I'll admit I was a bit stumped with what to write about this week; the last couple of articles I was writing got derailed by bigger circumstances and sadly the ideas I was originally writing about (especially the one about Larsson/Gelinas and their contract status) are no longer topical. So what was I to do? Here we sit with still just about two months to go before even the preseason starts and we have a team taking on a whole new identity; part of that new identity involved the team buying out Dainius Zubrus yesterday. As such I decided to say goodbye to a player who for a while was a great role player for our Devils with today's edition of Throwback Thursday.
Travelling Back to May 21, 2012
Okay, so I know it wasn't that long ago, but technically it was the last season where the Devils could be considered relevant. The team was trailing 2 games to 1 against Our Hated Rivals after being shutout at home the previous game. The boys would come out playing with fire and with about 8 minutes gone in the first period, Jacob Josefson would try to maneuver around Marc Staal; while he was terribly unsuccessful (as you can see below) he managed to get the puck deep and recover from the big hit. Josefson and David Clarkson would work the puck around to Alexei Ponikarovsky who would slide it back to Bryce Salvador at the point. Sal would toss a seemingly harmless wrist shot towards the net; I honestly don't think anyone knew it was in until the referee put his hand in the air.
As they had posted 8 goals in the previous 3 games compared to our 3 goals, it's safe to say the team knew that 1 goal would not be enough. While the so-called "ZIP" Line of Travis Zajac, Ilya "Retired" Kovalchuk and Zach "Benedict" Parise had started they playoffs together, the line had been split in an effort to generate more offense. While Kovalchuk had been shifted to a different line, Z and P remained and, needing another linemate, Dainius Zubrus was moved up to fill the hole to create the "ZZZ" line, hence the article title.
Just under four minutes had passed since the opening score and the play here starts off innocently enough; the puck is cleared out of OHR's defensive zone and sent towards our defensive zone. Mark Fayne gets the puck and chips it out to center where Dan Girardi takes it and sends it to his partner Michael Del Zotto. Del Zotto pushes it up towards his forwards and this is where the beauty of the play begins; Zubrus uses his frame to check Artem Anisimov while taking the puck away from him as well. He pushes it up to Benedict while also absorbing a minor check from Brian Boyle who probably should have been going after the puck since Del Zotto's attempt to take #9 out of the play left the Devils with a 2 on 1.
One saucer pass over Girardi later would see Zajac one-time the puck, put New Jersey up 2-0, and seemingly taunt a Rivals fan behind the glass by screaming at them at the 0:20 mark. Maybe he was just celebrating but hey let's sell the narrative of the rivalry here! The Devils would dominate Game 4, winning by a 4-1 score and tying the series at 2; the team would not lose another game in the series en route to paying back OHR for 1994.
So why is this play where he got a measly secondary assist my way of celebrating Zubrus' time with the team? It's simple; to me this play epitomized Dainius Zubrus' usefulness to New Jersey. You had a player who was playing everywhere from the third line to the first line in this playoff series. He put his body on the line when the situation called for it; he protected and battled for pucks which helped send the play towards the opposing goal. He chipped in with goals and assists as well; while he will never be remembered as a premium point producer, he wasn't a black hole (until the last couple of seasons anyway) in the offensive zone and definitely WILL be remembered as a guy who always played for the crest on the front of the jersey.
I know I've personally been quite critical of Dainius on this site due to his play in recent seasons, but he was a good soldier for many seasons. With his removal from the active roster, it's a bit easier to take a step back and enjoy the positive moments from his time in New Jersey. I wish him nothing but the best in any future endeavors, be they hockey or not as he has always seemed like a genuinely good dude.
I know we had a great discussion in yesterday's article about Zubby, but if there's anything else you have, please share it below. Thank you as always for reading!