Devils keep pressure on Rangers

Zach Parise, of the New Jersey Devils, controls the puck against Ryan McDonagh, of the New York...

Zach Parise, of the New Jersey Devils, controls the puck against Ryan McDonagh, of the New York Rangers, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final during the 2012 NHL playoffs at Madison Square Garden. (GETTY)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:35 PM ET

NEWARK, N.J. - One of the first things Peter DeBoer did last July when he was hired as coach of the New Jersey Devils was reach out to his players, those who he had coached against but didn't know on a personal level.

That's nothing out of the ordinary, as it's one of the things any coach with strong communication skills would do upon starting a new job. But out of those conversations, especially the chats with Zach Parise, the man DeBoer would name captain in October, came the basis for the system the Devils play.

Yes, it has worked, as they're one of four teams standing in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, tied 1-1 in the Eastern Conference final with the New York Rangers and Game 3 coming Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center.

"I had conversations with Zach and some of the other players over the summer, and they really felt that we could put a little more pressure on other teams," DeBoer, who a few months before had been fired after three years as coach of the Florida Panthers, said during a conference call Thursday.

"They felt a lot of times they were playing three against five last season rather than having a five-man forecheck and five men involved in the offensive zone.

"When we got to New Jersey and I looked at the situation, (the Devils) had been 30th the prior year in goals scored, 29th or 30th in shots a night. What was the best way to get (the forwards) involved?"

The Devils now create a lot of offence off a relentless forecheck. Their ability to cycle the puck is strong, and if the Rangers defencemen can't contain them along the boards, they will run into trouble.

But the support from the defencemen has been paramount for the forwards. The Devils' blueliners are encouraged to involve themselves in the offensive zone, and sometimes that can have interesting results. Because Marek Zidlicky was on the attack during Game 2, it was forward Adam Henrique who dropped back to the point, releasing the shot that David Clarkson would tip for the game-winning goal.

"From a forward standpoint, it's kind of a relief to those D-men involved," Parise said. "It just makes life a lot easier. It opens things up for everybody, opens up second opportunities.

"You're allowed to get more offensive-zone time, and they've done a great job the whole playoffs of keeping pucks alive and keeping cycles going. They're really hemming teams in their zone with how well they've been pinching."

The pickup of Zidlicky from the Minnesota Wild in a trade days before the February deadline helped support DeBoer's style.

"His skating ability, his patience with the puck, has really helped us out a lot up front and kept plays alive," Parise said. "That was a really good acquisition for us because it really gave us a new attack and a new dynamic that we were somewhat lacking."

It's crucial for the Devils to keep creating off the forecheck and force the Rangers into making hasty decisions. There is not a lot that separates the two teams in the series, as one could envision it being decided in Game 7 on a deflected shot or by one player taking advantage of a mistake.

Neither team practised Thursday, getting some rest during the only two-day break of the series.

A day later, did Rangers coach John Tortorella see any positives from Game 2 that his team could build on?

"To be honest with you, not many," Tortorella said. "I thought we played some minutes in the second period, found a way to score some power-play goals. But other than that, we didn't play enough minutes.

"You have a short-term memory come playoff time. Playoffs are a whole different animal. We just spend time trying to make corrections in our game, trying to be better in the things we think we need to be better in for our next game and go about our business."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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