From Zach Parise to Ilya Kovalchuk to Martin Brodeur to David Clarkson, there have been a myriad of leading men in the New Jersey Devils’ run to the National Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Final.
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But from the team’s perspective, there is an unsung component to their success:
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
“He’s been really important, No. 1 with the power play. He’s done a really good job on the power play and moving the puck,” Parise said of the defenseman in a conference call Thursday afternoon. “He’s been great.
“His skating ability, his patience with the puck has really helped us out a lot up front and kept plays alive. He makes a great first outlet pass. That was a really good acquisition for us that really gave us a new attack and a new dynamic that we were somewhat lacking,” Parise added.
New Jersey ranks fourth with a 19.1 percent success rating on the power play during the playoffs. Zidlicky is tied for second on the Devils with four power-play points with Parise and Travis Zajac. Overall, Zidlicky is tied with Dainius Zubrus tied for fifth on the team with seven points apiece. Both are also tied for sixth on the team with plus-three ratings.
Zidlicky was credited with a secondary assist on Kovalchuk’s game-opening power-play goal in the Devils’ 3-2 win in Game 2 against the New York Rangers that tied the series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
“Tough to really identify how important it is adding a No. 1, No. 2 defenseman to your lineup at a critical time of the year. He’s been invaluable. We wouldn’t be here without him. I think it was a great trade that [GM] Lou [Lamoriello] made identifying him, and paying the price to go get him. It looked like a heavy price to pay, but he’s been worth every bit and more,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said of Zidlicky.
The Devils acquired Zidlicky from Minnesota on Feb. 24 for two draft picks, Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux and Kurtis Foster. The trade was expected as Zidlicky had publicly criticized Wild coach Mike Yeo for scratching him for three straight games in January.
“Foster gave us good minutes. He helped our power play and did some good things," DeBoer said. "The thing about Zidlicky is he’s multi-dimensional. He’s not just offensive or a power-play guy. This guy can do a little bit of everything. He plays in your top two. He can play 25 minutes a game. He can play against top players in the league and defend and compete in the zone end, and he can also run your power play. There are only a handful of those guys in the league.”
Foster totaled 14 points and a minus-13 rating in 51 games with Anaheim, the Devils and the Wild. Twelve of Foster’s 14 points were recorded during his 28-game tenure in New Jersey.
Yet despite Foster possessing one of the hardest shots in the league, he was expendable due to Ilya Kovalchuk playing the left point on the power play and the Devils’ need for a power-play quarterback.
The addition sparked New Jersey’s power play. The Devils finished the regular season ranked 14th in the league with a 17.2 percent success rate. New Jersey went 13-for-54 in the in the 22 regular season games Zidlicky skated for New Jersey. Five of his eight points as a Devil came on the man advantage.
It was not just the power play where the Devils were strengthened with the acquisition. New Jersey’s defense corps began jumping into the play on the offensive end with more regularity. Offensive sequences that had ended with pucks clearing the offensive zone earlier in the season had become series in which the Devils were able sustain their forecheck and cycling game.
“I think once our ‘D’ started to be allowed to do that and get jumping in the play and getting involved in the offense, it opens things up for everybody. It opens up second opportunities,” Parise said. “You’re allowed to get more offensive zone time, and they’ve done a great job the whole playoffs of keeping pucks alive and keeping cycles going. Really hemming teams in their zone with how well they’ve been pinching. I mean, from a forward standpoint, it’s kind of a relief to get those ‘D’ men involved. It just makes life a lot easier.”
Which could lead the Devils to the franchise’s fourth Cup.
NOTES: The Rangers and Delta announced that the airline will fly 80 fans from New York to Newark on Saturday for Game 3. … John Tortorella said there were “not many” positives from the Game 2 loss during his conference call with reporters.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman