Analysis and prediction for the upcoming Conference Final between the Rangers and Devils.
The participants: New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.
How they got here: The Rangers eliminated the Washington Capitals in a hard-fought seven games, while the Devils made short work of the Philadephia Flyers in five games.
Keys to their advancement: The Rangers relied primarily on the superb goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist and a stifling defensive system through the first two rounds, while the Devils used an aggressive forecheck and disciplined defense to reach this point.
Coaching: Ranger coach John Tortorella has a championship on his resume and knows what it takes to win in the Conference Final, though his emotional style is seen by some critics as a drawback. Devils coach Pete DeBoer is having success thus far in his first NHL post-season, and is more even-tempered behind the bench than his Rangers rival, though the pair did engage in a war of words during two late-season contests.
Goaltending: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has won three Stanley Cups, holds numerous NHL records, and a future Hall of Famer, but at 40, he’s no longer the dominant goaltender he once was. 30-year-old Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, is in his playing prime, currently sits among the league leaders this post-season in goals-against and save percentage, and his numbers in those categories are better than Brodeur’s.
Defense: The Rangers play a physical defensive style, are among the leaders this spring in blocked shots, and have one of the best blueline foursomes in Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto. The Devils might not have the same depth in young blueline talent, but are no slouches defensively, shutting down the vaunted Flyers offense by playing a disciplined team system.
Offense: During the regular season, the Rangers finished higher (11th) in goals-per-games than the Devils (15th), but in the playoffs, the roles have been reversed. The Devils are second in goals-scored this spring (36), while the Rangers are in a three-way tie for third with 29, despite playing two more games than the Devils. The Blueshirts are led by Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, while the Devils counter with Ilya Kovalchuk (who has silenced his critics this spring), Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, gritty David Clarkson and the ever-improving Adam Henrique.
Special Teams: Of the Conference Finalists, the Devils have the best power-play (20.9%), while the Rangers are second-best (15.8%). On the penalty kill, however, the Rangers have the edge (82.6%) over the Devils (73.9%).
Prediction: The Devils have the offensive advantage over the Rangers, and have experience in beating teams which focus on a strong defensive system, having eliminated the Florida Panthers in the opening round. Still, they haven’t faced a goalie like Lundqvist this spring, while Brodeur has at times shown his age in the first two rounds. The Panthers defense also didn’t have the skilled foursome of Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Del Zotto, who play well at both ends of the ice. At this point in the season, it’s defense which ultimately wins series, and the Rangers advantage in that regard should carry them to victory. Rangers in Six.