- Scott Burnside, NHL
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NEWARK, N.J. -- As the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers elevate the level of rhetoric -- if not their downright dislike for each other -- in their Eastern Conference finals, both teams will be introducing lineup changes that could have a significant impact on the outcome in Game 4 on Monday night.
In the 48 hours since the Rangers took a 2-1 series lead with their second 3-0 whitewashing of the Devils on Saturday afternoon, Rangers head coach John Tortorella took issue with what he believed to be the dirty play of the Devils, their propensity for selling calls and illegal picks on the power play.
New Jersey head coach Pete DeBoer simply said the allegations were “comical.”
The Rangers also found out they will be without the services of gritty forward Brandon Prust, who was suspended for one game for an elbow to the head of Anton Volchenkov in Game 3. The play went unpenalized on the ice but was reviewed by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan after the fact and announced Sunday afternoon.
Prust averages 1:50 a night in penalty-killing duty for a Rangers unit that has limited the Devils to just one goal on 12 opportunities in this series. That represents the fourth-highest amount of ice time per game among penalty-killing Rangers forwards. It is not overstating the matter to suggest that the Devils’ inability to solve the Rangers and specifically netminder Henrik Lundqvist with the man advantage has been the single biggest factor thus far in the series.
Brandon Dubinsky was a candidate to move into Prust’s slot, but an injury to his right foot in Game 7 of the Rangers’ first-round series against the Ottawa Senators will keep him out again Monday night. That means defenseman Stu Bickel will play in Game 4.
The Devils, meanwhile, will insert young center Jacob Josefson into the lineup in the place of the ineffective Petr Sykora. Josefson, the 20th overall pick in the 2009 draft, will be seeing his first-ever NHL playoff action after he suffered a broken wrist late in the regular season. This followed an earlier broken right clavicle that saw him miss 37 games. He registered nine points in 41 games but did have two goals and an assist in his last six games.
But when the 21-year-old has played, he has shown skill and speed that could benefit a lineup that has struggled to score even though the Devils have enjoyed better chances overall through the first three games of the series.
"I had a brief conversation with him yesterday. Basically, just 'Get in, bring us some energy, play like you did the last three, four weeks of the season.' He's had a tough year between the injuries and the adversity, really over the last two years,” DeBoer said after the Devils’ optional skate Monday morning.
"And I really felt the last two, three weeks of the season he had refound his game and his confidence. And if we can get a version of that player in the lineup tonight, we'll be a better team,” the coach said.
"You know what, he’s a great kid who’s been through a lot in the last couple of years with injuries,” Clarkson said. "You see a kid go through those ups and downs and the way he handles them. He comes back today, I don’t know if you’ve spoken to him, but he’s like a little kid in here. He’s so excited. It’s his playoff game, so it’s a great feeling."
“Great skater, great young kid, so it’s nice for him to get that chance,” Clarkson said.
Josefson admitted it’s been both frustrating and exciting to be on the sidelines during the Devils’ playoff run.
“Kind of both. Of course, it’s frustrating to not be playing but it’s a great experience to sit on the side too and watch and learn a little bit,” he said Monday morning. "The team has been playing great and it’s been fun to watch, but of course you want to be out there and play."
8dScott Burnside and Craig Custance