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Posted On Monday, 05.21.2012 / 12:14 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Game 4 lineup for Rangers likely to feature Bickel

NEW YORK -- With Brandon Prust out of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals due to a one-game suspension, the Rangers will likely turn to a defenseman to fill the vacated spot at forward.

Stu Bickel, who played four games as a forward in February with the Rangers battling injuries, was dressed as a forward during the Rangers' morning skate at Madison Square Garden on Monday. Bickel was a healthy scratch for Game 3, but is ready to make the adjustment to forward to replace Prust.

Bickel wouldn't reveal for sure if he was in the lineup, but said there was a small adjustment to playing as a fourth-line forward.

"I don't know what's going on as far as tonight goes," Bickel said. "It's still the same game. We all know the systems and everything like that. I don't think it was too tough. It maybe took me a couple shifts. I don't remember that far back exactly how it went. I don't think it was too bad."

Forward Brandon Dubinsky practiced for the third time in four days (the Rangers did not have a practice or morning skate before Game 3) but stayed on the ice long after Bickel went to the locker room and will not play in Game 4. Dubinsky's presence would've given the Rangers more flexibility on the penalty kill, a role Prust has played all season but Bickel has not.

With Dubinsky out of the lineup since Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, the Rangers have sprinkled the shorthanded ice time among forwards between five main guys -- Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko. Dubinsky has played a major role on the PK all season, but his absence leaves the Rangers with just four steady penalty-killing forwards.

The next-busiest penalty-killing forwards after that group of six during the postseason are Brad Richards (20 seconds per game) and Artem Anisimov (19 seconds per game). Should the Rangers find themselves in a lot of shorthanded situations against the Devils, they will likely have to call on their depth to help kill the penalties.

The Rangers found a way to get by during the conference quarterfinals with Carl Hagelin lost for three games due to a suspension, as rookie Chris Kreider filled the opening and is now the Rangers' second-leading goal scorer in the playoffs with five.

With Prust out, someone else will need to step up for one game.

"He's a big guy for us. He plays in a lot of key situations," Callahan said of Prust. "He's a guy who brings energy to us. It's an opportunity for someone to step up and step in. You saw earlier in the playoffs when we lost a guy like Hags and Kreids steps in and he plays big. It's an opportunity for somebody and somebody has to grab a hold of it."

The Rangers did not hold a full practice and therefore did not reveal any potential line combinations. But if Bickel replaces Prust, here's what the lineup could potentially look like against the Devils as the Rangers look to extend their lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-1.

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Ruslan Fedotenko
Mike Rupp - John Mitchell - Stu Bickel

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Steve Eminger

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Posted On Monday, 05.21.2012 / 11:52 AM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Stralman shrugs off alleged illegal hit by Zubrus

NEW YORK -- Rangers coach John Tortorella made a point Sunday to say while Brandon Prust delivered a hit to the head of Anton Volchenkov during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, perhaps the NHL should look at a hit the Devils' Dainius Zubrus had on Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman in the same game.

Prust received a one-game ban for his hit and will be out of the lineup for Game 4 on Monday night, but Zubrus' alleged illegal hit went unpunished. At about the eight-minute mark of the second period of Game 3, Zubrus can be seen knocking Stralman to the ice, but Stralman said Monday morning that he had no recollection of that hit.

"I didn't feel anything," Stralman said. "I haven't seen it. I don't know what it looks like. I'm looking forward to the game tonight."

Stralman is sporting a black right eye, but that was from a hit he received earlier in the playoffs and not from Zubrus.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Posted On Monday, 05.21.2012 / 11:42 AM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Game 4 lineup for Devils sees Josefson in, Sykora out

