The New Jersey Devils have a history of turning mismatched role players into fourth line gold dating all the way back to the team’s first Stanley Cup Win in 1995 with the famed ‘Crash Line.’ This past spring’s road to the Finals was no different. The trio of Steve Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta played a vital role in helping the Devils advance from found to round. Now the expectations for a repeat performance are higher than they could have ever imagined; can they live up to them?
The fourth line of Bernier, Carter and Gionta combined for 10 goals and 21 assists during the playoffs and was the only group that remained intact throughout the entire run. Even when head coach Pete Deboer mixed up his line-up from game-to-game, he never flinched or waved with the fourth line.
Carter led the line with five goals, Gionta scored three and Bernier had two of his own. Bernier, however, will live in infamy after taking a major boarding penalty in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Los Angeles scored three times on the man advantage and the Kings’ coasted to an easy 6-1 clinching victory.
But, Game 6 aside, the line was every bit of remarkable in the playoffs. They played with a fiery tenacity on ever shift; something every coach dreams of and wishes would trickle down to the rest of his players. In this case, that is precisely what happened. The fourth line had a penchant for scoring timely and unexpected goals and their teammates followed the lead.
There is, however, one problem. Bernier, Carter and Gionta have never been more than marginal players in their careers. To expect them to accomplish what they did in the playoffs for 82 games during the regular season is unrealistic. The 15 minutes of fame created by the playoff run will be remembered as nothing more than a simple case of catching lightning in a bottle. Or will it?
What’s next for these guys? First, we have to look back at what each one of them did during the regular season.
- Bernier, in his first season with the Devils, collected a whopping six points (1g 5a) in the 32 games he appeared in. The 27-year-old veteran has 77 goals in 417 career games.
- Carter’s numbers are even less impressive. He notched four goals and four assists in 72 regular-season games. He was claimed off waivers from Florida last October and only has 18 career goals in 254 NHL games played. Carter was brought in because Deboer had coached him in Florida and thought he was a good fit (Kudos to Pete). Essentially he scored a third of his career goals during the Devils playoff run.
- Gionta didn’t appear in a regular-season game for New Jersey until the finale when he scored his first NHL goal; he then played in all 24 postseason games. As the brother of former Devil Brian Gionta, the Devils hope this latest version of a Gionta can channel some of his older brothers’ success. Stephen is entering his seventh season in the New Jersey organization and holds the honorable distinction of being the AHL Devils’ all-time leader with 56 goals, 135 points and 360 games played.
None of those numbers instill a great deal of confidence in me for the future. However, there is a silver lining to this. Devils management must think so too. All three signed contract extensions after the season and deservedly so. So, what can the Devils expect next season and beyond?
Deboer assembled this fourth line for the playoffs and they just clicked from the get-go. There is something to be said about chemistry and this line has plenty of it. This should bode well for New Jersey.
Do I expect them to score at the same pace they did in the playoffs…no. Do I expect them to be the same spark-plugs that fired the Devils engine up in the postseason? Do I expect the offensive numbers to at least double what they were a season ago? Do I expect this line to help New Jersey get back into the postseason? Sure, why not?
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