What better way to enter into the playoffs than to be soaring on a winning streak? Not only does it give the team confidence, but it also gives them hope that their first round curse that has plagued them will finally come to an end this year.

“We wanted to get into the playoffs playing well,” Martin Brodeur said. “The last few games have been really good…We played some good hockey. We’ve got to be happy about that.

“I thought we did a good job staying focused and getting prepared for each of the teams we played as well as we can, just to get [into] the habit.

“We’re definitely happy about the way we’ve been playing. I think that was important for the coaching staff and for us to walk into the playoffs feeling good and winning different ways. I thought we’ve done that in the last six games.”

The Devils have not seen Round Two in the playoffs since 2007. For years, the squad has been criticized for their failure to reach the second round in the playoffs. This year, their luck could be changing. They’ll be facing the Florida Panthers in the first round.

The Panthers collected their first division title ever in franchise history last night after defeating the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers have never had success in the post-season. This will be their first playoff run since 2000.

Ironically, that was the last time the two teams met in the post-season. The Devils swept them in the first round, and then they later became the Stanley Cup Champions that year.

Could the Devils repeat that run? After all, Martin Brodeur is playing now like he did back then. The Devils have also been playing well on the road this year. They ranked fifth in the league on the road, while the Panthers ranked 15th on the road.

To start the game on the road first and then back at “The Rock,” could this be luck riding on the Devils’ side this year?

The team is approaching this run much differently than they have in previous seasons. They are more calm and poised, not overly excited or anxious. They appear smarter and more prepared to go out and put their best effort forward like it’s just a regular day at the office. In other words, they know they are good enough to be in the playoffs. They have a better defensive corps in front of Brodeur, they have more offense, and, of course, they have Brodeur himself and Johan Hedberg.

The team also finished the season with the best penalty kill unit in the entire league. Florida, on the other hand, was the fourth worst in the league. That could seriously work to the Devils advantage in the next couple of weeks, especially now that the Devils have turned their power play unit around.

The rivalry story-lines between the two teams appears to write itself. The Devils will be meeting a familiar face to their locker room…Scott Clemmensen, the savior of the Devils when Brodeur went out with an injury a few years back. Coach DeBoer will also be facing his old club that he coached once upon a time.

The Devils have been preparing for this first round. They’re ready. The question is…are the Panthers ready for the Devils?

Devils Take Ottawa

With the Devils hosting Ottawa in the final game of the regular season, it was a primer to developing confidence for the squad prior to the Easter holiday. But maybe thinking of all of the goodies being hidden away for the kids, hams baking in the ovens, and Peeps being consumed by the multitudes caught the Devils off-guard at the start of the game.

At 10:59 in the first period, Matt Gilroy was able to tally the first goal of the game and his third goal of the season when Brodeur tried to stop the puck with his leg, instead, it ended up bouncing off of him and going into the net. In some takes, it looked like he just got completely out of the way of the puck and let it by him.

It was probably the worst non-save Brodeur had ever made in his career. But rest assured, the team had his back.

With Daniel Alfredsson in the penalty box for high-sticking at 13:59, Ilya Kovalchuk tallied the Devils’ first goal of the game at 15:26 to tie up the game.

In the middle period, Jim O’Brien scored Ottawa’s second goal of the game, but the Devils were able to get another power play goal from Petr Sykora at 17:43 to tie the game again.

It was Brian Gionta’s little brother, Stephen, that would score the game winner at 10:55 in the final period. The young Gionta was so happy that he scored his first career NHL goal. To him, it was like a dream come true.

The excitement from the team that Gionta got his first goal was just as heightened as his elated feelings. “The guys are great,” Gionta said laughing. “They’re really supportive since I came out Wednesday there and went back and came back up.”

“Every kid grows up hoping he scores a goal in the NHL,” he said of making his dream a reality. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Devils gave me. It’s such a dream come true.”

His parents were at the game to show their support and witness his first NHL goal.

The elder Gionta tweeted shortly afterwards:

@Giostyle21 Couldn’t be more Happy or Prouder of my younger brother! Scoring his 1st NHL Goal. What a dream come true!!! #hardwork #perseverance.

That drive to the net…something the Devils have been trying to drill into everyone’s heads…may have just earned Stephen a spot going into the playoffs.

“That little guy with a big heart, like his brother,” DeBoer said of Gionta. “We got him going to the net, which is what we’ve been preaching for a long time.”

“That’s one of the things that we preach here is driving to the net,” Gionta said of his play.

“He’s got a good shot,” DeBoer said of Gionta playing in the playoffs. “The reason we brought him in here was to take a look at him. I’ll sit down with Lou now with Josefson out, we’re going to need somebody out of that group of guys that we’ve looked at this year that can be with us and potentially play.”

Kovalchuk rounded out the scoring at 19:17 with an empty-netter to give the Devils a 4-2 win over the Senators.

Something that you don’t normally see at a hockey game is a superstar player tipping his hat to the fans and applauding them.

“It’s nice to see a sold-out crowd today,” Kovalchuk said of his gesture to the fans. “I’m excited to come back to the Games 3 and 4 in our building and see that atmosphere… We’re very excited that we make the full season this year and that they were a part of that.”

About The Author

Michelle Kenneth has been with Inside Hockey since 2007 as the beat reporter for the New Jersey Devils. She is also part of the IH team covering the New York Rangers. Since 2007, she's covered the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL All-Stars, NHL Awards, Winter Classic, Stadium Series and the NHL in Europe. You can follow Michelle on Twitter @MichelleKenneth and on her blog: michellekennethhockey.wordpress.com.

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