3/19 Pregame Primer: Devils vs. Rangers

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New Jersey Devils (13-10-6) vs. New York Rangers (14-12-2) 7:00 pm Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

To say that is a big game would be an understatement. Every time these two cross-town rivals clash it’s big. Tonight though, there’s even more on the line.

With the shortened season in the home stretch, the Devils come in currently sitting in eight place in the Eastern Conference, but tied with Carolina and Toronto at 32 points. The Rangers are lurking close behind with 30 points.

Why is this game big? The Devils could move up to 6th place tonight if they win, and even pull within two points of fifth place if Ottawa and Carolina lose.

If the Devils lose in regulation, they’ll be in 9th place by virtue of less regulation win.

You get the picture, this one is huge.

Here are some thoughts/questions coming into today’s game:

1. The Devils have to pounce early. When they’ve scored first and are able to really lay it on with the forecheck, they’ve been good. In games where they have to chase, it hasn’t been so pretty. The Rangers have been a poor road team this year, with a 4-7-1 record. The Devils HAVE to get the early goal to get the crowd in it and set the tone. The last thing they want to do is give the Rangers some confidence, especially coming off of a hard-fought win against the Hurricanes last night.

2. Where has the scoring gone? They seemed to be righting the ship offensively, capped by their five goal game at home against the Flyers, but New Jersey has just two goals since then. The defense has been better, along with Johan Hedberg, but they’re likely going to need at least three goals to win tonight. Can they get Ilya Kovalchuk going?

3. This team misses Andrei Loktionov. Though he’s still young, he was centering the top line before he got hurt in the game in Philadelphia. Not only does he bring a spark, but he seems to be a nice fit with Kovalchuk. When a top line player goes out, it forces you to reshuffle your lines. There is definitely a case that there’s a coincidence to the Devils lack of scoring in the five periods since he went down.

4. One more Moose, please! Say what you want about Hedberg, but he’s been very good lately. He’s given up five goals in the last three games, including what was a garbage goal to the Flyers at home. He has been a major reason why the Devils have been in the last two games when they weren’t scoring. You can’t expect him to shut out the Rangers tonight, but he has to be at least good enough to give the team a chance to win. He’s shown over the past few games that he can do that.

5. Don’t let Rick Nash beat you.  The big winger has carried the Rangers for a good portion of this season. When he goes, so do the Rangers. Adversely, when he is stymied, the Rangers have struggled to score for the most part. If the Devils can keep him in check and force the other lines to beat them, they should be able to limit the goals against tonight.

Prediction- Devils 3 Rangers 2

I wavered on this one for a while. I think the Devils will do just enough to get the win tonight in a game that will play like a playoff game. These are hard fought, physical battles regardless of the circumstances, so with this game potentially having playoff implications when all is said and done, this game will be a war.

I have a good feeling we’re going to see Ilya Kovalchuk at his best. My feeling is that this will be a tie game heading into the third before the Devils get a big goal and hold on to the lead.

Should be a great one!