Lemaire, Devils prepared for postseason
|Lemaire and Devils are ready to roll.|
The Devils edged the Penguins for their fourth Atlantic Division title in five years, and finished the regular season with four wins in their final five games. They captured the William Jennings Trophy for fewest team goals allowed (191), and with the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, appear primed for a strong postseason run.
Their Cup quest begins Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., when they host the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
“We’re a team that got better as the year went on because of all the injuries that we had,” Lemaire said Wednesday. “The acquisition, too, of Kovalchuk brought this team, to me, to another level. It gave us two really good lines to score, which most other teams have so we can compete with the other teams more than we could before.”
Martin Brodeur gives the Devils tremendous strength in net. He posted League highs with 45 wins and nine shutouts, and set new NHL marks for shutouts (104) and games played by a goaltender (1,030).
The first goaltender to reach 600 wins, Brodeur hasn’t changed much from what Lemaire remembered from his first stint in New Jersey.
“He’s the same person that loves the challenge; loves to be in big games; handles pressure well,” said Lemaire, who coached the Devils to their first title in 1995. “He’s got a good mind for the game. The only thing he’s got [different] is the age. The rest is pretty much the same.”
At first glance, the Devils’ first-round draw seems to favor the opponents. The Flyers took five of six meetings with the New Jersey this season, most recently a 5-1 win on March 28. But Lemaire feels victory will come with the right game plan.
“Any team that you hit in the playoffs, there’s always concern because you know it’s a good team,” he said. “I told the players, the eight teams are the eight best teams of our conference. Not all the best players – they’re the best teams. So every one is a concern if you don’t play well. But the type of game that teams will play, I think will depend on how we play. We want to play our game and focus on our game.”
Lemaire also doesn’t buy into the notion that the most skilled players – like Kovalchuk or Zach Parise – will single-handedly decide the series.
“I think it’s going to depend on how the team plays as a group,” he explained. “How good we’ll be on defense, how good we’ll be in the net. How good we’ll be on the power play, on the penalty kill, 5-on-5. This will determine if we win.”
Kovalchuk is back in the playoffs for just the second time in his eight NHL seasons. He said he would be a little nervous just before the start of the game, but is hoping for his first postseason win on Wednesday
“I’m nervous before every game, but tonight will be special,” Kovalchuk said. “I’ve never won a playoff game. Hopefully tonight will be the first one.”