Let's hope we see similar cheering from the bench in this series. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers will meet each other in the Eastern Conference Finals, which starts tomorrow. The Rangers got to this point by holding on to a one-goal lead in another tight seven-game series against Washington. The Devils dumped Philadelphia in five games - a surprising result that none of us predicted a few weeks ago. OK, Tom and Matt V. both predicted a Devils win in the series, but they were off by a game. They'll still take bragging rights there.
Now that the Devils are one series away from the Stanley Cup Finals, what can we expect? Surely, we have to see the 2011-12 as a successful season. At the same time, the opponent are the Rangers, also known as Our Hated Rivals. Both teams straight up don't like each other; and a playoff series will only further the divide. We're going to be inundated with references to 1994. The hype machine is going into overdrive with many people suddenly becoming fans on either side. There's going to be a lot of vitriol and hate from both fan-bases (Aside: here's the rules for ILWT.) The winner won't just get to play for the greatest trophy in sports, but they'll get bragging rights for an incredibly long time.
Essentially, anything can happen. Still, I decided to ask the other writers the same five questions from the last two prediction posts. Let's hope the right result happens either in line with what we feel or against what we think will happen. Please continue on after the jump to learn what we think can happen in this upcoming rivalry series.
What one thing about the New Jersey Devils makes you confident about their chances in this series?
Tom: Composure (yes, I chose an intangible). Since facing elimination in the Florida series the Devils have gone 6-1 in the playoffs. Composure allowed the Devils to bounce back after blowing leads in games 6 and 7 vs. Florida. Composure kept the Devils from not letting Ilya Kovalchuk's injury affect their play. Composure also let them play a physicaly series against Philadelphia without engaging in the after whistle fisticuffs. The Devils are focused on the right things and that will benefit them most during the series, especially as they hit the likely stumbling block that the playoffs throw at you.
Kevin: The Rangers are human. The Rangers went to two game sevens against the 8th and 7th seed and won by one goal. The thing is, they're not being active. They're playing incredibly passively. The Senators gave the Rangers fits with their offense, and considering the Devils aggressive forecheck should be just as effective as the Erik Karlsson-driven Senators offense in terms of maintaining puck possession, the Devils should be able to put up enough shots on Henrik Lundqvist that they can get a few past him.
Matt E.: The scoring depth of the Devils. They have been getting chances from every player on every shift.
Matt V.: Defense. The Devils were great at forcing the Flyers to dump it in which made Marty play as the third d-man a lot. They have to keep this up. When they don't have the puck, they must swarm New York from the forecheck in the Rangers' end to the boardwork behind Marty. Make the Rangers dump and chase; it should wear them out and frustrate them.
John: Even strength play by the Devils has been dominant. They were crushing it against the Panthers and the Flyers. They're the best possession team among the remaining four teams in this postseason. Should the Devils continue this against New York, then Devils fans should feel really good about their chances in this series.
What one thing about the New York Rangers worries you in this series?
Tom: Speed. Speed almost eliminated the Devils in the first round and now up against forwards like Marian Gaborik, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider the Devils defenseman (especially the often torched Anton Volchenkov) will have to be prudent in their positioning and aware of those forwards when they are on the ice.
Kevin: Henrik Lundqvist. He's having an incredible post season and will be the biggest factor in this series. The Rangers offense wasn't exactly dominant against a weak defensive team like Ottawa, while they didn't have a good offensive showing against a passive team like the Capitals. He could potentially just steal the series from the Devils despite them winning every possession battle.
|2011-12 - Henrik Lundqvist||62||3754||39||18||5||123||1.97||1753||1630||.930||8|
|2012 Playoffs - Henrik Lundqvist||14||893||8
Matt E.: Lundqvist. He has the ability to stifle the Devil's red hot offense.
Matt V.: Shot Blocking. The Devils have done a good job at finding open lanes and getting the defensive involved by shooting accurately from the point. The Rags will try to block everything (and at MSG, they will count it as a save for Lundqvist). The Devils must have their heads up and looking at the net. If they have good possession in the zone but every shot is blocked, it's useless. Throw Lundqvist in this category as well. He can steal every game if the hockey gods want it that way.
John: Henrik Lundqvist has been a 93+% save percentage goaltender this season. I keep waiting for it fall, but it's looking like that's not happening in this season. The Rangers will always have a chance in every game thanks to his goaltending.
What's the key match-up between the two teams?
Tom: The Devils forecheck, much more successful against Philadelphia than Brian Campbell/Jason Garrison and the rest of the Florida Panthers, will once again be crucial against a team that blocks a lot of shots and has many defensively responsible forwards. The Devils won't have as easy a time generating offense via the forecheck against a speedier defense that might move the puck out of the zone quicker than Philadelphia did.
