'" Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "When you have your best players playing their best, that's a huge key in this League."
Boudreau, the eighth head coach in Anaheim history, is 17-11-5 since taking over behind the bench. It's certainly not uncommon ground for Boudreau, who went 37-17-7 in his first season with the Washington Capitals en route to a postseason berth in 2007-08. Boudreau took over that team with the Caps in last place.
"Probably the biggest change was that they believed," Boudreau said. "You go through changes as far as confidence levels, and they feel when they step on the ice they have a chance to win now. When you start losing, you feel everything is happening negatively and now they think things will happen positively."
Does the coach feel as though his team can pull it off?
"We're still so far out of it, no one really cares … I hope," he said.
The sudden turnaround has also reinvigorated 41-year-old Teemu Selanne, who leads the team with 52 points.
"Bruce has a nice way to approach things … even negative things," Selanne said. "Everything is about confidence and when you feel the confidence from the players, good things happen. We still have a long road to go, but everyone in this room and the coaching staff believe we can do it."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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