Head to Head Regular Season Record: The Rangers won 7 games, The Devils won one game. Two of these games were decided in overtime. Two of these games were decided in a shootout.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils had an enigmatic season in 2007’08. Because of final construction of the state-of-the-art Prudential Center, the Devils started the season with 9 straight games on the road and were awful, winning only three games. Rookie coach Brent Sutter had numerous closed door meetings with players in October, including veterans Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrik Elias and Colin White, to discuss certain problem areas with the team and was able to turn the season around quickly. The Devils went on a 9 game winning streak beginning in late November, and competed with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division Title for much of the year. The Devils, led by future Hall of Famer goaltender Martin Brodeur, were excellent defensively again this year but struggled to light the lamp ( 206 goals for, lowest of all Eastern Conference playoff teams). Zach Parise is the team’s most dangerous scoring threat, but only managed 65 points this year. The Devils still have four balanced scoring lines but rely too heavily on the afformentioned Parise, Elias, Langenbrunner and the diminuitive Brian Gionta. The Devils swept the Rangers in 2005’06 due in large part to the tenacious forechecking mastered by John Madden and Jay Pandolfo. The two grinders shut down Jaromir Jagr and Michael Nylander and the Rangers were left scratching their heads. If the Devils can stop the likes of Jagr, Shanahan, Drury and Gomez, they will ease the load of their scoring lines. This works fine for Sutter, who knows his strength is his defense. The Devils cannot give up early goals or penalties to New York because they are a team that thrives with the lead, and free of the sin bin.
New York Rangers
The Rangers finished 5th in the Eastern Conference and one spot shy of a home playoff berth due in large part to a stellar second half. The Rangers found the chemistry they had been seeking all season long when Scott Gomez and Chris Drury were paired opposite each other to compliment players such as Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka and Brandon Dubinsky. Jagr didn’t have the best year but improved his play without the puck in a year which saw an underrated Rangers defense squad mature significantly. Defencemen like Michael Rozsival and trade deadline acquisition Christian Backman were good down the stretch and helped the Rangers win close games against Eastern Conference rivals. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was sensational all year and is a legitimate Vezina candidate (37 wins, 10 shutouts, 2.23 GAA). His amazing individual performances early in the season allowed Gomez and Jagr to slump early and then find their form later on. The Rangers are the type of team that lives and dies by the power play. Their major weakness lies in a non-physical defense corps. The Rangers do not have Darius Kaispairits or Jeff Beukeboom anymore. This will hurt them against a quick transition team like New Jersey. The Rangers will need to steal a game at “The Rock” in order for this series to go past five games.
Prediction: Devils in 5.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Ezra Ginsburg.