NEWARK, N.J. -- The Los Angeles Kings are waiting. Will they know their opponent Friday night?
The New Jersey Devils need one win to clinch their fifth trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1995. The Devils have a chance to do it in Game 6 on their home ice against their cross-river rivals.
If the three Stanley Cup championships haven't been enough, a win at Prudential Center over the New York Rangers on Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS) will erase some of the demons that still exist from the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, when Mark Messier made good on his pre-Game 6 guarantee and Stephane Matteau stuck a dagger in the Devils with his double-OT winner in Game 7.
That series 18 years ago between the Devils and Rangers has absolutely nothing to do with this series between the Devils and Rangers, but the similarities exist even down to the exact day of Game 6.
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Eighteen years later, no NYR guarantees
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer Facing the same predicament as in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against the Devils, there are no echoes of Mark Messier's famous guarantee coming from the New York room this time. READ MORE ›
Here are three keys for the Rangers if they want to give history a chance to repeat itself, and three keys for the Devils if they want to start preparing for the Kings during Memorial Day Weekend:
3 KEYS FOR THE RANGERS
1. Score first
This is a key in every game, but now that the Rangers are facing elimination it's as close to a must as it has ever been.
In the past 13 games the Rangers have played, the team that scored first won the game. Game 6 against Ottawa, when the Rangers gave up the first goal but came back to win 3-2, is the last time scoring first was not predictive of the winning team.
The problem is the Rangers have been outscored 6-1 in the first period against the Devils. Sure, they have an 8-5 advantage in the third period, but that has worked in their favor only twice out of the five games.
The Rangers didn't start playing their game until after they were down 2-0 in Game 5. They didn't start coming back until it was 3-0.
"Entering tonight's game, I think we're in the right mindset," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
2. Control the Devils fourth line
It's hard to believe this is even the case, but the Devils fourth line has been a difference maker in this series.
Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have combined for six points on three goals and three assists in the series. By comparison, the Rangers three highest-paid forwards -- Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan -- have combined for seven points on three goals and four assists.
That's not a misprint. Gionta, Carter and Bernier, whose combined salaries still equals less than half of what Callahan makes as the third highest-paid forward on the Rangers, have just one fewer point in this series than the Rangers top guys.
"The mindset has changed," Carter told NHL.com. "We're not worried about who we are out there playing against or who we're not out there playing against. We just go out there and do our thing and that's probably why we're having success."
More than just the production, it is the energy the Devils fourth line has created that is making an impact. Normally a fourth line goes out there to make some hits, provide some pop, get the puck in the zone and come right off. Not this fourth line.
Gionta, Carter and Bernier have been excellent at pinning the Rangers deep in the defensive zone and attacking with the aggressive forecheck.
New York has to counter that. It can't let the Devils fourth line be a difference maker.
3. Vintage King
Henrik Lundqvist gave up three goals on five shots in the first 9:49 of Game 5. He gave up four goals on 16 shots for the entire game.
"We're not counting on that again," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We expect him to have his best game of the series."
"We're not counting on that again. We expect him to have his best game of the series." -- Devils coach Peter DeBoer on Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist may not have to do that because he was pretty darn impressive in Game 3, when he made 36 saves for a 3-0 shutout. Topping that performance may be A) impossible and B) not necessary, but only if the Rangers get him some help.
They did help offensively in Game 5, and for the first time all playoffs three goals wasn't enough for the Rangers to win a game.
Lundqvist was also victimized for three goals in Game 4. He has given up seven goals on 45 shots since his 36-save shutout in Game 3.
However, Lundqvist hasn't lost three straight games since October, and he hasn't lost three in a row in regulation since last February/March. Also playing in the Rangers' favor is the fact that when facing elimination this postseason, Lundqvist has been at his best with 3-0 record and a 1.35 goals-against average and .948 save percentage.
"He'll play his best (Friday)," Tortorella said.
3 KEYS FOR THE DEVILS
1. Withstand the pressure
Even though the Rangers have not had a good start yet in this series, the Devils still know it can happen and they expect Friday will be the night it does. They have to be prepared for the Rangers to deliver a desperate performance early in Game 6.
The Devils did not handle the Rangers pressure well once they had a 3-0 lead in Game 5. They say it had nothing to do with the fact that they had a lead and tried to sit on it; it was the opposite, in fact. They did not want to sit on the lead, but they could not control the Rangers pressure, partly because they turned the puck over and partly because the Rangers simply were just that good.
John Tortorella's Rangers have little room for error in Game 6, as the Devils try to close out their cross-river rivals at Prudential Center. (Photo: Getty Images)
New Jersey has also struggled to control the Rangers pressure at other points in the series. For instance, there was the third period in Game 1 and the first six or seven minutes of the third period in Game 3. The Rangers scored three goals in each of those periods and won those games.
"I know it's an elimination game so it ratchets up maybe a little bit, but this has been an intense series," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "Everyone has known from Game 1 what is on the line every night and at ice level it's a real war out there. I don't expect a lot different; it's just a matter of who is going to handle the situation best and with the most composure."
2. Get the power play going
The Devils are just 2-for-20 on the power play against the Rangers after they were 9-for-43 in the first two rounds. They have the weapons on the power play that should make it dangerous, but it hasn't been yet against New York.
Fortunately the power play has not hurt the Devils too much in this series. After all, they do hold a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6. That said, they could make life a heck of a lot easier on themselves if they do capitalize when the Rangers give them the man advantage.
Once the Devils added Marek Zidlicky to the lineup on Feb. 26, their power play improved and went 22-for-110 in the next 34 games, including the final 22 of the regular season and the first 12 of the playoffs.
It's fallen on hard times against the Rangers, but the Devils might need it to work in order to win Game 6.
"Last game we didn't have as many good opportunities as we had the first four games," Devils defenseman Andy Greene told NHL.com. "We thought we had some pretty good looks every night and just couldn't execute. We had great chances, and when you're doing that you know it's going to come if you keep sticking with it, making the right plays, getting the right looks. We just have to get back to it."
3. Vintage Marty
Since the expectation is for the Rangers to play even better than they did in Game 5, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur simply has to be on his game. This is obvious, of course, considering any team needs its goalie to be good in order to win in the playoffs, but Brodeur was not at his best in Game 5 and it almost wound up costing the Devils.
Goalie - NJD
GAA: 2.04 | SVP: 0.921
He gave up two odd-angle goals, including one to Marian Gaborik that he flat-out put into the net himself after fumbling with the puck near the goal line. He also wasn't patient enough to wait out Brandon Prust, who beat a diving Brodeur late in the first period.
Brodeur, who is now 40 years old, has been excellent in the playoffs. In fact, the three goals he allowed were the most since Game 3 against Philadelphia.
If the Devils expect Lundqvist to be great, three goals against Brodeur might be too much.
"He's been there before and he's a calming influence on our team and in our dressing room," DeBoer said of Brodeur. "That's why he's the best of all time."