The New Jersey Devils, playing in the shadows of their big-city cousins, the New York Rangers, might not be used to all the attention a berth in the Eastern Conference finals represents, but they haven’t had trouble keeping their collective eyes on the prize.
“I think it's pretty easy, honestly,” captain Zach Parise said via conference call Thursday. "Our focus from even the start of the playoffs has been the same. I don't think we allowed anything to distract us.
“I don't think it's been overwhelming by any means. We've done a good job of concentrating on what we're doing and what we have to do, and not allowing these underlying stories to take over what we're trying to accomplish.”
Parise, of course, has more attention focused on him than he might otherwise have had, given his status as an impending unrestricted free agent July 1. But he’s not spending much time reading or listening to hockey coverage.
“That's exactly it," Parise said. "You just kind of shelter yourself from that stuff. You don't read about it. You don't watch it. You watch the other games and things like that, but you turn your mind off from everything else that's happening and not allow yourself to get distracted."
Both the Devils and Rangers are getting significant help from the blue line in terms of bolstering the offense. In the Devils’ case, it’s coming from Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky, both key in the Devils’ Game 2 victory.
Zidlicky earned the primary assist on the Devils’ first goal of the game (and the series, for that matter) in Game 2. He came from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline at the cost of a couple of young players, including defenseman Kurtis Foster, whose booming shot was a part of the Devils’ power-play plan. Zidlicky, who has seven points this postseason, doesn’t have that kind of pop but he handles the puck very well and gives the Devils a different dimension with the man advantage.
“Tough to really identify how important it is adding a No. 1, No. 2 defenseman to your lineup at a critical time of the year. He's been invaluable. We wouldn't be here without him. I think it was a great trade that Lou made identifying him and paying the price to go get him. It looked like a heavy price to pay, but he's been worth it every bit and more,” coach Peter DeBoer said, referring to Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello.
“Foster gave us good minutes. He helped our power play and did some good things. The thing about Zidlicky is he's multidimensional. He's not just offensive or a power-play guy. This guy can do a little bit of everything. He plays in your top two. He can play 25 minutes a game. He can play against top players in the league and defend and compete in the zone end, and he can also run your power play. There are only a handful of those guys in the league."
Salvador has eight points thanks to a two-assist night Wednesday night, which is gravy for DeBoer and the Devils -- although the coach was at a loss to explain the offensive explosion.
“I don't know. I think maybe contract year,” DeBoer joked. “I don't know. He's an unsung warrior for us. I can tell you he's the one guy that probably doesn't even know how many points he's got. He's just playing his game, and that's what he needs to do. He's had a fantastic year for us, and, again, another guy we wouldn't be here without him.”