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Rangers and Devils set to renew local rivalry @NHLdotcom

New York Rangers

Seed: 151-24-7 109 Pts.

New Jersey Devils

Seed: 648-28-6 102 Pts.
New York metropolitan-area hockey fans will have their dreams answered in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the top-seeded New York Rangers face the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, who play just across the Hudson River in Newark.

The Rangers assured this heated rivalry will see its fifth postseason incarnation in the past two decades with a nail-biting 2-1 Game 7 victory against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. With the conference finals beginning Monday night at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS), the Rangers will have less than 48 hours of rest before facing the Devils, who have been off for close to a week after upending the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.

But rest won't be necessary -- emotion figures to carry the day for much of the next two weeks.

Not only did these two teams stage a classic the last time they met in the Eastern Conference Finals -- an epic seven-game series won by the Rangers in 1994 -- but they have also had an incredibly testy regular-season series. They played six times this season and the Rangers took three of the contests in regulation, while the Devils won two in regular time and one in a shootout.

Aside from great games, this season's rivalry featured enough bad blood -- including a pair of memorable brawls off the opening whistle in two different games -- and harsh words to guarantee that it will appeal to more than New York-area hockey fans.

Plus, this rivalry features some intriguing personal rivalries. None is better, though, than 40-year-old goaltender Marty Brodeur, looking for perhaps one last trip to the Stanley Cup Final, playing against Henrik Lundqvist, his eventual successor as the best goalie in the region. Another involves New Jersey captain Zach Parise, on the eve of free agency, facing off against Ranger captain Ryan Callahan. Both are young, American-born leaders who have come of age in the crucible of this rivalry.
The Rangers did a lot of line shuffling during the second round, but they used the same 12 forwards throughout the series and will likely have the same personnel to start off against New Jersey.

The top line remains Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, and the three have provided a mixed bag. Hagelin has found the going tough in his first postseason, failing to register a goal thus far in 11 games, missing three through suspension in first round. Richards, on the other hand, has been productive and clutch. He leads the Rangers in scoring, and his late goal in Game 5 against the Capitals forced overtime and led to a win. He also scored the first goal in Game 7 after some nice work by Hagelin. Gaborik had a stretch of eight games without a goal, but he rediscovered his scoring touch against the Caps.
The supporting offensive cast includes Callahan, center Derek Stepan, winger Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle. Rookie Chris Kreider has seen his playing time diminish after bursting onto the scene and had been relegated to the fourth line before earning more ice time in Game 7.

Among the bottom-six forwards, Ruslan Fedotenko has zero goals in 14 games, while Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust and John Mitchell have spent more of their time on the third or fourth lines.
Brandon Dubinsky missed the entire Capitals series with a lower-body injury. Mats Zuccarello is about two weeks away from being healthy enough to play after breaking his wrist on March 23.

There's no doubt the Devils will rely once again on a persistent and effective forecheck to get the best of their opponent. In the conference semifinals, the Philadelphia Flyers had no answer for New Jersey's ravenous attack in their own end. In fact, the Devils outnumbered the Flyers on the puck most of the time.

The club has received 32 of their 36 goals in the playoffs from forwards in series wins against the Florida Panthers and Flyers.
Ilya Kovalchuk, who has advanced to a conference final for the first time in his career, is the co-leading scorer with five goals and is the team leader with 12 points and three power-play goals. Kovalchuk entered this year's tournament with a 0.89 points-per game playoff average; he's averaging 1.09 through 11 games this year. Travis Zajac has also produced five goals and is second on the club with 10 points.
Captain Zach Parise, who is also entering unchartered territory in the conference finals, is second on the team with four goals and third with eight points.
When talking offense, however, coach Peter DeBoer would be the first to say it hasn't been a one-line show. The Devils have received solid production from all four lines at key points throughout the playoffs. The team has already received game-winning goals from seven different players, including a pair from David Clarkson.
The biggest surprise has been the play of fourth-line grinders Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier; they have accounted for five goals, 10 points and a plus-7 rating.

They dress six blueliners every game, but it's basically a five-man show.
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are the minute-munching top pair. They rank 1-2 in the League in ice time among players who have yet to be eliminated. When the Devils' most dangerous players are on the ice, they will get a heavy dose of Girardi and McDonagh.

Marc Staal has stepped up his game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing most of the first half of the season while recovering from a concussion. He's playing about six more minutes per game in the postseason than he did in regular season and played nearly 50 minutes in the Rangers' triple-overtime win against the Caps in Game 3.

Michael Del Zotto is the fourth blueliner who is playing more than 22 minutes per game and the most offensively gifted of the group -- he scored what proved to be the series-winning goal against Washington. Anton Stralman has three goals -- tops among defensemen in the playoffs -- and has teamed with Del Zotto on the power play.

Stu Bickel is the sixth defenseman in the group, but rarely gets more than five minutes of ice time and usually finds himself glued to the bench in close games, which has been nearly every Rangers game in the postseason.

