The Rangers head to the Rock to take on the Devils in the biggest, most important, most must-win game of the year. All cliches and hyperbole apply to this tilt in Newark. It’s that important.
The Devils, currently tied with Winnipeg and Toronto for 6th, 7th and 8th place in the Conference with 32 points in 29 games are one notch above the Rangers who sit in 9th place with 30 points in 28 games. Both squads, the final two remaining in the East in last year’s playoffs, have been disappointing.
Ilya Kovalchuk leads the offensive attack and is always a threat to score especially on the power play. Patrik Elias, a consistent point producer nearing the 1000 point plateau, is probably the least heralded superstar in the league and a future NHL Hall of Famer. David Clarkson, though cooling off from his torrid start, cleans up around the net and seems to always score against the NYR. However, like their Hudson River rivals, the Devils third and fourth lines are a pretty weak group.
And like the Rangers, the Devils have some other weaknesses. Their goaltending tandem is ancient. Martin Brodeur, while injured currently and possibly back tonight has been solid and the Moose Johan Hedberg has been decent. Goaltending is not the strength that it once was for the Devs. The Devils D corps is shaky as well. Marek Zdlicky is a very good puck mover, but also a turnover machine. Bryce Salvador is solid on the backline and a good shutdown D-man. Like the Blueshirts, the Devils depth on the blueline is very shaky and exploitable as you move through the D pairs.
This is a critical game for both sides. Potentially a turning point game. A win by either team in such a big rivalry match up could change the winner’s psyche and perhaps catapult them out of their respective funks. The Devils have had been slumping through March, going 3-4-2 and dropping in the standings. The Rangers recent woes are well-chronicled. This game is massive for both teams. A win would put either one of these slumping squads just a couple of W’s from 5th in the Conference.
The Rangers obviously need to find some goals. A brilliant as Henrik Lundqvist is, 3 goals in 4 games is not cutting it in the National League. Tort’s newly re-jiggered lines have to start producing. Rick Nash needs to be more Superman-ish, Marian Gaborik needs to find the back of the net and someone needs to find the real Brad Richards and get rid of the slow, stupid turnover-machine that is wearing the #19 jersey. The Callaha-stepan-Hagelin line has been the Rangers best and must continue to forecheck like its their job. Mostly because it actually is their job. The Rangers need the bottom six forwards to do something. Anything really. Some jam perhaps?
Hopefully for the Rangers sake, there will be jam all over the ice, Coach loves jam.