NEWARK, N.J. -- There were no new surprises with regard to lineup changes on the ice for the New Jersey Devils on Monday during the team's morning skate at Prudential Center.
Coach Pete DeBoer created a bit of stir with several new combinations at Sunday's practice, including the insertion of center Jacob Josefson on the team's third line. The coach confirmed on Monday that Josefson would replace Petr Sykora in the lineup.
What does he expect from Josefson?
"Basically just get in, bring us some energy, play like you did the last three, four weeks of the season," DeBoer said. "He's had a tough year between the injuries and the adversity, really over the last two years and I really felt the last two, three weeks of the season, he had re-found his game and his confidence.  If we can get a version of that player in the lineup [Monday], we'll be a better team."
The Devils have scored just three goals in three games against the New York Rangers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series that resumes Monday at Prudential Center with Game 4. The Rangers will be looking to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
Josefson, who hasn't played since fracturing his left wrist against the Islanders on April 3, will center the Devils' third line between Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson.
"I've been playing with those guys before and they're both really good at using their body and protecting the puck and creating chances," Josefson told "It's fun to play with them. There may be some nervousness, but that's normal, that's good. When you're a little nervous you know you're ready."
When Sykora finished his skate, a throng of media members surrounded his stall, prompting the veteran forward to smile and proclaim, "I don't get this much media attention when I play."
Josefson, who was limited to 41 games during the regular season because of injuries, had two goals and nine points.
Similar to Sunday, DeBoer had Travis Zajac between Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus on the top line and rookie Adam Henrique centering the second line between Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias.
"When the team is struggling to score goals, we're trying to mix, and [line changes] always happens," Kovalchuk said. "So [me and Elias] played together before, during the season. He's a great playmaker, always in a great position. So I think we can help each other a lot and create a lot of chances and hang in there. He can skate, and he's great with the puck so I'm really excited to play with Elias [on Monday]."
The only players who will play in Monday's game, but did not skate at the optional practice were defensemen Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene.
Here are the probable line combinations for Monday:
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 3:47 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Devils baffled by Tortorella's comments

NEWARK, N.J. -- Devils coach Peter DeBoer had one word to describe the gamesmanship comments made by Rangers coach John Tortorella on Sunday.

"Comical," DeBoer said, without elaborating any further.

In defense of DeBoer saying Brandon Prust was "headhunting, plain and simple" when he hit Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the head with an elbow -- a play that earned Prust a disciplinary hearing Sunday morning with the NHL's Department of Player Safety -- Tortorella went off on a rant about how the Devils stay down on the ice to try to draw calls from the officials.

Tortorella specifically pointed out what he viewed as Dainius Zubrus elbowing Anton Stralman and Zach Parise "launching himself" at Michael Del Zotto. He also talked about the Devils using an illegal pick as a set play on the power play to stop the Rangers defensemen from blocking shots.

"There's some gamesmanship right there, huh?" Tortorella said.

The Devils don't know or understand what Tortorella is talking about, especially his remarks about staying down on the ice to draw penalties.

"I don't pay attention to that and I don't know of anyone in here that has done that, unless they're referring to Volchenkov, when he got elbowed in the head," Parise said. "I mean, I don't think anyone in here has done that. Maybe he saw something differently, but I don't think we've done that at all."

Zubrus couldn't even remember a hit on Stralman.

"I don't know what (Tortorella's) thought process is, what's he's thinking," Zubrus said. "The hit on Volchy got quite a bit of attention. Maybe they want to turn the attention away from that."

Asked if he heard from the League about an elbow on Stralman, Zubrus said no.

"I didn't know about any of this until you guys (the media) told me," he added.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 3:30 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Brodeur credits Lundqvist, says Devils 'will find a way'

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils don't want to heap too much praise on Henrik Lundqvist, but as a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and a fan of the position, Martin Brodeur certainly admires what the Rangers goalie is doing.

"Oh yeah, he's impressive," Brodeur said after practice Sunday. "I think it's a combination of the way that the players are playing in front of him, him making the big saves, controlling his game. What can you say? He's been good. We expected that. He's not surprising anybody. I know he's not surprising me. I know he's that good. We just have to find a way.

"We found a way against (Jean-Sebastien) Giguere in '03. We'll find a way against him."

Brodeur is, of course, referring to the Devils finding a way to get the best of Giguere in the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy, but the Devils won the Stanley Cup with a 3-0 win in Game 7 at the Meadowlands.

Lundqvist would be considered a Conn Smythe Trophy favorite if he gets past the Devils. He made 36 saves for the 3-0 win in Game 3 and afterward Devils coach Peter DeBoer gave him credit for being the difference.