Veteran Steve Eminger is healthy, but has only played one game in the playoffs and it was as a forward.
The Devils have relied on their big three along the blue line in Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador, who missed all of last season with an inner-ear concussion. Mark Fayne, despite playing in his first postseason, also has provided stability, consistency and solid minutes. The 24-year-old fifth-round draft pick (No. 155) in 2005 has averaged 21:29 of ice time in the playoffs.
Zidlicky, obtained near the NHL Trade Deadline for his ability on the transition and the power play, leads the team in average ice time (24:38), Greene is tops with 21 blocked shots and Salvador leads all New Jersey defensemen with two goals, two more than he had in 82 regular-season games.
The emergence of rookie Adam Larsson, who scored a goal in his playoff debut in a Game 2 victory over the Flyers, sports a plus-4 rating in four games. Meanwhile, Anton Volchenkov, who has been paired with Larsson, was on the receiving end of a tremendous hit by Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo in Game 5 on Tuesday but should be good to go on Monday. Volchenkov has 28 hits and 13 blocked shots in the postseason.

Henrik Lundqvist has yet to allow more than three goals in a game this spring and has allowed two or less in 10 games. He's rarely given up a soft goal and hasn't wilted under the pressure in playing so many one-goal games. If he continues to play at this level, he may have a Conn Smythe Trophy to go along with a potential Vezina Trophy at season's end.

Martin Biron is a capable, veteran backup, but he has yet to see the ice in the postseason.

Martin Brodeur continues to defy the odds, despite turning 40 on May 6. He has stopped 289 of 314 shots through two rounds and has also chipped in with three assists.
Brodeur, who has made 182 straight playoff starts, is 8-3 with a 2.05 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 12 starts this spring.
"We're excited to be still playing hockey this time of year, but at 40, I don't jump as high anymore," Brodeur told reporters after his team's 3-1 Game 5 victory in Philadelphia.


John Tortorella has squeezed every drop of energy and effort from his club all season. The Rangers aren't overflowing with talent, and Tortorella is the big reason why the team has been able to squeeze out a pair of seven-game series wins to start the postseason. He has molded the team in his image, and they are outworking the opposition right now.

The players couldn't credit the coaching staff enough following their five-game series victory against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Semifinal round. The biggest compliment was how head coach Peter DeBoer and his staff adjusted and devised a game plan that completely stifled the Flyers attack. Philadelphia entered their series against New Jersey averaging five goals, but could only manage 2.2 goals-per game against the Devils.
Pretty amazing to think DeBoer failed to qualify for the playoffs in three seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers and is now only four wins from reaching the Stanley Cup Final in his first with the Devils.
"Our team game is what is making us successful not any individuals," DeBoer said. "The guys are believing in what we're doing, and we've got a lot of work left to do."
Special Teams

The power play has been effective at times, but it's also been very streaky. They've struck for two power-play goals in a game three times, and in one of those instances, they scored with Lundqvist on the bench for an extra attacker at 6-on-4.

The penalty-killers haven't been as effective as they were during the regular season. The PK allowed a power-play goal in four of the seven games against the Capitals and has only had six perfect games on the PK during the postseason. Some of that is the result of forward Brian Boyle missing three games (there were two PP goals scored in those games) and Dubinsky missing the entire Caps series.

The Devils set a penalty-killing percentage record during the regular season, then were stung for nine goals by the Panthers in the opening round. But the PK appeared to be in good shape against the Flyers -- stopping 16 of 19 chances in five games.
New Jersey has allowed 12 power-play goals on 46 chances (73.9 percent) and has connected for one shorthanded goal -- it had a League-leading 15 shorthanded goals during the regular season.
The Devils are also tops among the four remaining teams in the playoffs on the power play, connecting at a 20.9 percent efficiency (9-for-29).

Series Changer

Marian Gaborik -- The team's leading goal-scorer in the regular season was non-existent in the first round, but showed flashes and signs of improvement against the Capitals. The Devils aren't the tight-checking team that the Capitals are, so perhaps the extra space on the ice will help Gaborik break out.

Patrik Elias -- Elias has been rather quiet in the playoffs, scoring three goals and five points in 12 games. But he knows what's expected in the next round as the veteran of 14 playoff seasons. He's won the Stanley Cup twice, he's played in 150 career Stanley Cup Playoff games and has 122 points. This is his chance to shine and make an impact.

What If ...

Rangers will win if... They find enough offense. As great as Lundqvist and the defense have been, the Rangers are barely averaging two goals per game. The lack of scoring didn't come back to bite them in the first two rounds, but the Devils are scoring three goals per game so far in the playoffs. The Rangers need to be better at 5-on-5, or they'll find themselves watching the Devils in the Stanley Cup Final.

Devils will win if... New Jersey continues to play as a five-man unit, chasing pucks and winning puck battles while sustaining that sensational forecheck that enabled the Devils to advance to this stage.

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