Pete DeBoer usually deflects credit to assistant coach Adam Oates for selecting the hot hand in the shootout -- the Devils boast an impressive 12-4 record in the skills competition -- but he had no problem taking credit after Tuesday's 2-1 win against the Blackhawks.
The first-year Devils coach said it was a "gut feeling" that prompted him to use Travis Zajac in the fifth round. It was only Zajac's second game back from injury and he knew Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford might be caught unprepared.
"I knew they wouldn't have any film on him," DeBoer joked.
The gamble paid off as Zajac picked the top right corner to edge the Blackhawks to nab a vital two points and help preserve a stellar 37-save effort from goaltender Martin Brodeur. It was an important moment for the top-line center, who has missed virtually the entire season battling a lingering Achilles injury sustained in August.
"It's nice to contribute in any way possible," Zajac said. "I'm just working on trying to get better every game and feeling better and preparing for playoffs. These guys have been working hard all year and playing well and I'm just trying to keep up with them."
Zajac said he "figured he'd get a shot in the shootout if it went long enough." When his shot came, he went in with a plan and didn't deviate.
"I kind of had my mind made up before I went," he said. "I think I used that last year and I scored, so I'll just stick with it until it doesn't work again."
Zajac admitted he still needs to improve until he returns to peak form -- he made his season debut in December after missing four months, but was sidelined again after re-aggravating the injury shortly afterwards -- but can see himself making progress.
"It's getting there. It's still a little frustrating," he said. "There are still some parts of the game I don't feel 100% on but it's gonna come."