One twinge and he probably was gone, and with him would vanish much of the heightened hopes the Devils have for their return to the playoffs.

Travis Zajac is the reason the playoff Devils are considerably better than the regular-season version of just three weeks ago. It's as if they acquired a No. 1 center just before the playoffs, significantly strengthening an already formidable team.

Zajac is expected to line up as the Devils' No. 1 center, between Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, when they open the first round against the Panthers tonight.