Getty ImagesUNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It was a long off-season for David Clarkson and his New Jersey Devils teammates. The memories of their loss to the Los Angeles Kings in last June's Stanley Cup Final lingered a few extra months thanks to the NHL's 113-day lockout.
For Clarkson, there were a lot of "What ifs?" floating in his head, while visions of falling behind 3-0 to the Kings and eventually having to watch them lift the Cup eventually became a source of motivation.
"It's probably the hardest thing I've been through," said Clarkson after the Devils' morning skate on Saturday before their season opener against the New York Islanders.
"You sit at home and think what I could have done different or if I would have hit that open net. But at the end of the day, I think when something like that happens to you, you try and find a positive from it and learn from it and get better. I think we'll take the experience of making it to the Final and put it under our hat. We've got guys in here that have been there and won. As tough as it was to swallow I think it's behind me and we've got to move forward."
Forward they will move, but not without some missing pieces who were key in the Devils' run to the Final.
Gone is Zach Parise, their captain, who scored 8 goals and 15 points during their playoff run. Gone is Alexei Ponikarovsky, who scored the overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers to give New Jersey a 2-1 second round series lead. Gone is Petr Sykora, who returned to the team after a 10-year absence by winning a job in training camp.
"You're missing Sykie, you're missing Poni, you're missing some guys that logged a lot of third line minutes," said Clarkson. "But we've got the same D corp; we've got two of the best goalies, in my opinion, in the game; and we've got a great locker room. We lose Zach, that's a big loss, but we've got to move forward and continue to get better."
In a condensed 48-game season, teams who have strong goaltending tandems enter with an advantage. The Devils are one of those teams. With 40-year old Martin Brodeur and 39-year old Johan Hedberg, New Jersey might have one of the oldest creases in NHL history. But to Head Coach Peter DeBoer, age won't be a factor in how he maps their playing time for the season.
"We have an advantage, I believe, because I have two goalies that I think are starting goaltenders," said DeBoer. "It's going to be awful tough to ride one guy through a 48-game condensed schedule. We're going to need both guys and it's a great luxury for a coach to have both those guys like that."
The Devils will travel the shortest distance this season -- just 11,659 miles -- but they are one of seven teams who are playing double digit back-to-backs. Even with light travel, that can take a toll on a team.
"It's a unique situation ... short season with this many games in this many nights," said DeBoer. "There's not a lot of room for error."
DeBoer and the Devils have gotten over the disappointing ending of last season and are ready to turn the page, but not without those memories acting as a carrot in front of their heads.
"It's definitely a motivating factor," said DeBoer. "You get a taste of it like we did, you want to get back there and get the whole thing. I think it's a great motivator. The fact that we had this lockout and a little extra time eliminates any hangover excuses they might of had. The guys are hungry to start."
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