May 13, 2012
Breaking down the Eastern finalRangers given the edge ahead of Game 1 in New York
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
You could call it the Presidents' Choice series.
You can take the George Washington Bridge or the Lincoln tunnel to go back and forth between Manhattan and Newark for the Eastern Conference final between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.
It's a series that pits two teams that appear to have swapped identities. For years, the Rangers were a free-wheeling team filled with big-name free agents who treated defence like it was a four-letter word.
The Devils were known for their trapping ways on the way to winning three Stanley Cups.
Well, now the Broadway Blueshirts really do have blue collars and win by keeping pucks out of their net. The Devils are the highest-scoring team left in the Stanley Cup tournament, with 36 goals in 12 games.
Given the history between the two teams -- remember three fights off the opening faceoff during the regular season? -- this shapes up as a series that will have lots of jam.
We consulted an Eastern Conference coach to break down the two teams and pick a winner for us.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
New Jersey Devils: Martin Brodeur
The coach's take: "I tell you, I think this could be the biggest difference in the series. I'm surprised Brodeur has been able to hold it together as well as he has so far. His team has played extremely well in front of him. I think he could be exposed very easily in this series. I just look at the goals he gives up. He really relies on the team in front of him now because he's lost a step. It's all about matchups. I look at a team like Philly and there was such hatred there against Pittsburgh, it's almost like that was your Stanley Cup right there. They looked like they left everything in that series and weren't the same team against New Jersey. Normally, I think Philly beats the Devils even with (Ilya) Bryzgalov in net. I don't think they really went after Brodeur. I think Lundqvist is the difference in this series, I honestly do."
New York Rangers: Michael Del Zotto-Marc Staal; Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh; Anton Stralman-Stu Bickel
New Jersey Devils: Marek Zidlicky-Bryce Salvador; Mark Fayne-Andy Greene; Adam Larsson-Anton Volchenkov
The coach's take: "New Jersey picking up Zidlicky really helped them with their mobility. They had Greene, but that really solidified themselves. Volchenkov is a good, solid 'D.' They've got a good mix there and so do the Rangers. I look at their two groups of defence and I think they are pretty much identical. The Rangers have Del Zotto, who will jump up into the play as we saw Saturday (in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals). If you look at the Rangers, (coach John) Tortorella has Girardi and Staal logging big minutes. Torts is going to ride the crap out of those guys. New Jersey uses their bench more, which could be a factor in a longer series.
Advantage: NONE "I think the two positions are pretty comparable"
New York Rangers: Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik; Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Ryan Callahan; Ruslan Fedotenko-Brian Boyle-Artem Anisimov; John Mitchell-Mike Rupp-Brandon Prust.
New Jersey Devils: Alex Ponikarovsky-Travis Zajac-Ilya Kovalchuk; Zach Parise-David Clarkson-Patrik Elias; Petr Sykora-Adam Henrique-Dainius Zubrus; Stephen Gionta-Ryan Carter-Steve Bernier.
The coach's take: "I think the key here is which coach is going to be able to get the most out of his depth. There's a lot of top-end firepower on both teams, but I have to give the edge to New Jersey. I just think they've got more guys who can score on a nightly basis. Look, they've got their top guys, Parise, Zajac, Kovalchuk, and then Sykora, Elias, Zubrus, Clarkson ... I think they've got scoring down into their third line. The Rangers have Richards, Gaborik -- if he shows up -- Callahan, who I love, and Boyle and that's about it. Not a lot of scoring depth there. Both teams love to play in front of the net and try to get the garbage goals, which is what all the teams are doing now at this point.
New York Rangers: Power play: 9-for-57, 15.8% (ninth); penalty killing: 38-for-46, 82.6% (10th)
New Jersey Devils: Power play: 9-for-43, 20.9% (fourth); penalty killing: 34-for-46 73.9% (13th)
The coach's take: "Both teams have their hot and cold streaks on the power play. One game it's good and then the next game it struggles. The one thing I fear about New Jersey's power play is it gives up goals. It can have as many scored against them. Their power play can be good, but it also gives up chances and that's a lot of question marks for me. I like both teams' penalty killing. They block a lot of shots and both teams do a pretty good job. The Rangers have a shooting power play, they go for a lot of screens and tips. The Devils have a few more playmakers.
Advantage: RANGERS. "How many shorties are the Devils going to give up?"
New York Rangers: John Tortorella
New Jersey Devils: Peter DeBoer
The coach's take: "I have to give the edge to Torts. This is Peter's first playoff. I have to give Torts the edge on his experience. He's good at adjusting and he's not afraid to run a short bench. He knows how to get those guys going when it comes to crunch time. Right now, Torts has more experience and that's big at this time of year. He's played two seven-game series and he still doesn't care about riding a guy like Brad Richards for 22, 23, 24 minutes a game if he has to. Torts looks at it this way: 'You can rest over the summer.' He rides the crap out of guys. That's what he did in Tampa right to the end when they won. It's what he does."
The coach's take: "The Devils have had the two easier series, compared to the Rangers. The Devils had a long series against Florida, but it wasn't physical, and a short one against the Flyers. In that sense, the Devils are more rested. They're a little fresher. It will be interesting to see if Torts uses his fourth line more, uses that Rupp line for some push back and gives some other players a little rest. I think that will be his biggest challenge."
The coach's pick: NEW YORK RANGERS "Goaltending will be the biggest key."