Five Devils-Rangers storylines
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur catches a shot by New York Rangers centre Artem Anisimov during an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden in New York during the regular season. (REUTERS)
NEWARK, N.J. - The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils were separated by just seven points during the regular season as the Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference with 109 points and the Devils sixth with 102. Though seeding might say there were large differences between the teams, as hockey people know, what happens in the regular season usually means nothing come playoff time. Here are five things to watch for in the conference final with the Rangers and Devils:
1. Not so much a slow pace, but long stretches where not a lot (or so it appears) happens. If anyone needed to be reminded that defence-first hockey is the way to go, it was loud and clear when the Rangers eliminated the Washington Capitals, and to a bit of a lesser extent, when the Devils ousted the Philadelphia Flyers. Goals will be at a premium in this series, and if it’s possible, it will be as tight as the Rangers/Caps semifinal, which saw six of the seven games decided by one goal. We would expect that most of the goals in this series will come off mistakes, not that there will be many of those.
2. The Rangers' defencemen will have to make some adjustments, because the Devils forwards are going to fore-check a lot harder and with more energy than the Capitals did. One of the Devils’ strengths is cycling the puck, and they are relentless. Conversely, the Devils didn’t have as much to worry about with the Flyers as some thought they would, but Rangers coach John Tortorella liked his team’s aggressive nature in Game 7 against the Capitals and it’s something the Devils' defencemen will have to be ready for. Another reason to focus on the Rangers’ mobile blueliners is they like to jump into the play (Michael Del Zotto’s winner in Game 7 an example) and have eight goals in the playoffs.
3. The goaltending duel, if it can be called that, between Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur. By the end of the series, it could very well be that Lundqvist, who is always in position and doesn’t have to rely on his reflexes as much as he did when he was younger, emerges as the difference. The Rangers on many nights in the post-season have not required more than two goals to win. Both teams will tell you they wouldn’t want another guy as their last line of defence. Where Lundqvist has the edge with his actual play, he can only hope that one day he possesses the same kind of experience that Brodeur has now.
4. Special teams, with some specifics. The Rangers love to block shots, and didn’t have a problem letting the Capitals wind up from the point. Ilya Kovalchuk has a blistering shot, and the Rangers will have to do everything they can to take that away when the Devils are on the power play. Not every shot is blocked, and any one that gets through easily could be deflected for a goal. The Devils have allowed 12 power play goals -- the most of the four teams that are still alive. Both teams have scored nine power play goals in the post-season; only Philadelphia, with 15, had more. If the series is as evenly checked as many think it will be, the effectiveness of special teams, as always, will be paramount.
5. A lack of fighting. As much as more fisticuffs in the playoffs would add to the hatred that these intense rivals have for one another, don’t bet on many gloves being dropped. The Devils’ Cam Janssen was in the middle of most of the shenanigans in the regular season and he has yet to dress for a playoff game. Even so, no team is interested in being undisciplined, and even the thought of fighting could result in penalty trouble. You might get a fight, but it won’t be that staged garbage that was such a big part of the regular season series between the two. Devils coach Peter DeBoer coyly said on Sunday that we’ll have to wait until game time on Monday to see his starting lineup, but there’s no way there will be any surprises.