NHL-Stanley Cup-bound Devils revel in underdog role

Reuters

Mon, 28 May 22:48:00 2012

Success has done little to change the perception of the National Hockey League's (NHL) New Jersey Devils.

Since the turn of the new millennium, few teams have enjoyed as much success as the Devils, yet they remain one of the most underrated and least celebrated franchises in the league.

Part of it is geography, part of it history.

Living in the shadows of their cross-river rivals from New York, the less fashionable Devils have always been treated as the Rangers' kid brother, although their on-ice performance paints a different picture.

While the Rangers have won just one Stanley Cup since 1940 and not made a final since their triumph in 1994, the Devils have been steadily chalking them up.

They won their first in 1995, then again in 2000 and 2003. They also made the final in 2001 and return this season after beating the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup final with the Los Angeles Kings.

It was regarded as a surprise, and with some reason. The Rangers were the top-ranked team in the East while the Devils, back in the playoffs after missing out last year for the first time since 1996, were seeded sixth.

"Tradition in an organization is very important," Devils head coach Peter DeBoer said.

"When you walk in our dressing room and see the pictures of the previous Stanley Cup champions and where you want to get to, and the tradition of winning that's been carried through in the organization, I think that's very important."

For the Devils, who have grown accustomed to their underdog status, it was business as usual, although it has not always been that way.

It has only been in the last 20 years that they emerged as a powerhouse. Before that, they were a struggling, nomadic team. They started in Kansas City in 1974 but moved to Colorado two years later and then to New Jersey in 1982.

Their early results offered few clues of what was to come. Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky once called the Devils a "Mickey Mouse organization" during his eight-year stint with the Los Angeles Kings.

The Great One, who retired in 1999, led the Kings to the Stanley Cup in 1993 but they lost and the team are now making only their second appearance in the final.

The role of perennial underdogs has served the Devils well in the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, they came back from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Florida Panthers in seven games, including overtime wins in the final two games.

After dropping the first game in their second round series versus the Philadelphia Flyers, the Devils won four consecutive games to prevail 4-1, then against the Rangers they won the last three games, including the clincher in overtime, to advance.

"It feels great to get to where we are," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We have still got a lot of work ahead of us but we've put ourselves in a pretty good position and we've got a chance."

Along with Ilya Kovalchuk, who plays on a different line, Parise is one of the leading forwards while Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky have been their most effective defenders.

But the heart and the soul of the team is evergreen goalie Martin Brodeur, who will appear in his fifth Stanley Cup final.

He turned 40 during the playoffs but has been an inspiration at the back for his younger teammates and holds the key to their chances of winning another championship.

"Every team writes their own stories," said Brodeur, who is the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts.

"I was fortunate to be part of great teams that had success, and I was part of great teams that didn't have success. Right now, we're having a lot of fun doing what we're doing."

 

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