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Devils need to find plan to slow Rangers' blueliners

by Mike G. Morreale

NEWARK, N.J. -- Devising ways to keep offensive-minded defensemen from having an impact is nothing new for the New Jersey Devils in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The team was forced to keep in check mobile blueliners Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison of the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and then had to defend Matt Carle and Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinals.

Campbell and Garrison combined for two goals, eight points and 21 shots in New Jersey's seven-game series victory. Carle and Timonen produced one goal, three points and 13 shots during the Devils' five-game win.


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Devils coach Peter DeBoer knew it wasn't going to get any easier in the conference finals against the New York Rangers' Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal. Rangers defensemen lead the League in playoff scoring with a combined 11 goals and 34 points in 17 games.

Still, DeBoer doesn't think the Rangers' defense corps offers anything more or less than what his team faced in the opening two rounds of the playoffs.

"They found a way to find some holes and score a few goals," DeBoer said of the Rangers. "I don't think they give them more offensive push than Florida's [defense] did with Brian Campbell, [Dmitry] Kulikov and Garrison. Philly had [defensemen] in Timonen and [Braydon] Coburn, and there's similarities in all three of these teams we played where defensemen are active."

Girardi and Del Zotto are first and second, respectively, in scoring among all defenders in the playoffs. In three games against the Devils, Girardi and Del Zotto have combined for two goals, five points and 13 shots.

"You look at the four teams left, and everyone has an active defense," DeBoer said. "I think that's pretty standard nowadays. [The Rangers] found some holes the first three games … I don't think it's been as much of a breakdown, they made the most of it. It's nothing we haven't seen before."

Devils rookie center Adam Henrique said he feels the Rangers' defense corps might offer a little more in terms of offensive-minded personnel.

"The thing about the Rangers is, I think they have more puck-moving defensemen than the first two teams we faced, but we try and treat it all the same way," he told "We try to keep them on the defensive side and don't let them get in on the rush, but those are the guys you have to focus on and make sure you make body contact with. Keep them on the defensive side."

A key to doing that is maintaining pressure in the Rangers' end.

"It's part of the forecheck and in creating turnovers," Henrique said. "Offensive defensemen are looking to join the rush all the time and that's where the first guy in on the forecheck has to make sure that he's ahead of his man. If you lose him, all of a sudden it's three-on-two, and they have a defenseman on the rush."

In addition to offensive contributions from the back end, the Rangers also have cornered the market on blocked shots in the postseason.

"[The Rangers] move the puck well and block a ton of shots, even if a defenseman shoots it and it gets by the forwards -- somehow they are there to block it," Devils forward David Clarkson said. "They do a lot of good things, and offensively you've seen them score throughout the playoffs."

The Rangers are first in the NHL with 328 blocked shots in the playoffs, led by defenseman Ryan McDonagh with 54 blocks. Girardi (second, 53) and Staal (sixth, 34) also are among the top 10.

"You have to wear them down and put the puck behind them and make them work for their ice," Devils forward Alexei Ponikarovsky told "You have to finish checks and get a bump every time you can … play in their end, slow them down and don't allow them to beat you up the ice."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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