Monday, May 14, 2012

Eastern Conference Finals: (1) New York Rangers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Yes, 1994, we get it. That's the last time these two have met in such an event like the Conference Finals. Oddly enough, Martin Brodeur is still in the league and still with the Devils. Even with that as a backdrop and with the whole ideal of this being a closely proximate event; defensive hockey will rue the day of it all.

The Devils got the highest compliment from Ilya Bryzgalov after the last round, saying the Devils didn't let anyone else play. The puck possession game, along with the long defensive roots the Devils have should stymy any offense that the Rangers could try to muster up, which isn't much considering they are 11th of the 16 playoff teams in goals per game (2.07). Though Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have been able to come though in the clutch, you have to wonder how well they'll deal with the Devils defense. The Devils on the other hand will have to deal with Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers block party; who have let up the second least goals-against-per-game, only behind the Los Angeles Kings (1.86). Ilya Kovalchuk will have to be at the top of his game against the Rangers and in pressure situations.

And while the Devils have the defensive stigma, the Rangers have been able to stop and block everything-- with the Devils going scoring the most goals 5-on-5 so far with 24 goals, you have to think that they work better with more havoc on the ice. Though the Devils really haven't faced the most defensive teams, which should help the Rangers in the end. The Rangers haven't scored too much, but also have a lot of even-strength goals; but with the traffic the Devils will have and clamping down on the neutral zone and allowing very little shots-per-game; the Rangers will need to find a way to break through it all.

Yet, much like all the playoffs-- it'll come down to the goalies. The new hotness of Henrik Lundqvist or the old and busted of Martin Brodeur. Lundqvist could be the guy who, if he can't get past this round, maybe labeled like the Dan Marino of the NHL, being really good, but never getting a championship. Sure, he's been around a few years-- but you never know how long a goalie can last nowadays. On the flip side, the long-tenured Marty Brodeur is ready to go and maybe have one last shot. The system has helped Brodeur in the past and doing it again this year. If he can stop the shots he sees, there's really no stopping him because he will have an easy task.

PREDICTION: While it may seem daft, the New York Rangers will win in six games over New Jersey. It won't be the most glorious of roads to the Cups-- the Rangers beating the 8th, 7th, and then 6th seed to the Cup Finals-- but to get there is all that matters. Lundqvist will be (and has to be) the deciding factor to it all.

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