- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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At a glance: For the first time in 18 years, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils meet in the Eastern Conference Finals for a heated Hudson River showdown to determine which team will move one step closer to the Cup. After knocking off the Flyers in five games, New Jersey enters Monday’s match recharged and revitalized after five days rest while the Rangers hop right back into the action after a grueling seven-game series with the Capitals. The hatred between the two teams is genuine and venom between the division rivals is ready to be unleashed. Buckle up, hockey fans. This one is sure to be a bloody, bitter battle.
Lundqvist vs. Brodeur: Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist is trying to cap a sensational 2011-12 season and while he dominates Martin Brodeur in regular-season head-to-head meetings (23-7-5, 1.61 GAA, .941 save percentage), Brodeur is the one who sets the bar as far as post-season success. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner has won three Stanley Cup Championships during his 18-year tenure with the Devils. Which one will hold court in this best-of-seven set?
Stars to watch: Beyond the superior goaltending match-up, the Devils and the Rangers possess two of the best snipers in the league in Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Gaborik, respectively. Both teams also feature hard working, heart-and-soul captains Zach Parise and Ryan Callahan and clutch playoff performers Patrik Elias and Brad Richards. X-factor players? Keep an eye on New Jersey’s David Clarkson, who is coming off a career-high 30-goal regular-season and New York’s talented rookie duo of Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin.
Last time around: In a nasty regular-season finale between New York and New Jersey on March 19, the two teams wasted no time expressing their hostility. Six players dropped the gloves three seconds into play during an opening-faceoff line brawl that had the Garden crowd rocking and both coaches trading verbal jabs before, during and after the fight-filled contest.
Offensive outburst: Gone are the Devils teams of years past – the clubs that excelled with the trademark trap and a stingy defensive structure. They have been replaced with a high-flying, aggressive offensively opportunistic team under new coach Pete DeBoer. The well-balanced Devils are averaging three goals per game throughout the playoffs and required only five games to bounce the Flyers from the second round.
Cup stat “crap”: No team under the current playoff format has ever gone on to win the Stanley Cup after playing 14 games through the first two rounds. The Rangers needed a seventh game to dispatch of both Ottawa and Washington. How does coach John Tortorella feel about the statistical data stacked against his club? “That’s a bunch of cap,” he said in Monday morning’s press conference.
Revenge factor: Brodeur does not have fond memories of the last time the two teams met in the Eastern Conference finals back in 1994 en route to the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup since 1940. Stephane Matteau beat a then-22-year-old Brodeur with his iconic wraparound goal in double-overtime of Game 7 to send the Devils packing- a memory that still stings for the 40-year-old Brodeur.
4dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald