Proud GM Lamoriello lauds Devils after Round 2 win

A day after making the Eastern Conference finals for the first

time since 2003, New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello

was in a good mood.

The long-time executive of a team that boasts 10 division titles

and four conference championships was proud of his team and staff

Wednesday, very proud. After missing the playoffs a year ago for

the first time since 1996, New Jersey is back where many believe it

belongs: Two rounds away from a fourth Stanley Cup.

It knocked off Florida in seven games in the opening round and

then totally outplayed Philadelphia in the second round in five

games, wrapping up the series with a 3-1 win Tuesday night.

The Devils are now awaiting the winner of the Capitals-Rangers

series, which New York led, 3-2, prior to Game 6 in Washington on

Wednesday night.

The players had the day off Wednesday after the win. But the

driven Lamoriello – surprise, surprise – was working the day after

New Jersey made hockey’s Final Four for the first time since

“Finding Nemo” was in theaters.

“We felt like we had a couple of teams in between that had the

ability to do that and didn’t get it done,” Lamoriello said in a

telephone interview. “That’s the most important thing you always

impress upon everyone – how difficult it is today to get here. With

the parity, there are 30 teams competing to get here and this group

today should feel real good about themselves and what they have

accomplished.”

In some ways, the Devils looked very much like their

championships teams against the Flyers. They bottled Philadelphia

in their own end with an aggressive forecheck and showed why they

had the best regular-season penalty-killing unit in the league,

giving up three goals in 19 attempts. New Jersey also had goals

from 11 players in the series, all while goaltender Martin Brodeur

came up big time and time again in a series in which he turned

40.

“There is no question this team has come together, but it has

been together all year long,” said Lamoriello, whose biggest

offseason move was hiring Peter DeBoer as coach in July. “There has

been an incredible chemistry.”

The Devils have overcome problems in a season in which captain

Zach Parise returned after missing most of the 2010-11 campaign

with a major knee injury. Top center Travis Zajac missed most of

this season with an Achilles’ tendon injury. And defenseman Henrik

Tallinder has been sidelined since early January because of a blood

clot in his left leg.

So, as expected, there were some occasional slumps here and

there. But New Jersey closed strong, and finished with 102 points,

seven behind the top-seeded Rangers.

“There was adversity at different times and I don’t want to get

into particulars but they stayed level at all times, were totally

committed and worked as hard as any group I have seen,” Lamoriello

said. “I think this series epitomized that because of the

commitment they made to each other. Everybody was focused and

nobody worried about anything but winning.”

After a shaky start to the postseason, in which it lost two of

the first three games to Florida, and blew a 3-0 lead in Game 3,

New Jersey has won six of the last seven, including three in

overtime.

And beating the Flyers is a good omen. This is the third time

the Devils have defeated Philadelphia in the playoffs, with the

first two coming in championship seasons (1995 and 2000).

Another good sign? The Devils are winning without home-ice

advantage. In 1995 – the franchise’s first title season – New

Jersey went 16-4, winning all four series as the lower seed.

Lamoriello, who has quarterbacked the Devils since 1987, isn’t

looking too far ahead. He knows St. Louis and Nashville played very

well in the opening round, and didn’t last long in the second.

Combined in Round 2, the Blues and Predators won one game.

“That’s what playoffs are all about,” he said. “You can’t look

left or right, you have to focus in. Every series is different.

Every series is like a season within a season. You have to focus in

on it that way. When one is done, you have to go to the next. You

have to win 16 games, but you also have to win four series.”

For many of the Devils, this will be their first trip to a

conference final. Only Brodeur has played on all three of the

franchise’s Cup winners. Patrik Elias has played on two and Petr

Sykora one, although he also won a Cup with the Penguins.

“It feels really good,” Parise said. “It’s a lot of fun, and

even there’s a few times throughout the series and the playoffs

that we’ve given up the first goal and there’s no panic on our

bench and that’s great to see.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, but most importantly

we’re having fun doing it.”

David Clarkson, a 30-goal scorer in the regular season, will

also be playing in the third round for the first time. He snared

the series winner Tuesday, blocking a clearing pass by Flyers

goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and hacking it into the net.

“We have a lot of leaders in this group,” Clarkson said. “We

never gave up and that’s the type of style we have tried to play

all season. It was never give up and keep working hard. It is a

tribute to everyone in here and our coaching staff and the way they

have coached us all season.

“It is definitely a big, big deal and we have to get ready for

next round.”