CALGARY -- Let’s play a little game.
We’ll give you three guesses to name the Eastern Conference’s best team over the last two months.
How many actually pulled the New Jersey Devils?
It’s true. Take a look:
EASTERN CONFERENCE - since Jan. 1, 2012
New Jersey: 14-6-2 (30)
N.Y. Rangers: 14-6-2 (30)
Pittsburgh: 13-7-1 (27)
N.Y. Islanders: 12-10-2 (26)
Philadelphia: 11-9-3 (25)
Winnipeg: 11-11-2 (24)
Boston: 11-10-1 (23)
(Side note: Yes, the Flyers are actually the worst Atlantic division team in 2012)
For the bulk of the season, the focus in the East has been on the Rangers, Bruins, Flyers and Penguins. Very quietly, New Jersey - a team that few even picked to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs - has been gearing up for a deep playoff run this spring.
Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello added to his defense corps on Friday night by acquiring Marek Zidlicky from Minnesota - one of the most sought-after defensemen on the market at the trade deadline.
The Devils sent defenseman Kurtis Foster, forwards Nick Palmieri, Stephane Veilleux, a 2012 second round pick in 2012 and a conditional 2013 third round pick. The third round pick goes to Minnesota only in the event that the Devils make it to the Eastern Conference finals this season and Zidlicky plays in 75 percent of the games in the first 2 rounds.
At first blush, that sounds like a lot for one player - especially a 35-year-old, who was a healthy scratch in 6 of Minnesota’s last 13 games, with another year left on his deal.
But as the Bergen (N.J.) Record’s Tom Gulitti points out, the only real loss for New Jersey is Foster, whom the Devils acquired by trading 2 healthy scratches of their own earlier this season.
So, what to make of the Devils?
New Jersey (7-2-1 in last 10) lost to Vancouver on Friday night in Newark, but there’s no shame in that since the Canucks (8-1-1) overtook them as the hottest team in the NHL. They’ve rocketed up to 4th place after sitting in 10th on Dec. 1.
By adding Zidlicky - and players like Alexei Ponikarovsky last month - the Devils may be the opponent no team in the East wants to face in the first round.
- Ilya Kovalchuk is better than a point-per-game player for the first time as a Devil.
- New Jersey has 3 players with more than 50 points, something no other team in the East can boast.
- They are balanced both at home (16-11-3) and on the road (19-10-1).
- And they have Martin Brodeur in net.
Yes, Brodeur has been one of the biggest knocks on this Devils team. Pundits say the 39-year-old has lost a step manning the net in what could be his swan-song season. Yet, Brodeur has 3 Stanley Cup rings in his possession, something no other active goaltender can say.
Make no mistake: Brodeur has been far from phenomenal this season (2.53 GAA, .904 save percentage). I just think he has the ability to rekindle that playoff magic for one run.
And that’s a scary thought for the Flyers and the rest of the East.
“Obviously, they were best buds in Philly. I don’t think Jeff was too happy going to Columbus, but that’s part of the hockey deal. And now he’s going off to sunny California. I’m sure Jeff has got a big smile on his face. They’ve got a good team. They’ve been underachieving most of the year, but I’m sure it will be a big boost to add some offense to their lineup.”
-Flyers forward Scott Hartnell on watching Jeff Carter and Mike Richards be reunited this weekend in Los Angeles.
For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers