Almost out for the season, Zajac in Cup finals
NEWARK, N.J. — Most of the talk about the New Jersey Devils and their run to the Stanley Cup finals against the Los Angeles Kings has focused on Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Peter DeBoer.
The 40-year-old goaltender, the team's two big goal scorers and the new coach all have played major roles in getting the Devils back to the championship round just a year after they missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996.
The guy who tends to get lost in all the talk is Travis Zajac.
This was almost a lost season for the Devils' No. 1 center. He tore an Achilles tendon in August, had surgery the next day and tried to come back in December. He lasted eight games before calling it quits.
Over the next two months, there were times he thought his season was over as the injury and soreness wouldn't go away. The 27-year-old continued his rehab and eventually came back in late March. It took him a couple of weeks to find his game but one can argue he has been the best player for the Devils in the postseason, which will start its final round on Wednesday as the Los Angeles Kings visit New Jersey.
"He is the type of player who does a lot of things well, from the faceoff to the forcechecking, taking the body," Brodeur said. "He does a lot of little things. A lot of people who are not watching him and who only look at the stats, miss a lot. He is an effective player. He logs a lot of important minutes. That's what you have to look at, and who he plays against every single shift, and that tells you a lot about them."
His statistics aren't shabby either. Zajac has seven goals — tied for the team high with Kovalchuk and Parise — and five assists. His 12 points are tied for eighth best in the postseason. He also played on New Jersey's power play and kills off penalties averaging more than 20 minutes a game, third highest among the teams' forwards.
Not bad for player who appeared in 15 regular-season games.
"Getting this far I'm sure it's enjoyable for everyone but it really is for me," Zajac said after the Devils practiced Monday for the first time since winning the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers on Friday night. "Playing this late in the season really makes me feel like I didn't miss the whole season. It's really a fun time to play hockey."
Coming into this season, Zajac had been the Devils' current iron man. He had played in 401 consecutive games for the team between 2006 and the end of the 2010-11 season only to get hurt working out at home before training camp.
If there has been a positive in terms of the injury, Zajac is fresh. While most of his teammates have played around 100 games, he has played in 33 and seemingly is rounding into midseason form.
The Kings traveled on Monday to New Jersey. A media day for the teams is scheduled today.