The Devils have arrived in the Stanley Cup Final on the backs of many heroes.
Martin Brodeur's goaltending has been spectacular. Coach Peter DeBoer's moves have worked. Ilya Kovalchuk is finding his way onto the scoresheet on a game-by-game basis. Zach Parise is leading by example. Adam Henrique has been, as he said, "Johnny on the spot." The fourth line has been superb. The defense corps is way better than advertised. The forecheck is relentless and aggressive enough to put teams on their heels right from the drop of the puck.
It all has had to work in sync for the Devils to arrive at the championship doorstep, four wins away from raising the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history.
It all has to continue to work in sync if they want to complete the run against the red-hot Los Angeles Kings, who are every bit as talented, every bit as deep, every bit as well-coached, and every bit as relentless.
For the Devils to win the Stanley Cup, here are seven elements to their game that have to go right:
1. Stay marvelous Marty
It seems in these playoffs that Martin Brodeur is a 30-year-old goalie stuck in a 40-year-old's body. He has turned back the clock on his career with a stellar run so far, but he has to stay on point if he wants to get the better of Jonathan Quick like he did of Henrik Lundqvist.
Brodeur, who has 12 wins, a 2.04 goals-against average and .923 save percentage, has a lot going for him right now.
First off, he's been here before, four times in fact. Quick has not. Experience matters when the pressure is on.
Secondly, his legend is strong enough to get into the heads of many shooters, especially when he's making saves and poke checks like he was in the third period of Game 6 against the Rangers.
But, most of all, Brodeur is playing with the confidence he had during the Devils so-called dynasty years from 1995-2003, when they won the Stanley Cup three times and reached the Final four times.
He has to be great for one more series to match his idol, Patrick Roy, with four Stanley Cup championships.
2. Win the fourth line battle
The Devils and Kings look pretty even on paper, but the one area where New Jersey may have a distinct edge is in the fourth line.
Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have been awesome. The Kings fourth line of Colin Fraser, Brad Richardson and Jordan Nolan has been good enough to keep up the forecheck and provide some energy minutes, but the Devils fourth liners are coming off a series in which they scored four goals, including three over the last two games.
With Gionta's speed, Carter's grit and Bernier's skill, they hardly resemble a fourth line. They were able to get up the ice quickly against the Rangers and keep the puck in deep for long stretches of time. There was no dropoff when DeBoer sent them over the boards. He never hesitated either.
The Devils are much better with a much fresher group of top-nine forwards when the fourth line is going well.
3. Score some power play goals
They were a combined 9-for-43 against the Panthers and Flyers, but the Devils power play was only 3-for-23 against the Rangers, though it did look surgical in the first period of Game 6 leading to Ilya Kovalchuk's goal that made it 2-0.
The Kings have been all-world on the penalty kill in the playoffs. In fact, they're even with five power-play goals against in 57 chances and five shorthanded goals for. L.A.'s PK is a huge reason why it needed just 14 games to roll through the first three rounds.
However, the Devils have a whole bunch of skill on their power play with Kovalchuk, Parise, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, Adam Henrique, Dainius Zubrus, Patrik Elias, Marek Zidlicky and Peter Harrold. They can win the series with a strong power play.
4. Stay aggressive
The Devils and Kings are almost mirror images of each other in the way they want to attack with a strong forecheck. They both like to roll four lines and allow their defensemen to jump into the play.
It certainly seems that the team that does it best will have a major edge in the series. The Devils are capable of shoving the Kings game right back in their faces, but they have to keep it up for 60 minutes like they did against the Flyers and for some of the games against the Rangers.
The problem is in Games 5 and 6, when they got a multi-goal lead, the Devils were not able to sustain their pressure. It wasn't for lack of trying, because they admittedly were not trying to sit back, but they struggled to complete passes in the neutral zone and that led to turnovers. They were then stuck in their defensive zone and at times had to ice the puck just to get a whistle.
The Kings are more dangerous than the Rangers when it comes to pressure and sustained offense. New Jersey has to flip it on L.A.
5. Win the first period
This goes along with staying aggressive, but it really means start aggressive. The Devils have done a good job of that in these playoffs, outscoring the opposition by a combined 23-9 in the first period. The problem is they have been outscored 33-28 in the minutes played after the first period, including 13-7 by the Rangers and 14-10 by the Panthers.
They were still able to win both of those series because they gave themselves a chance with a strong start. That has been a key to this entire run for New Jersey. Ironically, they were only a plus-2 in the first period against the Flyers (7-5), but the countered that by being a plus-5 after (11-6) and they won the series in five games.
The Devils have to find the balance to play a full 60 against the Kings, who are winning every period, including a 14-7 advantage over their first three opponents in the first period.
There's no guarantee that the team that wins the first period in this series will win the Stanley Cup, but it's just another huge part of the chess match that is expected to play out starting Wednesday. Both teams have been superior first-period teams; the Devils can't give up that edge.
6. Respect Quick, but not too much
Quick is a world-class goalie. He has jumped up in class this season and should now be considered either the best or one of the best in the NHL. The Devils know that and they realize how good he is, but their admiration has to stop right there.
If the Devils get caught in awe of Quick, who has dazzled in the playoffs with a 12-2 record, 1.54 GAA and .946 save percentage, they will be beaten.
Quick hasn't shown many holes in his game, but it's up to the Devils to find some. They are there. He hasn't been perfect.
7. Keep the Kings' power play down
The Devils were the best penalty-killing team in the NHL during the regular season with an 89.6-percent success rate. They haven't been nearly as effective in the playoffs (74.2 percent), but they've got a chance against L.A. to bring that number up. If they can't do it, winning this series is going to be very difficult.
Los Angeles has survived to win 12 of 14 games in the postseason despite a power play that has connected for only six goals on 74 chances (8.1 percent). They were 3-for-26 against Vancouver, and won the series in five games. The Kings were 1-for-21 against the Blues, who they swept in four. The power play went 2-for-27 in the five-game series win over the Coyotes.
This has been a lifeless power play, but the Devils have to know it has weapons in Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams. Those weapons could go off at any time and the Kings could find paydirt on the power play, which would only make them an even more dangerous opponent.
They're dangerous enough in New Jersey's eyes. The Devils can't let L.A. find its way on the power play in the Stanley Cup Final.