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NHL.com: Keys to ECF Game 5

Wednesday, 05.23.2012 / 2:56 PM ET / News
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NHL.com: Keys to ECF Game 5




NEWARK, N.J. -- The verbal sparring, gamesmanship, animosity and on-ice jabs aside, the Devils and Rangers are locked in a chess match that continues Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The Rangers want to have a better start in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Devils know that, and they want to counter by staying as aggressive early in games as they have been all series.

The Devils want to use their forward depth to their advantage to take a 3-2 lead in the series. The Rangers know that, and they want to counter by jumping on New Jersey early with a goal, or at least dominate in puck possession.

New Jersey was the better team in Game 4. Considering the Devils peppered Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 36 shots on goal in Game 3 and won Game 2, you could make the argument that they have been the better team since the Rangers broke out with three goals in the third period of Game 1.

That doesn't matter now. The series is tied, and each team knows what it has to do to pull within one win of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

Here are three keys for each team in order to win Game 5:

3 KEYS FOR THE DEVILS

1. Roll four lines

The Devils jumped to a 2-0 lead in Game 4 because over a nearly eight-minute stretch they were able to use all four lines and all three defense pairs. At no point did they lose momentum. At no point did their aggressive forecheck become less effective.

The key to sustaining that is in the confidence coach Peter DeBoer has shown in his fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. DeBoer, who said Wednesday that having an effective fourth line is "critical," has proven in this series, and really throughout the playoffs, that he is not afraid to put his fourth liners on the ice in key situations.

It's for good reason, too, because that line has been excellent against the Rangers at keeping the aggressive forecheck going and protecting the puck in the attacking zone to create offensive chances. Carter had a goal in Game 2 and Bernier was credited with an assist. That line is averaging right around 10 minutes of ice time per game.

The Devils need more of the same from their fourth line in Game 5, because when they are effective DeBoer can roll his lines to keep his team fresh. If DeBoer has to shorten his bench, the Devils' forecheck likely will become less effective because the forwards will grow tired as the game goes along.

"I can't overstate the importance of it," DeBoer said.

2. Remain calm and composed

The Devils have prided themselves in the playoffs on being the team that plays within the whistles. The Flyers tried to bait them into retaliatory penalties, but the Devils stayed clear of it. The Rangers tried to do it in the third period of Game 4 when the score was 3-0, and again New Jersey didn't bite.

DeBoer reminds his team daily about the need for composure because the team that stays composed usually is the team that finds success.

No one knows if any of the extracurricular drama that unfolded in Game 4 will carry over to Game 5. But if it does, or if the game Wednesday takes on a life of its own (a more likely scenario), the Devils again have to be the team that remains disciplined.

"The series is pretty long and you have to focus on what you're doing, not be mad," Devils defenseman Marek Zidlicky told NHL.com. "Every time on the ice something happens after the shift and you have to stay focused, play hockey. You can be mad after the game."

3. Aggressive start

The Devils are prepared for the Rangers to come out flying in Game 5.

"More often than not they have a good start in their building, much like Philadelphia does," captain Zach Parise said. "We're aware of that and we'll be ready for it."

They've been ready at the start of every game in this series; the Rangers have not been. That was the difference in Game 4, and the Devils know they have to make it the difference in Game 5.

In Games 2 and 4 they saw the benefit of jumping to a lead in the first period. The Rangers had to play catch-up, and for a team struggling to score more than two goals a game, that is not a good situation to be in.

The Rangers caught the Devils in the second period of Game 2, but the New Jersey kept pressuring, got the goal back and won the game in the third period. The Devils were relentless from the start of Game 4 and had a 2-0 lead 11:59 into the game. They never looked back.

3 KEYS FOR THE RANGERS

1. Clean breakouts

The Rangers haven't been able to possess the puck as much as they would like in the series. A good reason for that is how choppy their breakouts from the defensive zone have been.

A clean breakout goes a long way toward getting the puck into the offensive zone with speed. It can force the Devils to backpedal and perhaps even create odd-man situations. It certainly gives the Rangers a better chance to get the puck in deep -- below the faceoff dots -- which is where they want their offense to come from.

However, the Rangers' breakouts have been choppy in this series because a lot of the time the defensemen are trying to get the puck out of the zone at the end of a shift. They have been getting hemmed in the defensive zone because of the Devils' aggressive forecheck and have found themselves defending for way too long before having a chance to get the puck out.

At that point the forwards likely are going for a line change and the defensemen are looking to get off the ice, too. It usually ends up as a pass to the red line and a chip or a dump into the zone that can lead to Devils goalie Martin Brodeur coming out of his crease to play it and start New Jersey's next wave up the ice against the new group of Rangers forwards and defensemen.

The Rangers have to limit the Devils' time of possession in the attacking zone, and move it up so their forwards can work in the offensive zone.

"Yeah, but it's tough," Rangers forward Carl Hagelin said. "They pinch the wall pretty hard. So it's tough to get the wingers. We got to find a way to get it out."

2. Play below the dots

If getting a clean breakout is the first part of the Rangers' offense that must work, the second is getting the puck deep and working below the faceoff dots, or even the goal line. That's how they created the penalty that led to Dan Girardi's game-opening goal in Game 3. It's how they worked to get Chris Kreider's deflection goal that gave them a 2-0 lead in Game 3.

The Rangers have not possessed the puck below the faceoff dots nearly enough in this series. The Devils deserve a lot of the credit for that because they have not allowed the Rangers too much attack-zone time. However, the Rangers know they have to find a way to change that in Game 5 or else they again will find themselves chasing and relying heavily on Lundqvist's capable shoulders.

"It has been a series so far of them having the puck a lot more than we have, and that's what we're going to try to change," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It's just a simple fact; we need to get better at it."

3. Be ready

Why haven't the Rangers been able to match the Devils' aggressiveness early in games?

It's a question with a thousand answers, none of which would satisfy anyone involved with the Rangers.

"I think it has to do with them coming hard at us. We have to control that," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "And us getting on our forecheck, and that's where we're successful. We need to keep rolling it over and holding onto some pucks. If we do that we'll get our confidence in the first [period] and be going."

Of course, the Rangers would love to have the lead after the first period, but at this point you get the sense that they'll take a tie game as long as they are the aggressors and manage to get some quality scoring chances against Brodeur in the first 20 minutes.

It's a recipe for disaster if they again let the Devils dictate the play in the first period.

"There's no question Jersey, right on through the playoffs, not just our series, they have blitzed teams and gained momentum," Tortorella said. "Momentum is a big part of playoff hockey. There's no question we like to get that on our side right away."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
5 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
6 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
7 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 56 28 21 7 124 124 63
10 PHI 54 24 20 10 128 140 58
11 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
12 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
L. Stempniak 56 15 25 6 40
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
A. Henrique 54 19 18 14 37
K. Palmieri 56 20 16 3 36
T. Zajac 48 8 19 7 27
D. Schlemko 48 6 9 -8 15
A. Larsson 56 2 11 12 13
D. Severson 52 1 12 -1 13
J. Blandisi 17 4 7 -1 11
J. Josefson 45 3 8 -14 11
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Schneider 25 16 6 .931 1.98
K. Kinkaid 3 5 1 .909 2.52
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