‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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Don’t allow the ugly moments or the heated exchange between John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer distract you from what the Devils accomplished in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
For the second consecutive game, the New Jersey Devils dominated puck possession and spent long stretches pining the Rangers deep within their own end.
A worrying sign for the Blueshirts, but the reason why the Devils are beaming with confidence.
The Devils should have won Game 3 based upon the number of chances they generated but weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities. Game 4 was an entirely different story as the Devils’ came away with a 4-1 victory and evened the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2.
Much of that credit belongs to Devils’ head coach Peter DeBoer who discovered the right formula.
DeBoer shuffled the Devils’ lines and struck gold with his new combinations. He moved Dainius Zubrus onto the Travis Zajac-Zach Parise line, switched Patrik Elias from center to left wing and matched him up with Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk, and inserted Jacob Josefson in place of Petr Sykora.
Henrique believes DeBoer’s alterations gave the Devils the spark they needed to win Game 4 and spoke of the confidence he and his teammates have in one another no matter what line combinations DeBoer sends out.
“You try to find a spark and it paid off and it worked today. It felt like everybody played well. Everybody is battling for each other. He’s rolling all four lines, he can trust all four lines out there which is big for us. We’ll keep moving forward. Whatever the lines are, we’re a confident group,” he explained to me beside his locker following Game 4.
Henrique also credited the Devils’ front office particularly General Manager Lou Lamoriello for assembling a deep, well-balanced roster. The trade acquisitions of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Marek Zidlicky and late season call-up of Stephen Gionta have complimented the Devils’ core and cemented their depth.
“Management made some good moves there, bringing in the right guys and the right pieces. You need to have a deep team in order to go far. They brought in the right guys and everybody is stepping up at the right time,” Henrique stated.
For Henrique and his teammates, the return of a healthy and productive Travis Zajac was better than any acquisition for a centerman that the Devils could have pulled off at the trade deadline.
“Getting Travis back was probably ‘the best trade deadline acquisition’ we could’ve made,” he said.
“To see him come back finally and be healthy and be playing as well as he has been down the stretch for us was huge. It enabled us to get deeper as a team and everybody’s clicking right now.”
Before Game 4, Zach Parise was having a difficult series. Parise and Zajac found new life with Zubrus inserted on the right wing. Previously during the Eastern Conference Finals, Parise was a minus-4 with 1 point while Zajac was a minus-2 with no points.
Parise recorded three points in Game 4 and Zajac gave the Devils’ a crucial 2-0 advantage going into the first intermission with his first period goal.
During the Devils’ post-game press conference, I asked Parise about the success of the new-look lines and the Devils’ strength in depth.
“I think Travis and I have played well with Zubie before. So, I think they’re comfortable putting us three together. Everyone knows how well Patty’s played on the wing in the past and we’ve
needed him to play center. He’s done a great job there, too,” he replied.
Parise continued, “We’ve got a lot of guys that can play with different players, really important is the way our third and fourth line has played. It’s been a big part of why we’re still playing right now. They’ve scored timely goals and they’ve been great for us.”
Whether it’s the fourth line or the first line producing, the Devils proved they’re a flexible group that DeBoer can swap around with the confidence they can play together.
‘The Triple Z Line’ (Zach-Zajac-Zubrus) led the way and displayed instant chemistry in Game 4. Henrique remembered watching their first period goal unfold from the penalty box after he wrestled with Rangers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
“I had a good view from the box,” Henrique joked. “Zubrus made a good play at the blue line chipping it in and then Zach jumped by Del Zotto. He made a great pass and obviously, Travis buried it. It was a huge goal for us at the time to get up by two.”
“Everybody just fed off the energy and kept moving forward,” Henrique concluded.
Are the Devils’ biggest strengths their top-to-bottom depth and roster flexibility? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.