On the eve of what could be the end of our best season in almost a decade, emotions are running high. Still fresh from the euphoric game six overtime victory over Our Hated Rivals we find ourselves on the verge of being swept in the Stanley Cup Finals. The juxtaposition of the joys from just two weeks ago and the bitter anger that has permeated the fan-base over the past few days causes a lot of disarray and confusion. Some of us will be depressed while others will be infuriated. There will be those who carry on apathetically through their days like mindless zombies as the realities set in.
It's easy to lose sight of what's really important. The fact is that the New Jersey Devils are the Eastern Conference Champions. They are still four (unlikely) wins away from bringing the Cup home to the Garden State for the fourth time in less than twenty years. They have given a fan-base that had grown more and more disillusioned with every early playoff exit culminating in the failures of the 2010-11 season something to be proud of and hope for the future. For all these things I am more thankful than ever to be a Devils fan. After the jump I'll list a few more things I'm thankful for this season, and I hope that in the comments you'll all join in generating some positive energy going into what could be the final 36 hours of our season.
There is a lot to be thankful for this year. From Petr Sykora's return to David Clarkson's emergence the Devils have had a lot of great stories this season. Here are my top five stories from the Devils 2011-12 season:
5. The comfort level of Ilya Kovalchuk. After a disappointing season in the first year of his massive contract, Kovalchuk bounced back to finish near the top of the NHL in scoring in both the regular season and (most likely) the playoffs.
4. The age-defying performance of Martin Brodeur. Despite a rough 2010-11 and a tough go in the first half of this season, Marty made some small mental and physical adjustments during the All-Star break and came back strong to finish with a respectable season and a stellar post-season for his age.
3. The emergence of rookie center Adam Henrique. No one saw this one coming. Management new that he was a talented player and had potential but many felt he'd need another season in Albany to really bring his game to the next level. It turned out that all he needed was one more opportunity to really prove himself when the team was in dire need of a top-six center.
2. The stunning six-game upset of Our Hated Rivals. Say what you will about winning three Cups since the '94 Rangers won theirs, but there was something incredibly cathartic about winning game six of the Stanley Cup Finals on our home ice, on the 18-year anniversary of Mark Messier sealing his guarantee with a hat trick in the Meadowlands. Consider the ghost of Stephane Matteau finally exorcised.
And finally, I am most thankful for...
1. The Devils never quit this season. They hovered around .500 for large parts of the early half of the season. They had terrible road trips that produced multiple losing streaks. They fought hard to make the playoffs and then they fought hard to hold onto the sixth seed. Then they won two elimination games against the Panthers in overtime to give us our first playoff series victory in 5 years. That performance was followed with a stunning victory over Our Second-Rate Rivals in which the Devils won four straight games in which they gave up the first goal. And when the Rangers shut them out twice they came back to win both following games and then take the series.
This is a team that refused to quit this season no matter how bleak thing looked, and I hope we all can go into game four in Los Angeles with our heads held high knowing that, win or lose, the Devils never quit on us.
It's been an incredible season for Devils fans. What are you most thankful for?