By Dave Turner and Jeff O’Connor
Jeff: Alright Dave…it’s quite simple. If the New Jersey Devils win today against the New York Rangers, they stay in the race. If they lose, they’re out. Before we get into the matchup of the game, you couldn’t ask for the Devils to come in any hotter considering how they played the last two games.
Dave: They’re certainly playing well, but it seems like it’s too little too late. Though they’ve been scoring again finally AND playing good defense, The Rangers have been hot as well, so this should be a great game. Think of it as a Game 7 of sorts for the Devils. That being said, I think NJ is locked in and is ready to do anything possible to extend their season.
Jeff: So let’s get into…they’ve split the first two games this season, both at The Rock. I think this is going to be a fun game. Both teams know what’s at stake. The Rangers have a chance to be 3 points up on the Jets and have the same amount of games left if they win. If they lose, they open up the backdoor a little wider for Winnipeg. Honestly, I think this game comes down to who stays out of the box and avoids the dumb penalties. PP time, even without goals, can swing the momentum towards the attacking team and wear out the top forwards for the killing team. With Ilya Kovalchuk back, these two teams feel pretty evenly matched, so I think that’s what it comes down to today.
Dave: I’m excited for today. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s always great when these teams match up. You have to expect that the Devils will come in as the more desperate team, because they are. A loss today and their playoff hopes are extinguished. As for the Rangers, they’re still hoping to move up in the standings and avoid the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The Devils seem to have found their scoring touch again, and with a game under his belt, I expect a good game from Kovalchuk today. He knows this is his time to shine and give this team a chance. The Rangers though have been scoring goals in droves. Who would have thought that getting rid of Marian Gaborik would be such a great addition by subtraction
Jeff: Yea, they’ve found that secondary scoring now. If Brad Richards can keep on a roll, they actually have a really good shot to play with anyone. Let’s look at the Devils defense. You can make the case they have their best six SKATING defensemen on the ice without Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov and they’ve actually looked pretty sharp. Over the last two games, I haven’t really seen anyone make big or glaring mistakes. That’s encouraging to see, because when they do that, the offense doesn’t have to put up a boatload of goals.
Dave: That’s a great observation. They’re able to move better without those two in the lineup. The one player who I’ve been most impressed with is Peter Harrold. He tends to fly under the radar, but that’s because he makes the routine plays and doesn’t make many glaring mistakes. He defended that two-on-one versus the Flyers about as well as anyone possibly could. That was textbook execution; take away the passing lane, then take the body. I think there might be something to the better skating ability of the six d-men who are in and the Devils ability to score in transition.
Jeff: Alright…let’s do it…prediction time! Give me a final score and a synopsis of the game.
Dave: I’m going to go with 4-3 New Jersey. I just have a feeling that both of these teams are going to open it up a bit. A lot of times these games are low scoring, but I think today will be a bit different. Devils score first, hold a lead after one, Rangers come back and go up 2-1, before the teams trade goals in the third and then Ryan Carter lights the lamp for the victory late in regulation to keep the Devils season alive. What are you going with Jeff?
Jeff: I think this team gets it done as well. I think we’ll see the Devils jump out in front with a goal in the first 10 minutes of the game and control the tempo of play. Rags will dominate the second period and while the Devils try to hold on to the lead going into intermission, New York scores late. I see a scoreless third after that, with both teams tightening up. Believe it or not, I see the Devils winning it in a SHOOTOUT. Yes, a shootout. It would, in a way, sort of be bittersweet to keep the playoff hopes alive in something they’ve struggled with all year. Rick Nash and Kovy both score and Patrik Elias wins the SO shooting third.