"Let's face it, he's playing really well. He's played well all season, all playoffs," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "I think it's important for us to not overanalyze and keep shooting, not pass up opportunities. Just keep shooting. We're getting the chances and they will go in; we just can't allow ourselves to pass up opportunities. Again, it just comes down to us taking advantage of our plays."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Sykora likely to be a healthy scratch for Game 4

NEWARK, N.J. -- Petr Sykora has played in every game this season for the Devils after not playing in the NHL at all last season. It's a run of 97 straight games played that Sykora says he's quite proud of.

It's also a streak that will likely come to an end Monday.

Sykora is expected to be a healthy scratch in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. Jacob Josefson is healthy again after fracturing his wrist on April 3 and in all likelihood will take Sykora's place in the lineup as the Devils try to even the series at Prudential Center.

"It's kind of fresh to me right now," Sykora said after staying on the ice for an extra-long workout after practice Sunday. "I haven't really had time to think about it. Just come in (Monday), stay in shape and just wait until I get a chance again."

Sykora has no points in the last four games and just two goals and two assists in 15 playoff games. He had a goal and an assist to help the Devils win Game 4 against Philadelphia, but has been silent since with only six shots on goal.

"Those are some of the tough decisions you have to make in the playoffs," said Devils coach Peter DeBoer, who also noted the lineup is not finalized yet.

That said, it certainly seems likely that Sykora will not play in Game 4. He was asked how he thinks he has played in the first three games against the Rangers, but Sykora said it's not a fair question for him to answer.

"It's hard to judge yourself the way you play, because you always think you're playing good," Sykora said. "Other people should judge how you play because they see you from the top and they see how you play."

DeBoer and his coaching staff must not have liked what they've seen from Sykora of late.

"I didn't miss a game, but that doesn't mean anything right now," Sykora said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

DeBoer mixes up lines, expects to have Josefson back

NEWARK, N.J. -- After getting shut out in Game 3, the Devils changed up their top three lines at practice Sunday complete with a new addition to the lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

The Rangers lead the series 2-1 after winning 3-0 on Sunday. The Devils had 36 shots on goal, but couldn't solve Henrik Lundqvist.

"It's been fairly common practice for us to move people around when we haven't had success scoring goals," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's a little different situation. I thought we generated a lot of quality chances (in Game 3). The easy thing would be to stick with it, hope you come out next game do the same thing and score. But, we've decided to shuffle some things around and I think we'll get some results from that."

Jacob Josefson, who hasn't played since fracturing his left wrist against the Islanders on April 3, said he will play Monday. Petr Sykora is expected to come out of the lineup to make room for Josefson, who will likely center the Devils third line between Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson.

"He's been an effective guy for us and we missed him while he was out," DeBoer said of Josefson.

Adam Henrique should move up to center the second line between Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. Kovalchuk was playing with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac and Elias was in the middle between Dainius Zubrus and Sykora.

However, Elias will likely move to the left wing and Kovalchuk, although it appeared he was playing on the left side in practice Sunday, expects to stay on the right wing, where he has played for virtually the entire season.

DeBoer admitted moving Elias to the wing could take some of the pressure off of him. He has zero points in the last five games and just five points in 15 playoff games.

"It takes some of the responsibility off him to work low in our end and to create offense at the other end," DeBoer said. "Hopefully that translates to some offense."

The top line now has Zajac in between Parise and Zubrus. That has been a line for the Devils in the past, before DeBoer even got to New Jersey.

"Two seasons ago we played with Zubie a little bit, me and Zach, but I don't think we have to read into it too much," Zajac said. "I don't think at this time it matters who you are playing with. We have been playing well and if we do the right things we are going to be successful, get our chances."

The only line that stayed the same was the fourth line of Stephen Gionta between Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter.

Here is an easy rundown of the Devils expected lineup for Game 4 with lines, defense pairings and goaltenders:

Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier

Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold

Martin Brodeur
Johan Hedberg

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Dubinsky back on the ice at Rangers practice

NEW YORK -- Brandon Dubinsky, who hasn't played since Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals, was on the ice Sunday for the Rangers' optional practice at Madison Square Garden.

