Monday, April 7, 2008

NY Rangers vs. NJ Devils Playoff Preview

(5) New York Rangers vs. (4) New Jersey Devils

1st Round Playoff Preview

For the second time in three seasons, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils will match up in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. It wasn’t a pretty series for the Rangers in 2006 as they were swept by the Devils in four games. Henrik Lundqvist was relatively ineffective in the series, seeming tired after a great rookie season and awestruck in front of Martin Brodeur.

Times are different now. That Rangers team that took on the Devils did not have much of a lineup and were picked to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference. It was virtually a Cinderella team for the entirety of the season as they unexpectadly made the playoffs. The Rangers team that is taking on the Devils now is deep in talent, boasting several Stanley Cup Champions and clutch players, such as Brendan Shanahan, Chris Drury, and former Devil Scott Gomez. They have also owned the Devils throughout the season, going 7-0-1 against a younger, less deep Devils team. However, with this in mind, Martin Brodeur is still a top-3 goalie in the NHL, and when he is in the net, anything is possible.

Offensively, the Rangers have a decisive advantage. Even though goals have been hard to come by for the team, (they rank 25th in the NHL) they have countless options that can put the puck in the net. Drury, Jagr, Gomez, and Shanahan all have natural goal scoring abilities. Ranger fans also hope that Captain Clutch (Chris Drury) can use some of that playoff magic that ousted them in Buffalo in these playoffs to carry them to their first Stanley Cup since 1994. The Rangers are also a youthful team with players that treat each shift like their last. Brandon Dubinsky has made a name for himself playing along side Jagr, and will do whatever it takes to help the team win. He is reminiscent of a young Adam Graves, a player who will clean up in front of the net, fight, check, and do all of the little things. Nigel Dawes has turned into quite the sniper and shootout whiz, and Ryan Callahan is quick on his feet, and could turn into a phenomenal two-way player who finishes his checks and constantly beats opponents to the puck in the offensive zone. The Devils sport a sniper in Zach Parise, who seems to kill the Rangers every time they play. Parise had 8 game winning goals, tied with Patrick Elias for team lead. Elias, who has often seemed to be in Brent Sutter’s doghouse has done nothing against the Rangers in the season series. He will be important though because the Devils ranked 27th in goals scored this season. The Devils also sport two fantastic two way players in Jay Pandolfo and John Madden, who can score, and who play light’s out defense. Madden will be key for the Devils as he will be matched up against former teammate Scott Gomez, Madden had 42 points in the regular season, but if he can neutralize Gomez, then New York will be in big trouble.

The power play will be important for each club. Neither team possesses a particularly potent power play as the Rangers ranked 21st and the Devils 24th. However, the Rangers power play has come to life going 7-for-18 over their final 5 games after going 1-for-30 in their 9 previous games.

The Sean Avery factor will be key. Everyone remembers how he tormented the Thrashers last Spring in the Rangers 4-1 series victory over Atlanta, and then disappeared against the Buffalo Sabres. If Avery can keep his head on straight, and utilize the offensive skills that he possesses as a compliment to his agitating skills, then the Rangers will in good shape. This becomes key in Madison Square Garden when the crowd loves to rally behind Avery as he takes the opponents stars out of the game, mentally and physically.

Defensively, the teams are about equal. Need side has a true star on defense, but are comprised of several formidable anchors who fall into specific roles. Players such as Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are young, but seem like seasoned veterans in their play. Michael Rosival has been the Rangers’ best blue line option since he joined them in 2006, and Christian Backman has been a tremendous asset since coming over from St. Louis at the trading deadline. The Devils have a great offensive defenseman in Paul Martin, and several youthful players such as Johnny Oduya, Andy Greene, and Mike Mottau who play into coach Brent Sutter’s defensive schemes.

It’s Martin Brodeur versus Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Brodeur is a seasoned net minder who has won three Stanley Cups with the Devils throughout his illustrious 13-year career. He has a career 1.93 Goals Against Average and 94 career postseason wins. Lundqvist, on the other hand, has more playoff losses than wins (7 losses to 6 wins) and a 2.58 career GAA. What Lundqvist has going for him is he has been absolutely sensational over the past few weeks, stopping 190 of 203 shots (.936 SV%) over the past eight games while posting a 5-2-1 record. King Henrik also led the NHL in shutouts this season with 10.

I feel that the Rangers finally are a superior team against the Devils in a postseason in what feels like forever. However, Brodeur may just channel his inner Patrick Roy, stand on his head, and make incredible save after incredible save. Brodeur may in fact carry the Devils game after game, however the Rangers win this series 4-3 taking game 7 at the Prudential Center in front of 17,625 stunned Devils fans.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Mike, this will be one hell of a series. Hopefully the Blueshirt win this time. Two years ago still has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Excellent preview! It will ultimately come down to the goaltending, but when has it not in the playoffs?