Marty Gras or Ray of delight?

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ray Emery vs. Martin Brodeur.

That's what the Senators' Eastern Conference semi-final against the New Jersey Devils could come down to when the two teams hit the ice tonight for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series.

"Is Ray Emery going to be able to beat Martin Brodeur in a seven-game series? That's what this is going to be all about," said an Eastern Conference coach. "One guy has a pedigree and the other guy is trying to prove himself."

So how do the teams stack up? The Senators will get offence out of skilled players such as Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson while the Devils, with a defence-first reputation, are led offensively by Patrik Elias, Brian Gionta, Zach Parise and Scott Gomez.

With those thoughts in mind, the coach, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, broke down the series for us.

FORWARDS:

The Senators didn't get as much scoring as they would have liked from Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but role players like Chris Kelly, Antoine Vermette and Dean McAmmond stepped up. The Devils rely on two scoring lines: Elias plays alongside Gomez and Gionta, while Parise is with Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner. John Madden, Jay Pandalfo and Sergei Brylin are used in defensive roles. "I look at this, and I say, 'Yes, Ottawa's forwards are better,' " said the coach.

"The Senators are just deeper as far as I'm concerned. Their third line is better than New Jersey's third line and Ottawa's top three is better than New Jersey's top three. The big challenge for the Senators is the Devils are really good at shutdown. The Senators didn't face that in the first round against the Penguins."

EDGE: Senators.

DEFENCE:

Senators defencemen Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov enhanced their reputation as one of the NHL's top shutdown pairings with a sterling performance against Sidney Crosby and Co. The Senators need to see more progress from Wade Redden, while Andrej Meszaros has to regain his consistency. Joe Corvo has emerged with more of a role, while Tom Preissing has been consistent. The Devils have all-star Brian Rafalski leading the defensive corps with partner Paul Martin and then it gets kind of sketchy. Brad Lukowich and rookie Andy Green played well against the Bolts, but the Senators are going to be a different challenge. The health of Colin White (back spasms) is an issue, but veteran Richard Matvichuk stepped in during the playoffs and was solid. "The Senators are more balanced on the blue line," said the coach. "Phillips and Volchenkov are an outstanding shutdown pairing -- among the best in the league. I'm concerned about the way Redden and Meszaros are playing, but in spite of that, the Senators are better. Corvo has really stepped up his game."

EDGE: Senators

GOALTENDING:

Emery, 24, has 15 career playoff games with a 9-6-0 record lifetime and 2.59 goals-against average. Brodeur, 34, has 93-67 playoff record. It should be interesting to note, though, he is 6-7 in his playoff career against the Senators -- he was in the net when Ottawa upset the Devils in 1998. "The thing people forget is Brodeur makes the Devils' defence look even better," said the coach. "He plays the puck well, he controls the rebounds and he makes the big saves. This is going to be a big challenge for (Emery), there's no question. No bad goals is going to be the key. Brodeur is pretty hard to get to. You've got to move him around. He didn't have a great series against Tampa, but when the chips were down, he performed."

EDGE: Devils

INTANGIBLES:

Leadership. The Devils have been there before with guys like Madden, Brodeur, Gomez, Elias, Pandalfo and Rafalski.

They know what it takes and they've got Stanley Cup rings to prove it. The Senators say they've learned from their playoff mistakes. "Leadership would be the difference this year," said the coach. "I watched Alfredsson play in that first series and he was so strong. He looks like he wants to take them a long way. That being said, the Devils still have a lot of guys who grew up in that system and they stay because they want to win."

EDGE: Devils.

COACHING:

New Jersey president/GM/coach Lou Lamoriello pulled off a shocker when he fired coach Claude Julien with three games left in the season. Lamoriello, who stepped behind the bench, doesn't have a lot of NHL coaching experience. Murray has done his time in the GM's box, but he's also coached more than 1,000 games. He has no contract with the Senators for next year and would like to advance beyond the second round for the first time in his coaching career. "I'd give the edge to Ottawa because they made the change in New Jersey and Murray has done a good job with Ottawa this year," said the coach. "Really, the Devils are coaching themselves right now."

EDGE: Senators.

THE COACH SAYS: The Senators in six.


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