WEST ORANGE, N.J. (AP) -New Jersey Devils defenseman Richard Matvichuk is certainly making up for lost time in the playoffs.
After missing all but the final game of the regular season while coming back from offseason back surgery, Matvichuk took over for an injured Colin White in Game 3 against Tampa Bay and was one of the big reasons the Devils got by the Lightning in six games in the first round.
Sure goaltender Martin Brodeur shut down the Lightning in the final two games, but Matvichuk played a big part.
The 14-year veteran played against Tampa Bay's top line of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal, and he helped stop them from scoring in the final two games.
"I feel great," Matvichuk said Tuesday after the Devils practiced at the Codey Arena for their second-round series with the Ottawa Senators, which starts in New Jersey on Thursday. "I feel like a little kid in a candy store right now. I am just excited to be able to play and keep going. Knock on wood. Everything has been great."
It's been totally unexpected, too.
Matvichuk didn't play in the opening two games of the series against the Lightning, and he only got the call after White hurt his back.
"His experience, toughness and physical play around the net changed our approach," Brodeur said of Matvichuk. "We got more aggressive. He battled on the puck. He knows one way. A long time ago, clutching and grabbing was the way. He's not doing that, but he has that mentality to go after guys and challenge them."
One statistic that will back that up is shots blocked. Matvichuk blocked 24 in the final four games against Tampa Bay. The next closest Devil was defenseman Brad Lukowich with 10.
Matvichuk also showed remarkable stamina. Defenseman partner Paul Martin led the Devils with an average of 25 minutes, 38 seconds of playing time. Matvichuk was second at 22:44.
"I don't think anyone has gone through a situation such as that, where you play the last game of the season and then you get thrown in arguably against one of the best players in the world," Lukowich said. "He did an amazing job. He did what he has always done - blocked shots, stayed out of the box, aggravated guys and played his role to the T."
Devils coach and general manager Lou Lamoriello wasn't surprised. He remembers the 2000 Stanley Cup finals when Matvichuk played for Dallas. Every time the Devils' top line of Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora stepped on the ice Matvichuk followed.
"I remember when he was in Dallas," Devils center John Madden said. "He was one of those guys who made you pay a price when you went to the front of the net or when you went to the corner. Back then, you could get away with a lot more, so to speak, but he has figured it out."
The 34-year-old Matvichuk downplays the praise, noting that Madden's checking line and Brodeur have made him look good many times by covering up for his mistakes.
The job will be tougher against the Senators, a team that is deeper than the Lightning.
Matvichuk and Martin, who grew up in Minnesota watching Matvichuk play for the North Stars, probably will draw the assignment against Ottawa's No. 1 line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.
"Matty's a professional," Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner said. "He kept a good attitude all year. He worked hard and got ready to play. He knows how to play this game. It's nothing fancy. He does what has to be done against the No. 1 line. He's played against those types of players his whole career."
Notes: White skated before the Devils practiced on Tuesday. Lamoriello said the team will see how he feels on Wednesday. ... Elias has had a cold the past few days and did not practice.