The President's Trophy winning Devils managed to beat the division rival Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games to advance to the 2nd round of this years playoffs. Despite making it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, the Devils had otherwise never made it out of the first round under GM Tousignant in 2010 and 2011 or under the previous GM in 2006. That makes this win that much more important and a solid step towards being a perennial contender.
The series was won with a goal in game 6 by Devils captain David Backes who otherwise had a quiet series with 3 points and a minus 3 through the six games. Backes had his lowest point totals in NEFHL since 2008-2009 and the team needs a physical player like him to step it up in the playoffs especially if it's going to get big minutes in important situations. The real MVP for the first round was goaltender Ryan Miller even though the Devils were outscored 14-13 in the series. In all four wins the Devils managed to only score 2 goals in each game, but somehow Miller was able to shut the door and keep the Penguins to only a single goal in each contest. The Devils managed to outshoot the Penguins in every game except the 4-3 game 4 overtime loss but even then the shots were even at 32 each. That's not to say the series loss was on Fleury as the Devils scored more than 2 goals only once, in the previously mentioned overtime loss. The numbers between the two goalies were impressive for a round 1 defensive battle; 2.13/.916 for Miller and a stunning 2.11/.929 for Fleury. The series came down to timely goals for the Devils from Kane and Backes stepping up in game 6 to Colin Wilson having 2 goals in the series, both unnassisted game winners (games 3 and 5).
Despite Fleury's performance some other Penguins struggled including Lucic, Jack Johnson and Jamie Benn. On the Devils struggles were no stranger either as Bobby Ryan (0 points, -3) could do nothing right on the 3rd line, while Giordao (1 assist, -3) found his way to the 3rd pairing in games 5 and 6. For the most part, the offense on the Devils obviously struggled and will need to step it up for the next series against the Jets who swept the Hurricanes in round 1. Players will need to be more focused and get shots past Luongo as right now too much of the team are minus players for the series.
After doing enough to shut down Crosby in round one now the focus will be Malkin in round 2, going from arguably the best player in the world to the second best. Not to be outdone the Jets also have Kopitar and Sharp and MacArthur who were all at a PPG or better in the opening round. Combine that with the ridiculous 3 goals against Luongo let up in the entire opening series and it's clear the team is aiming for the Cup. The Devils will have to rely on Giordano to step it up and McQuaid and company to shut down the forwards as much as possible. Based on the first round the team will live or die with Miller so he needs to come up huge again.
Other series notes: Jake Gardiner will make his playoff debut this year as Dmitry Kulikov will be a game 1 scratch.