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Devils experience highs and lows

Ryan Carter and Anton Volchenkov of the New

Ryan Carter and Anton Volchenkov of the New Jersey Devils celebrate after the game winning goal by Adam Henrique in overtime against the Rangers. (May 25, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The shock was as jarring as when it happened in 2008 to the Yankees, the only New York-area pro team that comes close to the Devils' metronomic success in the past two decades.

This time, though, it was the Devils' turn, and when 2010-11 was over, they had more losses than wins. They failed to make the playoffs for the first time in a non-lockout season since 1995-96 and only the second time in 21 years.

"I think a lot of players were bitter and upset when that happened,'' captain Zach Parise said. "We have just played much better this season, that's all there is to it.''

The result was a return to the playoffs, and now a return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003. Beginning Wednesday against the Kings, the Devils will try to do what the Yankees did in 2009 and make it all the way back by winning it all.

The seeds were sown late last season when the Devils showed glimpses of their future selves during a strong finish under Jacques Lemaire, who had taken over from John MacLean in December 2010 but opted to re-retire.

Then Peter DeBoer took the job and installed a more attack-oriented approach that got veterans interested and youngsters engaged. General manager Lou Lamoriello added key supporting pieces and, voila, another Prince of Wales Trophy.

DeBoer downplayed the notion that he had to sell himself, saying, "I don't think there was premeditated salesmanship. I can tell you if I was a used car salesman, I'd starve to death. So it's not my salesmanship.

"I just think it's the fact that you believe how the game should be played. You have a conviction in that, and I think that the players see that and they bought in.''

So they did. "Right away, from the first day, we all thought it really suited our team,'' captain Zach Parise said.

The talent already was there, starting with veteran stars such as Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk and extending to a rookie such as Adam Henrique, who scored the overtime goal that ousted the Rangers. Then, of course, there is goaltender Martin Brodeur, who at 40 will attempt to win his fourth Cup.

Brodeur downplayed the fact that he had outlasted his counterpart, Henrik Lundqvist, and also the notion that he had exorcised the ghost of the Rangers' victory in the 1994 conference finals. "We beat a big rival that, especially for me, 18 years ago, everybody's been talking about it," he said. "So now it's at least -- I don't know if they're going to give us credit -- but it's 1-1.''

Said DeBoer: "There is only one guy that likes beating the Rangers more than Marty, and that is Lou. I mean, hey, these guys have been through this rivalry for 20 years."

It is too soon, Brodeur said, to compare these Devils to their best teams of the past, but Patrik Elias said, "This is as good of a team as I've seen in my 15, 16 years here.''

To secure a place alongside the 1995, '00 and '03 Devils, this entry must win four more games against the hottest team in the playoffs, albeit a No. 8 seed. But these Devils already know anything is possible.

"I mean, you go from not making the playoffs to all of a sudden you're in the Stanley Cup Finals,'' Parise said. "It doesn't get higher or lower than that in the span of a year.''

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