Who's heading to the Stanley Cup finals?
DEEPER AND MORE TALENTED
In 1994, the Rangers eliminated the Devils in an epic seven-game series to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
Eighteen years later, I think New Jersey will exact its revenge on the Blueshirts.
The Rangers are the popular pick to beat the Devils in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.
That doesn't mean they're the right pick.
The Devils are flying high heading into Monday's Game 1 at MSG. No one expected them to dispatch of the Flyers in Round 2, yet they did so anyway -- in convincing fashion.
New Jersey is no longer the trapping defensive juggernaut it used to be. Now, the Devils roll four very capable lines and have the ability to win high-scoring games. Their forecheck was unstoppable against Philadelphia, and it should wreak havoc versus the Rangers as well.
Plus, the Rangers needed seven games to beat eighth-seeded Ottawa and seventh-seeded Washington.
The Blueshirts are well equipped to win 2-1 games, but if they fall behind early, the Devils are capable of clamping down defensively. Henrik Lundqvist has been at an MVP level all season. But lately, so has 40-year-old Martin Brodeur.
Heck, go down New Jersey's roster, and it seems everyone has.
The Devils are deeper and more talented. In this series, that will prove to be the difference.
I expect New Jersey to advance to its fifth final in franchise history in six games.
THE WILL TO WIN
Whether Martin Brodeur was being completely sincere in lauding Henrik Lundqvist as the prodigy between the pipes, or simply pumping his tires in a subtle stab at gamesmanship, his assessment was correct.
Lundqvist is the man to beat.
In a battle between the greatest goaltender in history and the greatest goaltender in the game right now, Lundqvist will finish as King.
The Flyers may have made the fatal error of looking past the Devils in Round 2, but the Rangers will not. Taken to Game 7 in both of the first two rounds, the Blueshirts will be prepared for a bitter fight, but their edge in net will be the difference.
Lundqvist did not happen upon both his Hart and Vezina Trophy nominations by accident, and his career-best season has seemed only to elevate during postseason play. The 30-year-old Swede owns a dominant head-to-head record against his cross-Hudson rival -- 23-7-5 with a 1.61 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and five shutouts -- but is only 4-4 against Brodeur in the playoffs.
Brodeur has nothing left to prove in his illustrious 18-year career that includes three Stanley Cup championships, but Lundqvist has yet to provide his defining moment and is determined to make this his year.
Agree with you on this, Mazz: The Devils are a more dynamic offensive team with greater balance and depth. They deserve every ounce of respect and credit that people were reluctant to give en route to this Eastern Conference finals appearance.
This Rangers club appears to have harnessed something special, however. Whether it's their mental grit, clutch performers (looking at you, Brad Richards), or relentless blue-collar ethos, the Black-and-Blueshirts have willed their way to the third round.
Lundqvist will be the determining factor in getting them to the next.