Though these teams have played several series, this week all the attention will be focused on the 1994 Conference Semi-Finals, when the Rangers beat the Devils in Double Overtime (the third Overtime game of the series). Possibly the most memorable game was the “Messier Guarantee”, where Mark Messier scored a third period Natural Hat trick after the team fell behind 2-0 and facing elimination. All that nostalgia is great, but only one of these players participated in that series. The Devils will try to reverse the trend of losing to the Rangers in the post-season (92, 94, 97, 08) though they did sweep the 2006 matchup. For the Rangers, this is another team that plays great defense and is potentially explosive offensively. Been there, done that? We’ll see.
- The Rangers first trip to New Jersey saw them scored four consecutive goals and seal the game with a Carl Hagelin short-handed goal. Marian Gaborik had two goals (including the game-winner).
- A focused Rangers squad shutout the Devils instead of thinking about the trade deadline on February 27th. This game began with THREE fights at the opening face-off.
- The Rangers clinched a playoff berth on March 19th with a 4-2 win over the Devils. The Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and held off the fighting Devils to win 4-2.
- Facing back-up Martin Biron, the Devils got some good fortune when a dump-in hit a partition and caromed to David Clarkson to tie the game. Devils won in a shootout.
- Martin Brodeur was officially back to top form with his 1-0 shutout at MSG. Brodeur was sharp, stopping 30 shots and frustrating the Rangers. Controversial ending when the Rangers tied it, but ruled no goal because Artem Anisimov interfered with Brodeur.
- The Devils Ilya Kovalchuk broke out of his scoring woes in the first minute and the Devils got three third period goals to win comfortably at the Rock
- Can playing the Senators and Capitals have prepared the Rangers for the Devils?
- Are the Devils ready for a goalie at the top of their game?
- Will specialty teams be a factor or is this series all about 5-on-5?
- Can the Rangers stop Kovalchuk or will he produce as well as Alexander Ovechkin did?
- What difference will Travis Zajac make on the series?
- Which American Captain will have a bigger impact: Parise or Callahan?
- Is this series really all about the goaltenders?
- Can the Rangers find more offense beyond Gaborik-Hagelin-Richards?
- Will the Devils rest help or hurt them?
Rangers: Marian Gaborik is scoring again, but 2004 Conn Smythe trophy winner Brad Richards is playing at the highest level. In the Capitals series, Richards scored the Game 1 back-breaker goal, assisted on the Game 3 winner, tied Game 5 with 6.6 seconds left and opened Game 7 with a goal barely two minutes in. It may not be a four point game, but Richards has been the biggest power in the offensive end. He leads the Rangers in points and shots on goal. If he continues to produce, the Rangers will be in good shape.
Devils: Until this post-season Ilya Kovalchuk was hockey’s Tracy McGrady- greatest scorer, but never out of the first round. Kovalchuk put an end to that with 5 goals and 7 assists in this post season and was key to the Devils getting past the Florida Panthers. Though Kovalchuk missed a game in the Flyers series, he hasn’t stopped scoring with the one game layoff. Kovalchuk’s one-timer is the deadliest shot in hockey and the Devils will want to unleash it as much as possible.
Secondary Player to watch:
Rangers: Michael Del Zotto scored the Game 7 winner and was one of the best players against New Jersey all year. The Devils trapping style makes using the defenseman critical. Del Zotto has scored big goals for the Blueshirts and will need to play like he did in the final game of the Capitals series. His 8 points season are third on the Rangers.
Devils: Zach Parise. The Devils Captain has played inspired hockey this post season, scoring big goals and playing great defense. The perfect Devil forward (speed, skill, defensively responsible) hasn’t missed a beat after a lost 2010-11 season. He scored 31 goals and 38 assists, continuing to further the notion that he is the most underrated player in the NHL. He always brings his A-game against the Rangers who passed on him in the 2003 NHL Draft for Hugh Jessiman.
Surprise Player to Watch:
Rangers: Brian Boyle. Boyle wasn’t as much of a factor in the Washington series than he was in the Ottawa series until his concussion in Game 5. It looked like Boyle scored short-handed in Game 7, but was ruled no-goal since the ref lost sight of the puck. Perhaps that no-goal can snap Boyle back to life. Perhaps it’s just the bigger stage, but with no Brandon Dubinsky, the Rangers will need Boyle to be a physical presence. Ryan Callahan can’t do it all by himself.
