In many areas, it would be hard to argue that the Devils have been particularly outplayed; they've out-shot the Rangers 84-75 and are tied on face-offs won at 91 each.
However, there are some areas where the Rangers are utterly dominating as well: They're outhitting their opponents 98-80, are much more effective on the power play (4-10), fewer giveaways and more takeaways. As important as anything else, they've blocked 61 shots to the Devils' 28.
The Devils will need to make adjustments moving forward, but they also need to recognize that they aren't far from success. All three games could have gone either way for much of them, and neither team has a particular edge going into each game.
But they do need to change some things:
The Devils' penalty kill has been terrible this series, much as they were against the Panthers in the first round. They have given up four goals on 10 kills while allowing 15 shots. In Game 2, it was the only reason the game was close.
It's hard to say how to fix a penalty kill, but personnel is a big part of it. Dainius Zubrus has had more shorthanded ice time than any other forward in each of the three games. Zach Parise, who tied for the league lead—with teammate Adam Henrique—in shorthanded points this regular season. At this point in the season, the Devils should be putting their best players out at every opportunity.
Meanwhile, their power play has been abysmal, going 1-for-12. Ilya Kovalchuk has enjoyed bountiful power-play ice time in each of the games, and he should. If he isn't out there on the PP, then his talent is being wasted.
On the other hand, it's hard to see what garnered Peter Harrold nearly two minutes of PP time in Game 1, more than four times as much as Andy Greene played in that game. Patrik Elias has been among the team leaders in PP ice time each game as well, despite not having a point since Game 3 since against Philadelphia.
Patty has shown himself to be clutch in the past, but he has simply not been cutting it this postseason, putting up three goals and two assists so far. He is supposed to be a team leader, and right now he is hardly that. His production will likely pick up at some point, but they can't sit around waiting for that; find someone who is able to produce now.
The Devils have a lot of team depth; it's one of their strong suits. In fact, there are many games where coach Peter DeBoer is able to just roll his four lines, leaving everyone with playing time between ten and twenty minutes. However, this is not the time for that.
The Rangers have four excellent defensemen: Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael del Zotto. The team has leaned heavily on those four D-men, and they have delivered. However, they are only human, and will tire at some point. DeBoer needs to accelerate that process.
Team depth is all well and good, but the Devils have another weapon as well. The one-two punch of Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are a combo few teams can match, and while the Rangers may be able to contain them, it won't hold indefinitely. They'll tire, which is when the team-depth comes in and players like Alexei Ponikarovsky,David Clarkson,Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta can have scoring opportunities.
Right now, DeBoer should be getting his best players out there as much as they can play every night. There isn't anything to save for: There's as many as 11 games left in the season, but there's also as few as two.
This is the time to act like the team's back is against the wall. Parise, Travis Zajac, Kovalchuk, Henrique, Clarkson and even Elias should all see more even-strength playing time. The Rangers are willing to forget their fourth line much of the time while the Devils' fourth line has a lot of skill and power, but they should be used sparingly. They are on the fourth line for a reason.
There's no reason to think the New Jersey is out of the series yet. Even if they lose Game 4, they'll be down 3-1 in the series, a deficit that is difficult but certainly not insurmountable. They can also go into each game with the confidence of knowing that they're playing the Rangers even for almost (but never quite) 60 minutes each game, and there's no reason they can't walk out of any given game with a "W."
More than anything, DeBoer needs to watch over his players. They have suffered two extremely disappointing and frustrating losses this series, and at this point may feel the reffing is not in their favor either. DeBoer needs to keep them centered on the goal and away from destructive emotion.
If the Devils are able to make some changes, improve their kill, score on the PP more than once and give more ice-time to their best players, then they stand a good chance in the series. If not, it seems likely they'll continue to battle it out, one grinding, frustrating game after another.
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