NHL Playoffs 2012: Rangers vs. Devils, Eastern Conference Final Preview

Eric McKelvieSenior Writer IMay 13, 2012

NHL Playoffs 2012: Rangers vs. Devils, Eastern Conference Final Preview

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    The Eastern Conference final is set. The New York Rangers will take on the New Jersey Devils for the Prince of Wales Trophy.

    The New Jersey Devils enter the series as the No. 6 seed, although they finished tied with the Bruins with 102 points, fourth most in the Eastern Conference.

    The New York Rangers, the No. 1 seed, have won back-to-back series in seven games, eliminating both the Senators and Capitals.

    The Rangers and Devils last met in the Eastern Conference final in 1994. It took seven games, but the Rangers won on Stephane Matteau’s goal in double overtime. They would go on to win the Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks, ending a 54-year drought.

    We will soon find out if the Rangers can repeat what the 1994 team accomplished. With that said, here is a preview of the 2012 Eastern Conference final. 

Offense

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    Goals For

    Rangers—Playoffs: 2.07 goals per game, ranked 11th.

    Rangers—Season: 2.71 goals per game, ranked 11th.

    Devils—Playoffs: 3.00 goals per game, ranked T3rd.

    Devils—Season: 2.63 goals per game, ranked 15th.

     

    Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise are all crucial to the Devils offense, but it’s Kovalchuk who has put on a performance worthy of the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    After notching 83 points in the regular season, Kovalchuk has added 12 points in 11 playoff games. He is playing over 24 minutes a game, is a huge part of the power play and was instrumental in the Devils’ series win over the Flyers.

    David Clarkson led the Devils with 138 penalty minutes in the regular season. What you may not know is that he also led the team in with seven game-winning goals. Clarkson has two goals, eight points and is a plus-six so far in the playoffs. Meanwhile, Calder Trophy nominee Adam Henrique has seven points in the playoffs, including the series winner in overtime of Game 7 versus the Florida Panthers

    The Rangers have won low-scoring games all season by playing tough defense and having Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. However, the Rangers do possess the talent on offense to score, and it’s likely their goals-per-game average will increase in this series. 

    Brad Richards has six goals, five assists for 11 points in the playoffs and is averaging over 23 minutes of ice time per game. Marian Gaborik has four goals and six assists for 10 points, including the triple-overtime goal in Game 3 versus the Capitals.

    The Rangers defense has also contributed offensively. Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi have combined to score three goals and 15 points in the playoffs. 

    The Devils need to continue to score as they have throughout the playoffs, while the Rangers need to step up offensively and score more than two goals a game.

Defense

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    Goals Against

    Rangers—Playoffs: 1.86 goals against per game, ranked 2nd.

    Rangers—Season: 2.22 goals against per game, ranked 3rd.

    Devils—Playoffs: 2.33 goals against per game, ranked 8th.

    Devils—Season: 2.50 goals against per game, ranked T8th.

     

    Blocked Shots in the Playoffs

    Rangers: 19.07 blocked shots per game.

    Devils: 10.91 blocked shots per game.

     

    All seven Devils defensemen who have played in the 2012 playoffs are plus players. They are led by Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky, who have tallied six points each. However, Salvador and Zidlicky have also taken a combined 28 minutes in penalties.

    For the Devils to have success, their defensemen will have to stay out of the penalty box and get in the shooting lanes to block more shots.

    The Rangers rely heavily on four defensemen: Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh and Girardi average over 27 minutes a game in ice time, while Girardi leads the team with 47 blocked shots.

    To slow down the Devils offense, these four Rangers defensemen will have to continue to log huge minutes, play physically and block shots.

Goaltending

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    Playoff Numbers

    Henrik Lundqvist: 8-6 with a 1.68 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and one shutout.

    Martin Brodeur: 8-3 with a 2.05 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and one shutout.

     

    Martin Brodeur is, without question, one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game. He’s won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, four Vezina Trophies and holds numerous NHL records, including most shutouts in the regular season and playoffs.

    At 40 years old, Brodeur continues to prove he has the skill and durability needed to take his team to the Stanley Cup Final.

    Hart Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist has been nearly unbeatable in these playoffs. Lundqvist is 3-0 in elimination games with a save percentage over .950, and he has yet to allow more than three goals in a game. Without Lundqvist, the Rangers probably wouldn't have survived the first round.

    At age 30, Lundqvist may not have Brodeur’s experience, but he certainly has the talent to take his team all the way.

Special Teams

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    Power Play in the Playoffs

    Rangers: 15.8 percent, ranked 9th.

    Devils: 20.9 percent, ranked 4th.

     

    Penalty Kill in the Playoffs

    Rangers: 82.6 percent, ranked 10th.

    Devils: 73.9 percent, ranked 13th.

     

    The Devils’ power play wasn’t great in the regular season, but it has been one of the best in the playoffs. Kovalchuk has been lethal on the man advantage, scoring three of the Devils’ power-play goals. The Rangers will need to limit the number of penalties they take in order to avoid facing Kovalchuk more often than they have to.

    The Devils' penalty kill was ranked first in the regular season, but has struggled in the playoffs, specifically against the Florida Panthers. Expect their penalty-kill percentage to improve in this series.

    The Rangers have spent more time on the power play than any other team in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they have only managed nine goals on 57 attempts. The Rangers have to score more if they want to win this series and the easiest way to do that is on the power play.

    The Rangers' penalty kill hasn’t performed any better than their power play. It will take more brilliant saves from Henrik Lundqvist to stop a strong Devils’ power play.  

Prediction

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    The New Jersey Devils will win the Eastern Conference final in seven games.

    It will be close, but the Rangers won’t be able to win another long series.

    The Rangers will score more often than they did in the first two rounds, but they will also allow more goals than they did against the Senators or Capitals.

    Brodeur will step up his game and battle save for save with Henrik Lundqvist, in what will likely be his last chance to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

    The difference maker in the series will be Ilya Kovalchuk, who continues to prove he can be a dominant offensive force, not only in the regular season, but in the playoffs as well.