NHL Playoffs 2012: Eastern Conference Finals Preview and Prediction

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NHL Playoffs 2012: Eastern Conference Finals Preview and Prediction
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
You'll see a lot of this in the Devils vs Rangers series

No rest for the weary.

The New York Rangers finished an incredible series in thrilling fashion Saturday night. They have a date with the New Jersey Devils Monday night at the Garden.

Ranger fans, if you think the worst of the postseason storm is behind you, think again.

The Devils are a team that after many years has realized their potential. With captain Zach Parise finally healthy again and sniper extraordinaire Ilya Kovalchuk looking as motivated as ever, folks from Newark down to Wildwood have reason to hope that maybe Marty’s got one more Cup in him.

People want to frame this matchup with the history in mind. The last time these teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals, Mark Messier made a guarantee, and the Rangers went on to win the Cup.

That was 1994. This is 2012.

Remember that great run Rangers fans but don’t think for a second it’ll have any influence on this year.

The Devils fought hard to get here. They have consistent scoring depth and can play a gritty patient game as well as the Rangers can. One of the keys in this matchup is going to be second chance scoring opportunities—on both ends of the ice.

Brodeur is still great, but at his age, he’s a little bit slower. The way to beat him is to screen him and score off rebounds. That means getting to the gritty areas on the ice, and committing to being more patient in the offensive zone.

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The Rangers tend to get a little jumpy with the puck on offense. They force passes and shots from low percentage areas. Don’t get me wrong—throwing pucks on net is a good thing, but reducing your shots by five or seven per game game in favor of getting better quality scoring chances is a better way to play.

Think of it this way: rather than throwing the puck toward the net or trying to center a puck through two defenders, hold it for a second and wait for an open lane. The Rangers need to learn this lesson on their power play, and they’ll score more.

Guaranteed.

The Devils' offensive approach is the same. If the King can see it, he’ll save it. Just ask Ovi and the gang. The Devils have to get big bodies in front of the net and cover the opposite post to hammer home rebounds and pucks that the defense doesn’t clear out of the crease.

Another key for the Devils is to match the Rangers' grit and intensity in all phases of the game. The Devils are just as talented—arguably more so—but they can’t give up on defense to generate offense. If they do, they won’t have a chance.

They also can’t shy away from winning the corner battles and working the boards. To be successful, Parise, Kovalchuk and their other scorers will have to be creative but patient.

They’ve done it so far, and it’s what has kept them alive in the postseason. 

Both teams will try to send a message physically early on, and the winner in those games will be the guys that can keep perspective and not take bad penalties. Special teams will be huge in the first few games and could truly decide the outcome of the series.

One of the major factors behind the Rangers' Game 7 win against the Washington Capitals was their ability to stay out of the penalty box. If they channel that discipline for these early games and get some consistent scoring touch on the power play, they could bury the Devils before this series even begins.

It’s been a constant in these playoffs: the Rangers series goes to 7 games. Why would it change now?

Rangers in 7.

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