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Head games

Mental component of the game an important part of playoffs

Friday, 04.16.2010 / 9:51 AM ET / News
By Eric Marin
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Head games
Zubrus and Devils know mental edge is key.
An 82-game regular-season schedule often reveals plenty about a team's talent level. But players say it's the mental component of the game that becomes important in the postseason, when a team's confidence can impact a series outcome.

"Absolutely," Dainius Zubrus said. "You're playing the same team until you move on. Mental toughness is probably the most important thing you have to have. Throughout the game and the series, the momentum can shift either way.

"If the other team scores, you have to have mental toughness to stay the course, especially because in the playoffs, you're playing the same team, so you know each other quite well. I think most of it is mental, because there's no bad teams. Whoever stays stronger and is more ready, better prepared, that's who's going to move on."

Martin Brodeur agrees.

"Definitely, because you see each other more often," Brodeur said. "Mentally, doesn't matter how strong you are because after 60 minutes, you're moving on to another team. Now, it could be 60 minutes, it could be 120 minutes – who knows what the game is going to be like. The next day, you're facing the next 20 guys. It's definitely different, mentally, to play in the playoffs, no doubt about that."

Confidence isn't a problem for the Devils, who look to even their opening-round matchup with the Flyers in Friday's Game 2.

"It's a different type of hockey in the playoffs," David Clarkson said. "It's do or die. There's no 82 games. You can't lose four games, so mentally you have to be strong and you have to have leadership and guys that have been there. That's what we have in here. We have leadership, we have guys that have been there, we have chemistry, we have the right group of guys. Now we just need to go out there and play a full 60 minutes."

The Devils felt there were plenty of positives in their 2-1 loss in Game 1.

"I wouldn't say good enough to win, but I thought we played pretty well," Zubrus said. "With the scoring chances we created in the first period, if we scored, obviously it would have been a different game. After that, it went both ways, but I thought we could have won that game."

Devils look to counter Flyers shot blockers
What do the Devils have to do better in Friday's Game 2?

"Power play, number one," head coach Jacques Lemaire said on Thursday. "We have to get better shots on goal. We have to get pucks at the net. We moved the puck, at times it looks good, but it’s not consistent. I have to agree that they’re doing a heck of a job. You have to give credit to the ones that deserve it. They’ve been really good, from what I’ve seen the last 15, 20 games, 25 games, they’ve been really good on the penalty kill. But we have to find a way to score."

The power play went 0-for-5 in the series opener, something New Jersey hopes to change on Friday.

"We didn't play bad, but our power play needs to be better," Clarkson said. "In the second period, we could have stepped it up, but we didn't. They're a good team over there. We have to play our style of hockey and play hard. We have to finish our checks and be around their net. That's what they're doing to us, and that's what we have to do to them."

Shot blocking was part of Philadelphia's approach on the penalty kill. Though the Devils outshot them, 24-14, they had another 14 attempts blocked.

"You have to make the puck move quicker," said Lemaire. "Move the puck quick. Move the puck quick and get a better chance."

The Devils hope to neutralize Philadelphia's strategy with better decisions at the point.

"You can hold the puck a little bit more, you can fake a shot, you can shoot the puck wide so it comes off the end boards," Mike Mottau said. "There's a lot of different things you can use to counter their shot blocking."

But it won't be easy.

"It's a difficult thing, because they do a good job of it," Mottau continued. "They're sacrificing their body, they're getting in the way. They're not always going down on the ice, so you have to read and react when you're on the point.

"Once you get it past the first guy, sometimes their d-man is fronting the puck, too, and trying to block the shot, so there's really like three goalies out there. If you have the ability to get it through, like off the end boards, or just get it down by the net, you can get a lot of chances because [their] guys aren't in good defensive position that way."

Zubrus will continue crashing the net
Zubrus was called for goaltender interference after driving the puck to the net late in the third period of Game 1. He said Friday that the penalty won't discourage him from driving the puck to the net.

"I don't want to change that, I still want to go to the net," Zubrus said. "If I can get around the D somehow and take the puck to the net, I will. I tried to dive, basically jump out of the way, so I didn't hit [Flyers' goaltender Brian Boucher] on that particular play, but I guess the ref didn't see that or pay attention to that.

"I'll try to do the same thing. Maybe I'll try to do a better job of staying out of the goalie's way and not creating any contact, really. At the same time, if you can get a step on the D, you want to take the puck there. Then guys come in and try jamming it in. Hopefully, it will turn into some goals."

He was surprised by the call.

"I didn't realize the call was on me until I went to the bench," he said. "I was hanging out and drinking water thinking we were going on the power play."