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Devils coach rooting for OT in Caps-Rangers Game 7

by Adam Kimelman

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer will be watching Game 7 Saturday between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals very closely, and will be rooting for one thing.


"The longer the better," he told reporters Friday.

DeBoer elected to give his team a full day off Friday as the Devils await their opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals, which will start Monday.


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"I don't think there's such a thing as too much rest this time of year," DeBoer said. "We have to stay sharp. That's [the coaches'] job, to manage the schedule and days off so we're ready to go Game 1. That's on the coaching staff to manage it properly. I wouldn't want to trade spots with someone playing a Game 7 right now."

While DeBoer let his players rest, he and his coaching staff won't get the same treatment.

"We're hard at work," he said. "If anything there's more work because of the Game 7, because you have to do double the preparation. We have to be ready Sunday morning to present on either team, which makes it really double the work. But you wouldn't want it any other way."

The Rangers and Capitals offer different challenges. The Devils split their six games with the Rangers in the regular season while winning three of four against the Capitals -- though two games were decided in shootouts.

"They both present different challenges," DeBoer said. "The Rangers consistently have been one of the best teams in the League all year. They work hard, they block shots, they play a good team game. Their goalie is one of the best in the world. They present a bunch of different challenges. Washington has really taken on a defensive identity. You combine that with some real game-breaking players they still have in their lineup that can beat you one-on-one, the [Alexander] Semins, the [Alex] Ovechkins, the [Nicklas] Backstroms, those types of guys. It's a little different look. They each have their different strengths that we're going to have to focus on."

Two of New Jersey's three wins came against Washington following the arrival of Dale Hunter as coach. Hunter has worked on turning the Caps into more of a shot-blocking, defensive-minded team, and it looks like the message finally has gotten through.

In fact, it's gotten through so well that it can be hard to tell the teams apart.

"I think they're quite similar," Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said. "I think they have some very skilled forwards that can create things inside of not so much. On defense they have guys that jump into plays, on both teams. Both goalies are playing well. Guys have many similarities on both teams. Maybe that's why they're going to Game 7 and they all seem like one-goal games."

The transformation of the Capitals from the free-wheeling, run-and-gun style they played under former coach Bruce Boudreau to a more defensive-minded approach is Hunter's way of giving the team a new identity.

"I have a lot of respect for Dale Hunter as a coach," DeBoer said. "I coached against him for six, seven years in junior hockey. He worked an hour up the road from me. His teams always played with that type of identity. I'm not surprised he has Washington playing that way."

DeBoer's Kitchener Rangers and Hunter's London Knights had a fierce rivalry when they coached against each other in the Ontario Hockey League.

"We had some wild nights," he said. "In the playoffs his captain was Corey Perry, mine was Mike Richards, so you can imagine. It went from there. They had Brandon Prust, we had David Clarkson. It was some wild nights. Lot of good memories. … Looking back, in the heat of the moment it was very emotional. But great memories, I think."

"We're hard at work. If anything there's more work because of the Game 7, because you have to do double the preparation. We have to be ready Sunday morning to present on either team, which makes it really double the work. But you wouldn't want it any other way."
-- Devils' coach Peter DeBoer

His players are looking forward to making some of their own great memories. A few of them said they'll be watching Saturday, but like their coach, not rooting for either team.

"I'm curious who it's going to be," Zubrus said. "Not that it matters that much, but you want to find out."

If Rangers win, the series will start in New York; if Washington wins, it will start at the Prudential Center. However, that doesn't matter to Zubrus. The Devils have started on the road in each of the first two rounds and it's gone OK for them so far.

"I think it's good to be at home, but at the same time we played good on the road, as well," he said. "We started the playoffs on the road and so far that's where we are right now. I think it's nice to be home, but I don't think it changes a whole lot. Throughout the season we were pretty good on the road as well."

The players also said they don't care if the game ends in regulation or after multiple overtimes.

"Doesn't matter for me," forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said. "Maybe it's going to end in regulation. If it doesn't it's not a big deal for us. We'll just wait and see who comes out on top."

Zubrus also reminded the media that entering a series after playing a multi-overtime Game 7 isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"We were Game 7 with second overtime in Florida," he said. "We played a couple days later and it worked out OK."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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