One thing the New Jersey Devils had trouble with during the regular season was finding chemistry amongst the bottom six forwards. Alexei Ponikarovsky was brought in to help fill out the third line while the fourth line took some time to find the right pieces to work together. After going through the likes of Brad Mills, Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen, Steve Zalewski, Tim Sestito and others, the Devils finally worked on getting the right combination.
First, Steve Bernier had been brought in for a training camp tryout but did not make the Opening Day roster before spending time and getting injured in Albany. While recovering from injury, the Devils claimed Ryan Carter off waivers from the Florida Panthers on October 26th. When Bernier was finally recalled from Albany and signed to an NHL contract on January 30th, two pieces of the puzzle were in place. However, it was not until a fateful injury to Jacob Josefson’s wrist by former Devil Jay Pandolfo’s stick that the final spot was ultimately filled. Stephen Gionta was called up to fill the fourth line role for the final regular season game on April 7th, and right from the start, Gionta worked magic with his teammates, scoring his first career NHL goal in his first NHL game of the season.
As good as the fourth line started to get down the stretch of the regular season, it was in the playoffs that it became magical. Right off the bat, Ryan Carter scored the game winning goal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Florida. The three would combine for five of the Devils’ 18 goals in the series helping the Devils get past the first round. In 24 games over the course of four series, they would combine for 10 goals, 11 assists and played at a plus-11, with 142 hits and 16 blocks. Quite simply, the Devils wouldn’t have won a round, let alone make the Stanley Cup Final without the contributions of the “CBGB – (Carter, Bernier, Gionta’s Brother) Line.”
News came out on Friday that all three have re-signed with the Devils, so the three will return. The question is, can the three players come close to sustaining their success from last year’s playoffs over the grind of an 82-game season? Keep in mind, Gionta has only played in 13 regular season games, scoring his first point this year with the goal in his only game. Bernier has scored 77 goals and added 88 assists in 417 career games, while Carter has 18 goals and 25 assists in 254 games. Then again, the Devils won’t be counting on the three for a lot of offensive production, but they will need to play the hard forechecking game they displayed in the playoffs. It won’t be as easy to do in the regular season, but with two-year one-way (at least for 2012-13 in Gionta’s case) deals, they definitely will be expected to maintain production.
You have to be happy for Stephen Gionta, who will now get his first full year of NHL salary after laboring in the minors for the better part of the last six years. he is a reminder that hard work can pay off. Steve Bernier will have a lot to prove too, coming off a Game 6 against the Kings when he committed the penalty that left the team trailing by 3 goals. I’m not going to reopen the debate of the penalty, what’s done is done, but it’s nice to see him rewarded for his body of work over the course of the season rather than having one terrible moment held against him (I wouldn’t expect any less from the classy Lou Lamoriello). Ryan Carter was on waivers this past October and probably wondered what his NHL future might be like. Eight months later, he was playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
They’ve all overcome their share of adversity, but the CBGB line will need to continue and persevere with hard work, and while it will be hard to duplicate the magic they displayed in the playoffs, they should be able to make solid contributions for the Devils, helping to gain momentum, make big hits and chip in some occasional offense in the coming season. They will have to continue to earn their playing time and take nothing for granted, or they could find themselves in the minors. Knowing what they all endured to get to this point, I don’t expect that to be a problem.
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