So here we go again. Just what the New York hockey fans wanted and exactly what the NHL needs. Its no secret that if the NHL hopes to expand its base it has to start in New York and what better way than a bitter rivalry. This is the fourth time the Rangers and Devils have met in a playoff series and the Rangers have come up on top all three times and all three times against Martin Broduer.
Does that mean anything as far as this series goes? Probably not. It hasn't reached the level of the Yankee-Red Sox curse that ended with a thud in 2004, but give it a chance. If you read all the experts the Rangers have no chance. It's the red hot Devils, winners of eleven straight, against the fading Rangers, losers of five straight.
If that wasn't enough, this morning several Rangers came down with flu like symptoms. Of course Jagr was among the sick as was Nylander. Nylander? He passed me his jersey, am I next? So maybe this will all get out of their systems and get them ready to go. So how can the Rangers pull it off when most of the experts see them going down in six? Larry Brooks says five.
To start out the Rangers have the top player in the NHL who is about ready to get back on track. Of course we are talking about Jaromir Jagr. He will have to shake his personal chaperone, Jay Pandolfo, and hope that the refs don't forget to call the hooks, holds and interference calls that they seemed to have forgotten these last few games.
Jagr will be rested and as such could be logging as much as thirty minutes of ice time per game, being double shifted at times. Are the Devils willing to let Pandolfo go thirty minutes taking time away from the more offensive guys? Don't be surprised to see Jagr at the tail end of penalty killings more often. Remember Jagr, who is derided as all offense and no defense, finished the season as a plus 34, second on the team to Michal Rozsival's plus 35. Rozsival tied Wade Redden of Ottawa for the NHL lead.
The next big factor is our Prince, Henrik Lundqvist. Injuries hampered his run at the top goalie numbers. He still finished fourth in save % and fifth in GAA, not bad for a 23 year old rookie. He played well against Ottawa for two periods and seemed to tire in the third. This was his first game in about two weeks so that was understandable. He will be up against the exalted Marty Broduer, who has never beaten the Rangers in three previous playoff series.
The Rangers must get thirty plus shots on goal every game, nothing less will do it. If Jagr is double teamed Straka and Nylander must step up on that line and step up big. The tic-tac-toe passing schemes that the Rangers utilized so well in the early games must be reinstituted, getting Broduer to move side to side and pepper him with shots from everywhere on the ice. Stop with the extra pass for the highlight film and shoot. Shoot and crash the net.
Our defense somehow collapsed the last five games. What happened? The introduction of Sandis Ozolinsh into the lineup is what started it. The changing of the pairings didn't help and also the line changes had an effect on the defense also. So how do we fix it. Ozolinsh is obviously a very skilled offensive defenseman. It is just as obvious he has defensive deficiences. They will probably pair Poti with him. Doesn't that excite you? Scare you? One of them has to stay at home and the forwards have to be aware that when one of them goes offensive one of the forwards should go defensive. Simple right? Its always simple when you are writing.
The Devils love to skate and lately have been enjoying a lot of open ice. Our third and fourth lines, especially the HMO line, have to get in deep and put some bodies on the Devils defensemen so that they spend more time in their own zone with the puck and less time breaking out. The Rangers need to do more hitting and checking to slow the Devils forwards down. This is what playoff hockey is all about, checking, hitting and grinding.
An interesting aspect should be the fact that Cam Jannsen had vowed to beat up Hollweg for his hit (clean) on Brylin. Add the Marshall and Kasparaitis love affair and all hell could break out at any time. Then the Rangers could have a Devil of a time. Bad Mike, bad.
Prediction: Rangers in six. Why? Because I am a Ranger fan and don't need any other reason other than my gut which is starting to expand again.
ICINGS: From a helter skelter schedule where they seemed to be games every other night the playoffs seem to be more relaxing. Three games in a week seem vacation like. Saturday and Monday at the Devils and then Wednesday and Saturday at the Rangers. They want the Saturday games for NBC. The OLN station will have quite a few games which will be all the Rangers-Devils that are not on NBC.
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