During his 11 NHL seasons and 692 games, the Devils' Bryce Salvador has developed a well-earned reputation as a rugged defenseman who is willing to pound forwards, block shots and do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of his net.
It's taken 23 games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs to get people to start looking at him in a different light.
Salvador struck for his fourth goal of the postseason Saturday night -- the game-winner -- as the Devils fought off elimination for the second game in a row by defeating the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 at Prudential Center to force Game 6 on Monday night at Staples Center. The Kings lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.
At no point during his career did Salvador register more than 16 points in the regular season. During this postseason, he has 4 goals and 10 assists after posting zero goals and nine assists in 82 regular-season games. His 14 points are tied for most among defensemen in the playoffs along with the Kings' Drew Doughty and have him tied for eighth in overall scoring.
"I went 82 games without scoring, so any goal I can take, I'm taking it," Salvador said while cracking a smile. "I think whenever you can contribute on the score sheet, you enjoy it."
Salvador's second period goal that snapped a 1-1 deadlock had equal amounts of luck and skill.
The Devils were applying pressure and beating the Kings to loose pucks during a shift in which forwards Travis Zajac, Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson were in such thorough control with their cycle they were able to make a partial line change to get Adam Henrique on the ice to replace Zajac.
The puck eventually came to Salvador, who had Kings forward Jordan Nolan smack-dab in the middle of his shooting lane. Salvador showed the skill of a Nicklas Lidstrom, faking a wrist shot to get Nolan out of position, then benefited from some luck in front of the net when the puck bounced off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and past goaltender Jonathan Quick for the deciding goal.
"I kind of faked a shot there and bought some time," Salvador said. "I think it went off 16 people and it went in. Clarky did a great job by going to the net and creating a screen, and Poni made a great play bringing it up and passing it across. There's a lot of things that went right on that shift and we got rewarded for it."
That patience at the blue line with the puck has become a trademark for Salvador during the postseason. He has 29 shots on goal, many coming from the point after he has been able to miss an onrushing defender with either a delayed shot or a move to get the opponent out of the line of fire.
"That's something that he's really kind of mastered here over the last month of the playoffs," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's had great composure back there for us, getting shots through. We wouldn't be here without him."
Salvador's ability to remain patient was something he showed during the 2010-11 season, one he missed entirely because of a concussion. Teammate and captain Zach Parise, who missed 69 games with a knee injury, went through a similar experience last season as both players sat and watched the Devils miss the postseason for the first time since 1996.
The extended absence has made this trip to the Cup Final even sweeter for Salvador.
"It's definitely a great feeling," Salvador said. "Zach and I joke about it -- this time last year we were worried about tying our shoes up and trying to get into shape. We trained together in the summer, after both missing the season. I think being here is a goal of both of ours. A year ago, we were seeing if we could run on the track and get back on the ice. It's been a great experience. It's one of those things that you enjoy because the team's having success."
The offensive outburst hasn't done anything to take the edge of Salvador's defensive game. He's averaging 22:28 of ice time per game -- second-most among Devils defensemen -- and is plus-10. Salvador leads the team's blueliners in hits (51) and is second in blocked shots (33). With the Devils protecting a one-goal lead, Salvador spent the final 1:36 of Game 5 on the ice with the Kings playing with an extra attacker after pulling Quick.
There's nothing Salvador hasn't done for the Devils in the postseason, and he's a major reason the Kings suffered their first road loss of the playoffs Saturday night.
"It's pretty impressive," Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "We're looking for him to score a goal all year, so he peaked at the right time, if you ask me. I think it's great. I think it's well-deserved, especially where he came from with spending a whole year on the sidelines not playing. To be able to come back and have the season he's got, the playoffs he's got, it's a credit to get himself in the best shape he can be and well-prepared."
"He's been playing great for us," Parise said. "We know when the game is on the line, we need to protect a lead, he's going to be out there for us. We all trust what he does, and that's important."
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Author: Dave Lozo | NHL.com Staff Writer