NHL Eastern Conference Finals Keys To Victory- Rangers-Devils
NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils kicked off their best-of-seven last night at Madison Square Garden and, on this night, the former came away with a 3-0 victory.
The rivalry between these two teams needs no buildup or explanation. It wasn’t long after the franchise was moved from Colorado to the Meadowlands that the Devils and Blueshirts developed a hatred for each other and, in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, they took things to a whole new level.
Just in case you’re in need of a memory refresher, Ranger captain Mark Messier guaranteed a game six win with his team on the brink of elimination. Not only did he deliver, he scored a hat trick in the process. Then, in the decisive game seven, (Stephane) Matteau! Matteau! Matteau! scored the game-winner in double overtime, sending New York to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Fast-forward the clock to 2012, where the Rangers and Devils find themselves back in the Conference Finals. As was the case in 1994, the Blueshirts have home ice advantage and Martin Brodeur, who recently turned 40, is still between the pipes for New Jersey, just like he was 18 years ago.
If last night’s contest taught us anything, it’s that Marty hasn’t lost much, if any, of the stride in his step. He was phenomenal, but the Rangers’ defensive efforts and shot-blocking prowess, along with superb goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, kept the Devils off the scoresheet. The Blueshirts were able to cash in with two goals (from Dan Girardi and Chris Kreider) and an empty-netter (Artem Anisimov) in the third period.
The Rangers’ performance in this game was straight out of the textbook. If you want to beat New Jersey, you’ve got to keep Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias and Zach Parise in check and score timely
goals of your own. New York wins by playing defense-first, gritty, grind-it-out hockey. Lundqvist has to be the Vezina-caliber goaltender he’s been all year long, because if he’s not, the Devils have more than enough firepower to blow right through him.
Likewise, New Jersey can win if they can open up holes in their opponent’s defensive coverage. That starts with passing; you need to make strong, crisp passes to pull a defending team out of position. Brodeur needs to continue matching Lundqvist save-for-save. He has to be on his game at all times, because the defense in front of him usually isn’t. The Devils have blown quite a few leads in these playoffs and you can’t do that against the Rangers and expect to win.
Special teams is going to be crucial in this series. I give the Devils the advantage in that department, especially because the Rangers don’t execute with the man-advantage and New Jersey is one of the best penalty-killing teams in the league. They’ve also sported the fourth-best power play in the playoffs; the Rangers, on the other hand, are 10-for-61, good enough for eighth-best.
I’m going with the New York Rangers in six games. I think, overall, they’re capable of both shutting down Jersey’s arsenal and finding the back of the net themselves. As long as they play their game, they have an excellent chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals…just like 1994.