New York Rangers host New Jersey Devils for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals

Anytime you have two teams that share a border with one another, there’s bound to be plenty of history involved, and plenty of animosity between the two clubs. For the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, the last twenty years have been a contentious period between the two teams, though the Devils, with their 3 Stanley Cup victories during that time, have certainly had the most success. For the Rangers though, their last taste of the Stanley Cup was acquired after getting past the New Jersey Devils, and the same goaltender that still stands between the pipes in Martin Brodeur. The last remaining relic of the 1994 series between these two East Coast teams, Brodeur and the Devils, despite their more current championship success, still will be reminiscing on how the Rangers’ lone Cup victory in the past 72 years came in a Game 7, double-overtime contest that saw Brodeur give up the final tally. Get set for a great series packed with history and classic rivalries, as the Rangers get set to host the Devils for Game 1 of a best-of-seven-series starting tonight at the historic Madison Square Garden in New York City, with face-off set for 8:00 PM ET.

The New York Rangers are certainly not the same team that has struggled to find success in the playoffs, as this year they’ve broken the mold of failing to reach the conference finals, which has eluded the New York franchise for 15 years. Behind arguably one of the best NHL goalies to play the game in Henrik Lundqvist, and excelling on offense behind a stand-up captain in Ryan Callahan, this year’s Rangers have certainly proven that despite any and all challenges, their deserving of their place amongst the final four teams left standing in the NHL. It’s been a real team effort to get through this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs however, as both the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals have given the Rangers the full run for their money, with each series needing 7 games to decide the outcome. Fatigue may start to become a factor for New York as they head into play against the Devils, who despite also needing 7 games in the first round against Florida, showed a huge improvement in play against the Philadelphia Flyers, with their defense leading the charge by holding Philly to 3 goals or less in 4 consecutive victories to close down the series. For New York to have success against a confident, defensive-minded Devils squad, they have to come out skating strong from the get-go in this series, and put tons of shots in front of Martin Brodeur, the most experience playoff goaltender still playing in the NHL.

Like the Flyers before them, New York has plenty of offensive weapons, but will have to find a way to generate scoring against a Devils defense that simply dominated Philadelphia’s top lines, giving up just 7 goals in 4 consecutive wins. There is no question that the Rangers two top scorers, Brad Richards (6 goals, 5 assists in the playoffs) and Marian Gaborik (4 goals, 6 assists) have to be early contributors to get the confidence chugging along, but they’ll likely be shadowed very tightly by the likes of the Devils’ top blue-liners in Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador, who have average big ice time and have continued to be more and more discouraging to opposing offenses with each passing game. While New York is stacked with shooters both among the offensive and defensive ranks heading into this series, a special focus will be on getting more pucks on net from the top D-men, including Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh, who have provided offensive contributions here and there, but have not been as consistent as head coach John Tortorella would like them to be. With so much emphasis for the Devils likely being placed on keeping the top offensive weapons of the Rangers in check, there may be plenty of opportunities for the New York defensemen to step up around the offensive zone, put long blasts on Brodeur, and create loose pucks around the net on rebounds. Without getting all the Rangers putting shots consistently on net, the swarming Devils defense will quickly frustrate New York, which in the past has led to a lot more time in the box for the Rangers, who have responded with chippy behavior when struggling to produce. New York has to stay focused and avoid getting discouraged by the Devils, and a great way to start off would be with their blue line contributing early in this series to take some of the scoring pressure off their top shooters.

For the New Jersey Devils in this series, defense, and most particularly the penalty kill, will be of huge importance. In a rivalry series such as this, there is no doubt we’ll see plenty of scrappy play and lots of penalty minutes, but for the team that creates more power play opportunities there will be eventual success. That success may be harder to come by for the Rangers, who are up against the league’s top penalty kill during the regular season. While the Devils have struggled a bit in the playoffs, allowing 9 power play goals and getting just a 73.9 percent penalty kill (versus the regular season’s 89.6), you have to assume that somewhere the Devils will step up their form, and lock down an opposing team’s power play. While New York has converted at %15.8 on the man advantage, getting 8 power play goals this playoff season, they’ve been able to score because of a glut of opportunity, with lots of penalties doled out in the two 7-game series played. The Devils could give themselves an immediate boost by simply not giving the Rangers very many chances at 5 on 4 hockey, but that can only come so long as New Jersey doesn’t get baited into playing a chippy, dirty game against an antagonizing New York squad.

Further to the Devils game plan, getting a continuation of leadership from Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac on offense will be crucial. While Kovalchuk has been truly outstanding in the playoffs despite some lingering injuries, and Zajac continues to produce with 5 goals and 5 assists in 12 games played, the depth of the Devils has to be featured in this series against a very deep and talented Rangers team, and they must get scoring and offensive pressure from someone outside the usual suspects. Zach Parise definitely needs to be a stand-out figure from the onset of this series, as he’s due for points after failing to register any production in the final two games against Philadelphia. The Devils #2 goalscorer on the regular season, Parise has to come out skating hard and putting shots on net, which will envigorate the rest of the Devils’ top scoring lines. This would also be a huge time for the most experienced Devils’ cast members to step up, with both Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias having 14+ years of playing experience under their belts. For Elias in particular, who has been with the Devils since his draft day back in 1994, this may be his best opportunity to get a shot at Cup #4, and there’s no question that he’ll be ready to step up in this series against New York. If both Sykora and Elias can show veteran leadership on the ice and contribute just as the younger Devils’ players do, New Jersey will no doubt show a lot of confidence in this series, backed by some veteran know-how. It will be interesting to see how the old guard of the Devils, Sykora, Elias and Brodeur, hang with the much younger and more physical Rangers, but know that these wily veterans with heaps of playoff experience between them, will be poised and ready to go come puck drop tonight.

Betting Lines for the New York Rangers vs. New Jersey Devils at Bovada Sportsbook.

These two teams split the 6-game season series with each winning 3 games, so coming into this 7-game series, you can wipe the slate completely clean of past instances between the two squads. As such, the bookmakers give the advantage in Game 1 to the New York Rangers, who have home ice and -140 odds to win straight up. The Devils march in to hostile MSG territory with +110 odds to win, showing that their not really underdogs whatsoever coming into this Conference Final showdown.

Against the spread, New York will get -1 1/2 goals to cover, at +230 odds. With expectations high that we’ll see a close, hard-fought Game 1, the Devils are expected to cover+1 1/2 goals as underdogs, via their hefty -280 odds ATS.

For the over/under, and for the second night in a row, the outstanding goalies in play make the mark extremely low, with 4 1/2 goals defined as the line to stay under or push over. Both Lundqvist and Brodeur will be looking to set an example in Game 1, and despite Brodeur’s longer rest time, which can often lead to a sluggish start in the next series, expect his veteran mentality to overcome, and have him ready to be a brick wall like he usually is in the postseason. Though it could be expected that both goalies limit the opposing offenses to under 2 goals, as was the case in the Kings v. Coyotes game last night, we’ll expect a ton of offensive pressure to generate enough goals to just surpass the 4 1/2 goals on the over/under.

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