“Our play is going to have to be even better than last series to be there,” Senators defenceman Wade Redden said Monday, a day after the Devils eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning to set up a second-round Eastern Conference matchup versus Ottawa. “We’ve got to play real smart and real aggressive. All four lines are going to have to be going for us again.”
With all due respect to the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the Senators disposed of rather easily in a five-game series, the Devils pose a tougher test – they’re deeper, more disciplined and defensively better than Sidney Crosby’s crew – despite only finishing two points higher than both Ottawa and Pittsburgh in the regular season.
The series is set to open Thursday night at Continental Airlines Arena, according to the Devils’ website, although the league has yet to announce the official dates.
“It won’t be quite as open, although, going into the actual games, I don’t think Pittsburgh was as open as we thought they were going to be. They tried to play real good defence, too,” said Senators coach Bryan Murray, whose team still averaged more than 3.5 goals per game against the Penguins.
“So we understand the way we attack will be a little different and the goaltending will not very likely give up a lot of goals – bad goals, anyway – so we have to find a different way to get them.”
Murray was of course referring to New Jersey’s ace in the hole, Martin Brodeur, who, after shaking off a couple of sub-par performances against the Lightning, was back at his best to finish off Tampa Bay in six games.
While Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t bad against the Senators, he also wasn’t Brodeur – owner of 93 career playoff victories, which ranks second all-time to Patrick Roy’s 151.
The Devils won three of four contests during the regular season and it’ll be the third time the teams have met in the post-season and the first since the Devils beat the Senators in seven games in the 2003 conference final en route to New Jersey’s last Stanley Cup win.
While more than half of the faces have changed between both lineups since then, the Devils’ style hasn’t. The Devils do, however, bring an element of offence that was sometimes missing in the past.
“One thing New Jersey does is they play their game and their game is defence first,” said Murray, who was Anaheim’s general manager in 2003 when the Devils beat the Ducks in the final. “Position is really important to that and goaltending is really important to that and that’s what you see over a long time. Night to night, there’s not the inconsistencies that you see in some teams.
“Now with a couple of guys that’ve popped in real important goals, (Zach) Parise and (Brian) Gionta in particular, you see guys with flair to shoot pucks and score goals. That’s a little bit of a dimension that maybe gives them a little more at this point on the offensive side.”
Against Tampa Bay, New Jersey was eventually led by the EGG Line of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, but the Devils got a healthy dose of secondary scoring from Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. It was a lack of production from sources other than Crosby that hurt Pittsburgh against Ottawa.
Tampa Bay tried to steamroll the Devils by using stars Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards for big minutes and the approach failed.
Meanwhile, against the Penguins, 16 of 19 skaters recorded at least a point for the Senators and it’s that ability to fire on all cylinders the Senators will be counting on again.
“The Gomez line and the Parise line can score goals, the (John) Madden line can, too,” said Senators centre Jason Spezza, who, along with linemates Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, saw his offence curtailed in Round 1 by having to keep an eye on Crosby on the defensive end of things.
“It depends on how we play, but obviously we’re going to expect to put the puck in offensively.”