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Can Marty Maintain His Magic? How About Devs in Six?





Before the Devils faced off with the Panthers in Sunrise more than two weeks ago, I predicted that the series would go seven games, with New Jersey ultimately on top.

As luck would have it, I was right by the skin of a Martin Brodeur save against John Madden in the first overtime period of the decisive Game 7. Thanks to Mister Goalie, his teammates got another life in the second extra-session whereupon Adam Henrique released choruses of "thank you very much" throughout the Garden State with his nifty goal.

Florida sported a good hockey club; competent enough to finish atop its division -- even ahead of the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals -- but the Panthers were not what you would label a "dominating": team such as, well, how about the Philadelphia Flyers.

On Sunday at 3 p.m. off Broad Street the Devils will have a challenge far different from the one confronting them in The Sunshine State. Not only does Peter Laviolette's outfit feature a remodeled Jaromir Jagr -- averaging more than a point a game against Pittsburgh -- but Claude Giroux who more than a few geniuses are saying, "Hey, he's the best player in the league right now."

Could be. While demolishing the Penguins, physically and arithmetically, Giroux posted six goals in six games, eight assists and a whopping 14 points. For topping he wound up the series with a Plus-Six rating.

Go up and down the lineup -- from career-peak-hitting Scott Hartnell to rookie ace Matt Read and you'll find much to commend even without captain Chris Pronger, long gone for the entire season and playoffs.

Judging by the way the erstwhile Broad Street Bullies dismissed Pittsburgh from the opening round, there's reason for concern in Devils' land. And, by the way, "concern" also is spelled Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Slapsy Maxy Talbot, Matt Carle and Wayne Simmonds, among other Pennsylvania worthies.

And don't get too excited about the prospects of Ilya Bryzgalov opening the gates -- or, five-hole, if you will -- for New Jersey's shooters. The sad fact is that the Devils were outscored 14-1 during the regular campaign when ill Ilya guarded the Philadelphia twine.

So, what brings on the optimism?

That's easy, Emily, 'cause all you have to do is remember that this is the Spring of Upsets. Down went the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks; down went the Crosby-Malkin Penguins; down went indomitable Detroit and the Champ Bruins just recently went into premature hibernation.

Yeah, man, upsets are springing up like lilacs in May and the heavily underdog Devils just may flower at the right time; being now.

Think about it; what if Travis Zajac keeps getting better, Zach Parise finds the back of Bryzgalov's cage; Henrique keeps playing like a non-rookie; and, best of all, the Devils learn that the sin bin is a place to avoid, not inhabit. Think about it because The Boss of Devs bosses, Lou Lamoriello, already has.

"Opportunities come," says Larrupin' Lou, "look at Stevie Gionta."

Now there's somebody at which to look because Brian's kid brother just could turn out to be the symbol of the Devils upset. For starters, he never was given a nod to make New Jersey's varsity; even as a fourth-liner. He's smaller than brother Brian but not as stocky and never had his bro's scoring knack. Yet at age 28, he's become a vital cog on the D's, turning the fourth line into a factor.

But when all's said and done, the Flyers will present another species of attacking force. Jagr still has the goods; they play Philly tough and Broad Street hasn't seen a Stanley Cup parade since 1975. Talk about motivation.

Me? Well, The Maven would rather talk upset; which means that Brodeur -- turning 40 next month -- must lift his game higher than Sunrise. What's more, his buddies must seize the momentum gained by their comeback against the Panthers.

"It was an accomplishment," concludes Lamoriello, "and now we have to build from there."

CONCLUSION: The Maven says they'll build and build and win in six.

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