Kevin: Travis Zajac vs Brad Richards. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias will likely see a lot of Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin at evens, which means it's more than likely that Zajac will be the guy facing off with Richards. Richards has been a reliable scorer for the Rangers (11 points in 14 GP). He might as well be considered their go-to scorer in this playoffs, and shutting him down will be of utmost importance.
|2012 Playoffs - Travis Zajac||12||5||5||10||1||2||1||0||1||28||17.9|
|2012 Playoffs - Brad Richards||14||6||5||11||1||6||2||0||0||55||10.9|
Matt E.: The key match-up. Brodeur vs. Lundqvist. The two of them always play to another level versus each other. I expect this to be even better. I honestly can't wait to see how many goals these two steal.
Matt V.: Overall match-ups. Will DeBoer change his lines again for this series? Will he change them back? Moreover, how will John "Crybaby" Tortorella match things up in the first two games? Both teams are deep as well.
John: Peter DeBoer vs. John Tortorella. DeBoer changed the lines and their general gameplan for the Philadelphia series and found incredible success. He out-coached Peter Laviolette, who didn't really have an answer for the Devils' 2-1-2. Tortorella will prove to be a trickier challenge. The man who once preached "Never scared" hockey has been very conservative. The Rangers collapse into the slot on defense quickly, making it difficult for shots to get through. Likewise, they like to rely on the counter-attack. If DeBoer can get the Rangers off their game, then the Devils should have a real good chance in this series. If Torts remains unmoved and DeBoer can't get them to open up, then this will be a very tight series.
Who will be the one X-Factor in this series?
Tom: At this point in the year, I always look at secondary scoring as the most important X-Factor for any NHL playoff series. The goal differential from both teams bottom six forwards will likely indicate the series winners.
Kevin: For NJ, I'll go with Petr Sykora. The Rangers have the guys to lock down the Devils top guns, but they are lacking in their bottom pairing defensemen. Steve Eminger and Anton Stralman aren't nearly as good as Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonaugh (or even Staal and Del Zotto). Hopefully he can benefit from not having the top dogs on him and beat the inferior competition he's up against.
|2012 Playoffs - Petr Sykora||12||2||2||4||1||4||1||0||0||18||11.1|
For NYR, I'll go with Carl Hagelin. He drives play for the Rangers and has been pretty effective against the Devils this season.
|2012 Playoffs - Carl Hagelin||11||0
Matt E.: The goalies.
Matt V.: Martin Brodeur. This is his 6th Conference Finals. He's 4-1 and that 1 loss is from this very team 18 years ago when Marty was a rookie. His career (and my fandom actually) has gone full-circle. It's revenge time. He's going to have to make some crazy saves. He can still steal wins. Will he do it?
|2012 Playoffs - Martin Brodeur||12
John: Discipline. The Devils kept their cool against the Flyers, playing whistle to whistle in most of their games. Even when Laviolette put out a big goon in Game 5, who decided to just go out there and throw hits, the Devils stayed calm and didn't respond. This is another rivalry series and I'm sure the Rangers (e.g. Mike Rupp, Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle) will try to goad the Devils into doing something dumb. If the Devils can avoid taking retaliatory calls and keep the game at 5-on-5, then the Devils will have an edge. If they don't, then they're risking the Rangers hurting them on the power play. I don't care if they have a 15.8% conversion rate, gifting power plays is a terrible thing to do in most games - especially in what will likely be close, hard-fought playoff games.
What is your prediction for this series?
Tom: Devils in 6. With the way the Devils are playing at even strength I think they can overwhelm the Rangers and their Vezina/Hart finalist goaltender.
Kevin: I wasn't so confident against the Flyers because they had a dominant performance over the Pens while the Devils barely got by the Panthers. I'm not so sure this time, but I feel a bit more confident with the Devils. Devils in 6.
Matt E.: Devils in 5.
Matt V.: I've watched both series and this is another not-so-good match up for the Rangers. I don't think they wanted Jersey (6-0 vs. Philly). I think fatigue hits New York midway through this series but that won't be long. I'm going bold ladies and gentleman. Devils in 5. Revenge successful.
John: Devils in six. As much as I'm worried about Lundqvist, I have a gut feeling he won't be as heroic as he has been all season long.
Now you've read our answers to these five questions, please let us know what you think of them. What answers of ours do you agree with? What don't you agree with? I also want to know your answers to the same questions we answered for this post. What one aspect about the Devils make you confident in their chances? What about the Rangers worries you the most? What match-up will be important? Who will be the X-factor? Most of all, what's your prediction for this series? Please leave all of your answers and other predictions in the comments. Thank you for reading. One more thing: A big series preview post will come out later today. Until then, predict away.