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New Jersey Devils; the Best Team in the NHL in 2011

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 26:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils is stopped by Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings in a game on January 26, 2011 at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. The Wings defeated the Devils 3-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images
John VukovicContributor IIMarch 6, 2011

Not even the most optimistic die-hard Devils' fan could possibly have thought that they have a chance at making the playoffs on New Years day this year. They went on to lose the first 4 games of the New Year, giving a bleek outlook for the rest of the season.

Ilya Kovalchuk and his long-term contract were seen as the main culprit for the patheticness that was the Devils' season so far. The injury to Zach Parise didn't help.

They went on to record point in all of their next 6 games including 5 wins and an OT loss to Florida. They concluded the month with a 3-1 loss to Detroit. A game in which Kovalchuk scored a goal with 2:28 remaining to tie it up 2-2, which was disqualified but should have counted (I am biased as a Red Wings fan and it was obvious that the goal should have counted, please check out this great areticle http://bleacherreport.com/articles/598761-too-many-good-goals-waved-off about too many goals being waved off ).

Undeterred, they resumed their dominance in February, going 11-1-1 and have won all 3 games so far in March, culminating with an exciting 3-2, six shot shoot-out win today against the Islanders. In 2011 the Devil's are 20-6-2 and 20-2-2 in their last 24.

The scapegoat earlier in the season is leading the charge, Kovalchuk, who has 14 goals and 13 assists in those 24 games after only scoring 10 goals and 11 assists in his first 40.

If the Devils make the playoffs it will be one of the greatest turnarounds for a sports franchise ever. I never thought I would cheer for a team coached by Jacques Lemaire, but I am hoping they make it. They truly deserve it.

Even if they don't, they must be recognized as a force for next year, and praised for their never quit effort.

It is baffling how a team can go from the worst in the league in the first half of the season to being the best in the second half. A few years back, the Senators had just as dramatic a turnaround to their season, but in the opposite way when they were the best team in the first half (even broke a record for the best start to a season) and the worst in the second half.

If they do make the playoffs, I wonder if they will be out of gas, having played pretty much playoff hockey (any 4 losses in a 7 game stretch and they are done) for months before the playoffs start.

The 2010-11 New Jersey Devils are one of the greatest examples of the sports cliche "It's not over till it's over."

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