Be there for a Live Game 1 Chat from the Garden at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Or else.
Here are my matchups for the Eastern Conference finals:
How the roles have changed. Used to be that the Rangers had all the high-profile skill and the Devils had the grinders. Well, now the Devils are clearly a more potent offensive team and it’s the Rangers who clog and give up nothing and win 2-1 games. The Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk (5-7-12 in the playoffs) is the most explosive player in the series, as was Washington’s Alex Ovechkin in the previous series, and he’s surrounded by linemates Travis Zajac (5-5-10) and Alexei Ponikarovsky; plus captain (future Ranger?) Zach Parise, who plays with the still-dangerous Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, who had a career year, plus rookie of the year candidate Adam Henrique. The Rangers have relied heavily on the Carl Hagelin-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik, and obviously need some consistent scoring from the second line, which for Game 7 was rookie Chris Kreider with Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan. In terms of two-way forwards, the Rangers have more of them, and their third and fourth lines, especially Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, were at times stellar in the first two rounds.
These aren’t your father’s Devils, of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko, or even Slava Fetisov. The Devils’ D-men are solid, if unspectacular. Ex-Ranger Marek Zidlicky and Anton Volchenkov were both injured in the Devils’ clinching game against Philadephia, but both expected to play tonight. The Rangers’ top four have been sensational — Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto. They go with five most of the game, and ex-Devil Anton Stralman has fit in nicely as the fifth, adding some offense, too. The Rangers win with defense … and goaltending.
Martin Brodeur is an all-timer with three rings, going directly to the Hall of Fame and in the argument of the best ever. But he’s 40 and he’s not the Brodeur from the 1990s and early 2000s. And he’s sure had his problems with the Rangers in the postseaton, losing three of four series, two of those on wrap-around goals (Stephane Matteau in ‘94, Adam Graves in ‘97). Henrik Lundqvist owns the Devils (23-6-5, 1.73 goals-against average, .935 save percentage, plus five shutouts in the regular season) and has split two series against the Devils in the playoffs, including a five-game victory in 2008.
It’s easy to say the Rangers’ power play has stunk in the playoffs (and it has), and that their penalty killing hit a bit of a skid against Washington (it did). But, truth is, they each scored four PPGs in the series. The Devils’ power play is at 20.8 percent in the playoffs, by far the best of all the remaining teams, but their penalty kill was an awful 73.9 percent, having allowed 12 PPGs in 12 games.
They’ve already had their contentious moments … the three synchronized fights to start the last meeting at MSG, after which Peter DeBoer, who as the visiting coach first submitted his lineup that included all his sluggers, suggested that John Tortorella either has memory loss or is a hypocrite. DeBoer has done a terrific job, no doubt about it. Tortorella may not win the coach of the year, which was already voted upon by the league’s broadcasters, but if you add up regular-season and playoffs he is the coach of the year hands-down.
Rangers in 6.
Make your picks over there ———->