Devils: David Clarkson netted 30 goals this season (13 above his career high) and has carried it over into the playoffs. With 2 goals and 6 assists as well as being a +6. He has been nasty, hitting every thing and his pressure on the Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timmonen and goalie Ilya Bryzgylov led to a gaff that clinched the series for the Jersey Boys. Clarkson is a no-nonsense player and will certainly mix it up as much as Chris Neil did against the Rangers in the first round- both offensively and defensively.
Specialty Teams: There are few teams that are better on the Penalty Kill than the Rangers (86.2%, 5th in the NHL). The Devils are not only better, but the best in the NHL (89.6%). That could be a HUGE problem. The Devils also boast a better Power Play (17.2%, 14th in the NHL) over the Rangers 15.7% that finished 23rd. This will make 5-on-5 critical. If the Rangers can win 5-on-5, then that’ll neutralize the Devils specialty teams.
Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist didn’t record a shutout against the Capitals, but in three of the four wins allowed only one goal. In the 13 of 14 games, the Rangers have not allowed (or scored) four goals. Lundqvist has been sensational with a .937 save percentage and a 1.68 Goals Against Average and the Rangers have not been out of any game, regardless if they’re being outplayed (see Caps series Game 6). His record against Brodeur is staggering (23-6-5 with a 1.73 GAA) and uncanny after the years of dominance Brodeur had over the Blueshirts. Wanting to be crowned, King Henrik wants to win this series and desires to beat the great Brodeur every time they face each other. In 08, Lundqvist dispatched the Rangers in 5 and would like history to repeat itself again.
Devils: Martin Brodeur is on the short list of Greatest Goaltender of All Time, but certainly has the crown for the NYC metro area. He owns nearly all the career records and his three Cups are second most to the Islanders Billy Smith. That said, Brodeur hadn’t been to the Conference Finals since the 03 Cup run and only won two series (NYR 06, TB 07) until this year. Now Brodeur still has muscle memory. His three-Cup experience is invaluable, but he is the only Devil left from the Championships. This season, Brodeur has posted a 2.05 GAA and a .920 save percentage. If not for Brodeur’s stellar Game 7 in Round 1, the Devils could have been watching this series. On the other hand, the only time his Devils beat the Rangers was defeating an injury-riddled 06 team that was no threat after Jaromir Jagr’s shoulder injury. Brodeur has been pulled from a game, which is something NONE of the goaltenders left can lay to claim. Brodeur was having a sub-par season until his shutout on Broadway jump started him. If experience is a factor, Brodeur’s certainly has that on his side.
Rangers: John Tortarella has keep the team focused, even after he rips the team in the media, but also commends the team as a whole as well. Back in January after Rangers owner James Dolan claimed “they’re close to winning a Cup”, Tortarella told the media, “That’s a bunch of bulls__t.” Keeping the pedal to the metal and teaching young players in the process, has showed how incredible the job he did this year.
Devils: Taking on a team that drastically underachieved in 2010-2011, Pete DeBoer moved from a budding Florida Panthers team to the team that goes through head coaches like the Flyers through goaltenders. The result after a slow start, DeBoer guided the Devils deeper into the post season than any coach since Pat Burns. He got a much more productive season out of Ilya Kovalchuk and kept the Devils afloat after Brodeur’s early season shoulder injury. He’s not the biggest name, but he’s done a great job.
The Rangers win if… Lundqvist is better than Brodeur. The Rangers must be better 5-on-5 and not be intimidated by the Devils’ muscle or scoring punch. This is a similar script to what they have already dealt with: a solid defensive team with scoring punch and a hot goalie. In each installment, the Rangers had to go to Game 7. Statistically, teams that played two Game 7′s in the first two rounds came up empty in the finals. Can the Rangers finish the Devils in less than seven? Perhaps it won’t be needed. Perhaps it’ll need Double Overtime again in Game 7 as a 94 encore?
The Devils win if… Specialty teams are a factor. If the superior Devils Power Play nets a few and the Penalty Kill keeps the Rangers off the board, they may not need Brodeur to be stellar. They may need him to be average. If they are forced to rely on the 40-year-old goalie, they’re not in a bad position either. Since his February shutout, Brodeur has added two more and one more in the post season. If all those are go the Devils way, this series will be short. They kept the Flyers from getting shots to the net ten minutes at a time. They will need to do that again versus New York.