It's the second time Dubinsky has practiced since injuring his ankle and first time he wasn't wearing a non-contact jersey.

"It's nice to be back with the guys," said Dubinsky, who offered no timeline for his return. "It's nice to shoot some pucks on a goalie. It just feels good to be around and actually get a chance to jump on the ice."

If Rangers' forward Brandon Prust is suspended for his hit to the head of Anton Volchenkov in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday, coach John Tortorella isn't sure what that will do to his lineup for Game 4 Monday night.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with the lineup," Tortorella said. "I don't think he should be suspended. So I really haven't gone that far, because I don't think he should be."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Posted On Sunday, 05.20.2012 / 1:33 PM

By Dave Lozo - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Tortorella fires back on 'headhunter' comment

NEW YORK -- On Saturday, Devils coach Peter DeBoer referred to the Rangers' Brandon Prust as a "headhunter" after his blow to the back of the head of defenseman Anton Volchenkov.

On Sunday, Rangers coach John Tortorella responded to that comment by defending Prust and accusing the Devils of embellishing calls and setting illegal picks during their power plays.

"He's probably one of the most honest players," Tortorella said, before launching into a a big chunk of gamesmanship. "I look at (Dainius Zubrus') elbow to (Anton) Stralman. I look at (Zach) Parise launching himself at (Michael) Del Zotto. Maybe if our players stay down on the ice, we'll get something. We tell our players don't stay down on the ice, get up.

"The picking on the power play. If we want to start discussing officials with the media, I've got a long list here. That's a set play by Jersey -- picking so we can't get to (Ilya) Kovalchuk to block his shot. There's some gamesmanship right there, huh?"

The hit by Prust did not draw a penalty, but it did earn him a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety Sunday morning. He explained the hit following an optional practice at Madison Square Garden, saying Volchenkov ducked into the hit at the last moment.

"I was just trying to get in a check before I was at the end of a shift," Prust said. "I was skating over for a routine check to rub him out and get off the ice and he bailed out of it and turned and kind of went low. It's just kind of a reaction when you're off-balance and your arms go up. I didn't want to do a face-plant into the boards. I had no intent to hit him in the head there."

In regards to the intentional interference with the Devils on the power play, Tortorella was referencing Kovalchuk's goal in Game 2. The puck was moved quickly from the right side of the zone to the left side, and a wide-open Kovalchuk was able to snap a shot over the catching glove of Henrik Lundqvist.

One of the reasons Kovalchuk was all alone was the Devils' Patrik Elias getting in the way of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.

"There's been a few times when they try to get in the way in front of the net," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's obviously something they've talked about and they're trying to do. We're trying to do our best to get around that, but sometimes you can't and it creates an opportunity for their team. It's more noticeable against these guys. For us as 'D' you want to try to stay loose in case something breaks down. Hopefully this gets the radar up a little bit and helps us out."

As for the notion that the Devils are trying to buy calls by staying down on the ice, Prust said he was surprised that Volchenkov didn't get up right away.

"I didn't even know I elbowed him," Prust said. "I went to the bench and thought maybe I caught him with my knee, maybe charlie-horsed him. I didn't hit him that hard. I think I just grazed his helmet and it slid up. For sure, he's trying to get a penalty when your helmet comes up. It's just natural trying to sell that."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
Posted On Saturday, 05.19.2012 / 6:18 PM

By Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer / - Rangers vs. Devils series blog

Devils to work on special teams before Game 4

NEWARK, N.J. -- Are the New Jersey Devils losing their "special" swagger against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals?
It would certainly appear that way.
Ilya Kovalchuk
Left Wing - NJD
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 13
SOG: 47 | +/-: -6
"I think specialty teams have been the different in this series," Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk said. "They score on their power play and we don't, so we have to work on that [Sunday] at practice."
The Rangers opened a 2-1 series lead on the Devils on Saturday at Prudential Center following a 3-0 victory. New Jersey not only allowed at least one power-play to the Rangers in the loss, but finished 0-for-5 on the power play.
"We just have to create the lanes and get the puck in the net," Kovalchuk said. "We got some good chances and good looks, but we got a couple stick breaks at the wrong time and we hit the post. I had some chances … we just have to keep working."
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