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Shanahan confident of a Devils turnaround

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Shanahan said Devils will try to simplify their game. – Brendan Shanahan has seen late-season struggles turn into the happiest of endings.

Back in 2002, the veteran Devils forward was an important part of the Detroit Red Wings, who won 51 games in the regular season before going on to beat Carolina for their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.

But the run to the championship didn’t come without some bumps in the road.

After clinching the President’s Trophy for the most points, the Wings stumbled as the playoffs approached. They went winless in the final seven games of the regular season, losing five times and tying twice.

“I remember us being very upset about it – it wasn’t like we didn’t care,” Shanahan said. “But the same way that you can get on a roll with wins, you can get on a roll with losses. It’s why you have to eliminate bad habits right away.”

The slump continued into the postseason with Detroit dropping the first two games of their first-round matchup with Vancouver on home ice.

“We were making uncharacteristic mistakes,” said Shanahan, who won three times in Detroit. “It was the same group, the same attitude, but it just goes to show that regardless of how talented or how experienced you are, your game dips a little bit. That can sometimes be enough to have a crack in the confidence of the psyche of a team, but I don’t think it’s unusual to go through things like that. The difference between the champion teams and the teams that don’t win is how you deal with it.”

Down 2-0 in the series, the Red Wings responded on the road. Tied, 1-1, in Game 3, Nicklas Lidstrom’s slapshot from the red line beat Dan Cloutier in the dying moments of the second period. Shanahan was on the ice to celebrate a goal he said “destroyed the psyche” of the Vancouver goaltender.

Dominik Hasek stopped Todd Bertuzzi's penalty shot late in regulation, and the Wings were on their way.

“We went on to win the game and really didn’t have a close game with them after that,” Shanahan said.

With the Devils mired in a six-game winless streak, Shanahan notices some similarities between his current team and the ‘02 Detroit squad that hiccuped down the homestretch.

"Every winning team that I’ve ever been on went through moments during the season of total adversity,” he said. “That’s why I feel confident about this group. When I look across the room all I see are warriors and gamers. If we handle this the right way, we’ll be a better team for it.”

New Jersey hopes to snap out of its funk Friday against visiting Tampa Bay. The Devils have clinched a playoff berth, but look for a strong finish to secure the highest conference seed possible.

Wednesday’s 6-1 loss at Pittsburgh moved the Penguins into a tie with Philadelphia for second place in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the Devils. New Jersey trails Washington by three points for second in the Eastern Conference with five games to play.

Winless since Martin Brodeur recorded his 553rd career victory against Minnesota on March 20, the Devils have been outscored 22-7 during their current swoon and have allowed 164 shots in the last four games.

“Regardless of what your stature is in the League – whether you’re one of the best players or a role player – as individuals and as a team you go back to basics and simplify your game,” Shanahan said. “You go back to basics: take care of your own net. If you take care of the basics of your game, it’s funny how the other things come. I believe we’ll do that. We’re flailing a little bit here, I think, though, as a group we’ll settle down and get back to what our identity is.”

The Devils’ dressing room is loaded with seasoned veterans who have excelled in pressure situations. Brodeur, himself a three-time Cup winner, is complemented by Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Bobby Holik, John Madden, Jay Pandolfo, Brian Rolston, Mike Rupp, Colin White and captain Jamie Langenbrunner, each of whom has won in New Jersey.

To Shanahan, that’s what gives the Devils a solid foundation for quickly moving back into the wins column.

“It’s invaluable to have gone through situations like that and to know what to do and know the difference between urgency and panic – but you still have to do it,” Shanahan said. “Having done it in the past doesn’t mean anything unless you do it in the present.”

Patrik Elias, who missed Wednesday's game with lower body soreness, did not practice Thursday and is not expected play Friday versus Tampa. ... Head coach Brent Sutter said Kevin Weekes will get the nod in goal against the Lightning, and Brodeur will start Saturday in Buffalo.

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