-- For the first time in five days, the New Jersey Devils
began practice at AmeriHealth Pavilion on Sunday afternoon with the benefit of full disclosure.
In order to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in eight seasons, New Jersey will have to eliminate the rival New York Rangers
in the Eastern Conference Finals slated to begin Monday with Game 1 at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"We know where we're at and what's at stake," Devils forward Patrik Elias
said. "We've had our share of disappointments in the past, missing the playoffs last season, but, for me, it's been a while to be in this position. We're focused, loose and enjoying the moment. You have to have a special group to get this far and I believe we have that here."
The Rangers have won four of the previous five playoff series between the teams -- New Jersey earned a four-game sweep in the conference quarterfinals in 2006. The only other time the teams met in the conference finals was 1994, when Stephane Matteau
's goal in the second overtime of Game 7 against Martin Brodeur
gave the Rangers the victory.
"The key against the Rangers is getting pucks by [Henrik] Lundqvist … they're a very defensive team," Devils captain Zach Parise
said. "They pressure you all over the ice but they do break down from time to time and he's there to bail them out. So we've got to get some pucks by him."
The Rangers are a much different type of opponent than the Devils have already faced in the playoffs. The offenses for the Florida Panthers
and Philadelphia Flyers
looked to finesse their way into the offensive zone and that played right into New Jersey's hands, particularly against the Flyers in the conference semifinals.
The Rangers have proven to be quite the defensive juggernaut in these playoffs, allowing just 1.86 goals-per game in 14 matches. They've also allowed 28.4 shots-per game; New Jersey has yielded 27.4 shots over 12 playoff contests.
The biggest discrepancy between the clubs is the offensive firepower displayed in the playoffs. The Devils have averaged three goals per game and the Rangers are hitting at a 2.07 goals-per game clip.
When playing five-aside, no team in the playoffs has scored more goals than the Devils (24). The Rangers have connected for 19 goals playing 5-on-5.
"Playing five-aside is our strength and it's been that way through both [previous] series," Parise said. "It's going to be important when we get possession of the puck in the zone, to not throw it away or necessarily look for a play right away, because they come back and collapse pretty low and put five guys right in front of the net.
"They're waiting for you to turn it over so they can jump up into the rush," Parise continued. "For us, we have to protect the puck well in the offensive zone."
The Rangers, meanwhile, are tops among the four remaining playoff teams in blocked shots (267); the Devils have 131.
"I think it's a matter of our defense getting shots off quickly," Parise said. "I think when you find you wind up for those big slappers, that gives them time to get into the lane and block shots. If they can get the shots off quickly, their forwards play pretty low, so getting them off quickly will benefit us. Get it past the first guy and giving our forwards a way to get the puck back if it's not going to get on net.
"I don't think it changes our game plan or mentality though. A lot of teams block shots nowadays and you just have to find ways through it."
Here were the line combinations during Devils practice on Sunday:
- Travis Zajac
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Patrik Elias
- David Clarkson
- Adam Henrique
- Dainius Zubrus
- Stephen Gionta
- Steve Bernier
Extras: Eric Boulton
- Tim Sestito
- Cam Janssen
- Mark Fayne
- Marek Zidlicky
- Adam Larsson
Extras: Matt Taormina
- Peter Harrold
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale