Conference Final Observations
-Let the 1994 comparisons between the Rangers and the Devils begin. Martin Brodeur is the only remaining player from either of those squads still on the same team. Officially dubbing the Eastern Conference Finals the Penn Station Showdown, but Ghosts of Matteau works too.
-Much is going to be made of Henrik Lundqvist’s dominance against New Jersey during his career, and for good reason. Lundqvist has been a stalwart against the Devils, but actually dropped a couple games to New Jersey this season, going 3-2 in five games with a sparkling 1.41 goals-against average and one shutout. In case you were wondering, The King is 25-11 against the Devils in his career with a 1.79 goals-against average; that’s just the regular season and does not count the thrashing Lundqvist laid on the Devils during New York’s 2008 first-round playoff victory.
-There is no truth to the rumor that the Rangers have recalled Sean Avery from Hartford to heckle Brodeur on the ice, but odds are they will purchase Avery seats behind the glass at Prudential Center.
-Certainly one of the more ironic twists in these Conference Finals is that the New Jersey Devils, who’ve, under coach Peter DeBoer, shed the stigma of sitting back and defending, are the most aggressive attacking team left in the postseason.
-Travis Zajac has been one of the Devils’ top players this postseason with five goals and 10 points through 12 games. Zajac’s storyline is an interesting one as the two-way center missed the majority of the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury suffered during off-ice workouts last August. Also of note, Zajac scored the overtime goal in 2008 for the Devils’ lone win in their first-round series loss to the Rangers. We can probably assume Zajac, a Winnipeg native, wants to see Phoenix burn in a fiery wreck for leaving Manitoba during his childhood.
-Loving the fact there is a 75-percent chance an American captain will lift the Stanley Cup between Parise, the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan and the Kings’ Dustin Brown. All three of these forwards play with a tireless and exemplary work ethic. Their ability to affect the flow of a game has been evident all postseason. Brown issued several backbreaking goals to the Canucks in the King’s first round “upset” and Parise vexed Philadelphia’s defenders while Ryan Callahan has been everywhere for the Rangers.
-It’s strange to say that Martin Brodeur is the one goaltender remaining that has been the least dominant in his team’s playoff success. The Devils have been relying on an aggressive forecheck and have cleaned up rebounds in front of his net. Marty is still good for a softie every now and then, but, against the Rangers, one goal can be a goal too much.
-Eager to see the chess match between Dave Tippett and Darryl Sutter play out in the Western Conference Finals. You have to like Los Angeles in the series with how they’ve bowled over Vancouver and St. Louis, but the Columbus refugees have been the epitome of a grinding team that wears down the opposition. Phoenix quelled the likes of Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, but dealing with Brown, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards could prove more difficult.
-Phoenix’s roster would have been a strong fantasy hockey squad 10-12 years ago between Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris and Ray Whitney. Also, Rostislav Klesla was the hot rookie to grab for your roster at the start of the 2001 season; I still associate him with that and the subsequent waste of a draft pick that ensued.
-The emergence in the playoffs of young defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson of Phoenix and the Rangers’ Michael Zel Zotto appears to be simply a continuation of their strong regular seasons. Del Zotto’s shift Saturday night when he potted what became the game-winning goal was outstanding as he finished off Alexander Ovechkin and then jumped into the rush.
-That sound you hear coming from Philadelphia has somewhat to do with their getting dominated by New Jersey in the second round, but it also is an East Coast-to-West Coast “we told you so.” Philadelphia castoffs Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are doing for the Kings in the playoffs essentially what Flyers’ fans would expect. In Carter’s terms, that means very little. The petulant center has a mere four points (1-3-4) through the Kings’ nine games while Richards owns eight points, good enough for third on the team along with three goals.
-Devils’ bench boss Peter DeBoer thoroughly outcoached Peter Laviolette and the Flyers during the second round, but the Flyers were more apt to leave the Devils plenty of chances to counterattack. The Rangers have shown the ability to deny scoring chances this season through blocking shots and closing down the middle of the ice around Lundqvist. If the Devils can push the pace on the forecheck, force turnovers and not allow the Rangers’ defense to set up, they can put New York at a disadvantage.
-Conversely, the Rangers will have to adapt to New Jersey’s tempo of play, as the Devils are not likely to be as passive as Washington was. It will be interesting to see who the Devils’ match the line of Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik with. The Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk trio is more than capable of doing an effective job defensively, but look for the line of David Clarkson-Adam Henrique and Alexei Ponikarovsky to give the Rangers some fits.
-Lastly, was there a more entertaining moment off the ice on Saturday than Pierre McGuire essentially getting told to shut up by John Tortorella during a first-period interview?
-Kings in 6, Devils in 6. Kings over Devils in 6