It's definitely do-or-die tonight for the New Jersey Devils.
A win in Game 4 at the Prudential Center in Newark will knot the Eastern Conference final at two wins apiece. A loss will put the New York Rangers up by a three-to-one margin that will almost assuredly spell the end of the Devils' 2011-12 season. The Devils must heed the following advice in order to emerge victorious.
1) Be relentless on the forecheck. The Devils have to continue to attack and pound away on Ranger defensemen. They've done a decent job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone, including the points, but have only three goals to show for it so far.
2) Shoot from anywhere and everywhere. The Devils aren't going to score highlight-reel goals against Henrik Lundqvist to win this series. Two of their three goals in Game 2—the only game they've scored in and won so far—came on deflections off screens in front. They need more of that again, starting tonight.
3) Score the first goal. It sounds cliché, but the Devils really need to get on the scoreboard first. The longer games go scoreless, the better it is for the shot-blocking, opportunistic Rangers. An early goal would give New Jersey some confidence that it can beat Lundqvist, as it did in the second game. The Devils can't let him again work his shutout magic through two-plus periods and hope to win. It means getting around multiple shot-blockers and throwing anything and everything at the New York net, even if it's just a wrist shot from 50 feet out with traffic in front.
4) Shoot high. Ilya Kovalchuk had two chances from in close on Saturday afternoon, but didn't lift the puck on either one and Lundqvist denied him each time. The Rangers' goaltender is very good low to the ice, and the Devils are going to have to go upstairs if they're going to get pucks past him.
5) Don't let Girardi fire away unguarded. Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi broke scoreless ties in both Game 1 and 3 with a pair of shots from the right point—the first one a slapper and the second one a wrister. Both instances, he had plenty of time to shoot, and no one in a Devils jersey in his face. That has to stop—the Devils simply can't allow free shots from the blue line, whether it’s Girardi or anyone else. For that matter, they should keep a closer watch on rookie wonder Chris Kreider, who has a goal in each of the three games.
6) Stop breaking sticks, if at all possible. The Devils' three Z's—Travis Zajac, Marek Zidlicky and Danius Zubrus—all seemed to break their sticks at key moments in Game 3. They're not going to switch back to wood from composite sticks, but maybe they should pick up more durable models.
7) Big players have to come through, especially on offense. He hasn't made as many saves as Lundqvist, but Martin Brodeur has allowed just six goals in three games (with two empty-netters). Two goals allowed per game should be enough to win. His teammates, though, have to get going offensively, as Zajac, Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and everyone not named Kovalchuk, Ryan Carter or David Clarkson have yet to light the lamp in this series. And no surprise, either, the power play has to be converted.
The Devils aren't playing badly, but a lot of saves from Lundqvist, in combination with a couple of Rangers offensive spurts in a couple of third periods, has put New York up by a game. Now, it's New Jersey's turn to respond if it wants to keep its Stanley Cup hopes alive.