Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Game 2 ECF Preview: Devils/Rangers

Tonight, the battle lines are drawn once again as the Devils and Rangers continue the Battle Of Hudson in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final at The Garden. The Blueshirts used a three-goal third along with 21 saves from Henrik Lundqvist to blank New Jersey in Game 1. They look to go up 2-0 for the first time this postseason while the Devils are looking to bounce back and even the series with it shifting to Newark Saturday.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out how vital this game is. The Devils don't want to fall behind 0-2 while the Rangers would love to hold serve, putting more pressure on their blood rival. Outside of the Kings' continued dominance, the East has been more back and forth. So, it wouldn't surprise me if the Devils come with a great effort to even the series. These teams are evenly matched. You have to figure with Pete DeBoer shuffling the deck by reuniting Zach Parise with Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk that they'll be revved up. DeBoer will also replace rookie Adam Larsson on the blueline with vet Peter Harrold, who practiced on the second power play unit. Here are the Devil lines:

Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk
Zubrus-Elias-Sykora
Ponikarovsky-Henrique-Clarkson
Gionta-Carter-Bernier

With Harrold returning to the back end, it'll be the same look they started the 2012 playoffs with. DeBoer is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle by putting his top threats together, which should increase pressure on John Tortorella to match the Brian Boyle checking line and top tandem Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. They'll also expect better efforts from Patrik Elias and David Clarkson, who were ineffective Monday. Both are an integral part of a balanced Devil attack that also features Calder hopeful Adam Henrique and vets Petr Sykora and Alexei Ponikarovsky. In Game One, Parise, Zajac, Henrique and Zubrus were effective, meaning they'll need more from Kovalchuk who was held to three shots with a few missing altogether.

Meanwhile, it'll be business as usual for Tortorella's group. Figure him to go with the same lines, which includes top unit Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. The Rangers' most cohesive trio were held in check and must perform better if they're to come away with another home win. In their Game 1 victory, they got production from other sources with former first round pick Chris Kreider setting up Girardi's winner and then notching a power play goal off a perfect pass from Artem Anisimov. Anisimov who also potted the empty netter, quietly has eight points. He's been more noticeable since Tortorella moved him to the checking line with Boyle and key ingredient Ruslan Fedotenko. Both have forechecked well while Boyle continues to recover from a first round concussion that's limited him offensively.

Another player they'll need to step up is the captain Ryan Callahan. No one can question Captain Cally's effort as he always does the little things that don't show up in the stat sheet. But he's only scored twice during the club's run and they could use a big goal especially on the power play. Granted. He's probably banged up. But the Rangers need him offensively. The same can be echoed for Derek Stepan, who put together a strong game despite not registering a point. His clean screen on Martin Brodeur prevented him from seeing Girardi's shot. D-Step has chemistry with Callahan and Kreider. They must supply some scoring and forecheck. Their cycle is a huge key to the Rangers' success.

While DeBoer will lean heavily on Bryce Salvador, Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene, Tortorella will look to his top four including Marc Staal, who's playing his best hockey, and Mike Del Zotto, who continues to chip in offensively. Anton Stralman will see about 15 minutes, including power play duty while Stu Bickel gets the "rookie treatment." If it gets physical as expected, Bickel might be involved along with Brandon Prust. Mike Rupp has stayed away from the shenanigans and has fit in well on the fourth line. In fact, they had some strong shifts when the Rangers had nothing going. They'll have to continue to match the Devs' grind line, which has burned Florida and Philadelphia.

Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik
Kreider-Stepan-Callahan
Anisimov-Boyle-Fedotenko
Rupp-Mitchell-Prust

Lastly, the play of both goalies. Lundqvist was superb in shutting out the Devils despite 26 blocked shots, which inspired some silliness from Ken Campbell. His Hall of Fame counterpart Brodeur also was sharp finishing with 25 saves, including the highlight of the game robbing Staal with an acrobatic glove stop. The key for both clubs will be getting shots through while generating traffic. The Devils will look to do a better job in both facets while the Rangers should try not to get pinned in for long stretches.

TV: NBC Network
Broadcasters: Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk, Pierre McGuire
Time: 8 EST
Where: MSG
Approximate Puck Drop: 8:10

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