Jesper Bratt, New Jersey Devils Primed for Stanley Cup Playoffs

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

When the New Jersey Devils play in their first playoff game since 2018 on or just after April 17, there will be a lot of talk about how inexperienced they are as a group in an NHL playoff setting. Part of that is true, many Devils will be making their NHL playoff debuts, and all but four – Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Damon Severson, Nico Hischier – will be making their New Jersey Devil playoff debuts.

This roster is littered with playoff experience – including the aforementioned four. Forwards Tomas Tatar and Erik Haula have played on teams with deep playoff runs, as did Ondrej Palat – whose name can be found twice on the Stanley Cup. The newly acquired duo of Curtis Lazar and Timo Meier have big-game experience. On the backend John Marino, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Brendan Smith, and Jonas Siegenthaler all have playoff games under their proverbial belts, as does goaltender Vitek Vanecek. Also, Head Coach Lindy Ruff won’t be making his playoff debut behind the bench, unlike New Jersey’s last foray into the playoffs with John Hynes.

New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils defenseman Damon Severson (28): Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The catch is – this group hasn’t played any playoff games together yet. This Devils team has clinched early enough and played enough big games this season that there shouldn’t be any issue past the opening 3-5 minute jitters they may experience before the start of Game 1.

During last season’s final media appearance by the players, Severson, the franchise’s current longest-tenured player, said: “Next year, if we’re standing here talking this time of year while other teams are gearing up for the playoffs, it would be a huge disappointment.”

Mission accomplished. Now they are fielding questions about possible first-round opponents, possible division titles, and facing ‘playoff-like’ games against teams competing for spots or seeding. Now the Devils’ next mission is advancing past the first round for the first time since 2012. But first things first.

“Lately, we’ve been playing some really good teams and sometimes there’s not a lot of space (on the ice). We’ve handled that pretty well,” Bratt said after a loss to the Minnesota Wild with 1.3 seconds left in overtime. “They didn’t give us too much space and we haven’t given them too much space. You can learn from every loss. It depends on if you dig yourself into a hole or learn something from it and come back stronger in the next game.”

You could count on one hand how many long-losing streaks New Jersey has had this season. That consistency should serve them well in the upcoming playoffs, no matter who they face. As will their ability to rally from an in-game deficit. They’ve already set a franchise record with 24 comeback wins this season.

“We’ve had a couple of tough years, and for the first time in a long time, we are playing really meaningful games at this time of year,” Bratt told Pucks & Pitchforks. “We’re playing for something that we’ve worked extremely hard for all season long. I’m extremely excited to have this opportunity and to see what is ahead of us.”

New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils left wing Jesper Bratt (63): John Jones-USA TODAY Sports /

I asked no. 63 if there is anything he can use to his advantage from his lone postseason experience as an NHL rookie – a five-game loss to Tampa Bay in the 2018 playoffs.

“Obviously, I’ve changed a lot since then – it’s been six years or whatever since that happened. I had a different role (on the team) at that time, and I learned a lot from it. It was quick shifts and tight games, there’s not a lot of space on the ice, and you have to battle for it. It was a good learning experience, and I’m ready this time to take a bigger step and be a bigger, key player for the Devils.”

The Devils will need Bratt to create offense as he did at the start of the season in at least one or two games. They’ll need all their stars to contribute and the role players too. Not one can do it without the other, and their chances certainly increased with the addition of a big bopper like Meier at the trade deadline.

“There aren’t too many prime, quality chances at this time of the year. And once you do get them, you have to make sure to bury them. This time of year, a lot of it (the strategy) is getting pucks towards the net, getting motion and traffic in front of the net,” explained the 24-year-old Bratt.

“This is the time of year, and especially in the playoffs where guys like him (Meier) live. He’s been playing really well, and we’re starting to find that chemistry.”

Next. Mercer and Tatar Will Be X-Factors In Playoffs. dark

All told, the Devils will only have nine players making the NHL playoff debuts this season, and they are a mostly healthy club with about three weeks until the meaningful games start. If they are able to get out of the first round, this could be a fun spring at the Rock.