- Neil Greenberg, NHL
Despite a strong finish to the 2010-11 season, the New Jersey Devils didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was only the third time since 1987-88 they wouldn't skate in the postseason.
What a difference a year makes.
The Devils needed all seven games to dispatch Florida in the first round, but then won four straight against the Philadelphia Flyers after losing Game 1 in overtime, earning the right to face off against the New York Rangers in a rematch of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.
"We did have over 100 points during the season," Devils' general manager Lou Lamoriello told ESPN's Pierre LeBrun. "It's not like we weren't one of the teams that have a chance."
The Devils finished the season with a 48-28-6 record (102 points), a 20-point increase over last year's 11th-place finish in the Eastern Conference. An improvement like that always takes a team effort, but the contributions of grinder David Clarkson in scoring and driving puck possession are the reason the Devils have their first Eastern Conference finals appearance in almost a decade.