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Having faced each other in eight tightly contested regular-season games, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers aren't expecting to unveil any surprises in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup.
With two of the East's top goaltenders set to square off, about the only surprise would be a high-scoring series.
Led by Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist, the Devils and Rangers meet on Wednesday night in Game 1 at the new Prudential Center.
Five meetings between these Atlantic Division rivals this season were decided by one goal - three in shootouts - and the other three were decided by two goals. The Rangers won the first seven matchups, holding the Devils to a combined seven goals, before losing 3-2 in a shootout in Sunday's regular season finale to hand New Jersey home-ice advantage in the first round.
"It was important to get home ice, but it was just as important to get the win, if not just for our own psyche," the Devils' Jay Pandolfo said. "They beat us seven times and to find a way to get a win against them is huge."
These clubs are meeting in the playoffs for the fifth time. New York won the first three series, including in 1994 en route to its first Stanley Cup in 54 years. New Jersey swept the Rangers in the 2006 quarterfinals.
Now 35, Brodeur has been a part of all four series, and is 94-70 with a 1.93 goals-against average and 22 shutouts in 164 career playoff games. He feels this rivalry is one of the league's most intense.
"Nobody forgets about a Rangers-Devils series," said Brodeur, who needs one playoff shutout to tie Patrick Roy's all-time record. "It's demanding. ... It's a piece of history when you play the Rangers."
Though Brodeur posted a 1.96 GAA against New York this season, he was just 1-4-3.
Brodeur continued to be a workhorse in 2007-08, playing in a league high-tying 77 games - the 10th straight season in which he's played at least 70. He was second in the league with 44 wins and a 2.17 GAA, trailing only San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov in both categories.
Lundqvist, meanwhile, tied a career high with 37 wins and had a league-best 10 shutouts - the most by a Rangers goaltender since John Roach's franchise-record 13 in 1929. Against the Devils, Lundqvist was nearly unbeatable, going 7-0-1 with a 1.09 GAA and two shutouts.
"He's right on the bean here, he's sharp, he's focused, his level of concentration is exceptional and his competitive juices are right where they need to be," Rangers coach Tom Renney said of Lundqvist.
Even Brodeur admitted Lundqvist has been the difference this season.
"I still have to go out and perform," Brodeur said. "It's all about the Devils and the Rangers. It's not about me and him. We are a big part of our teams, but you can't do it by yourself."
On offense, the Rangers will look to one of the NHL's best playoff scorers in Jaromir Jagr and former Devil Scott Gomez.
Entering his 15th postseason, Jagr is second among active players with 72 playoff goals, and with 166 points is tied with Colorado's Peter Forsberg for second.
Jagr scored five goals in his final four games of the regular season and finished on a five-game point streak. His eight points in that span helped Jagr finish with a team-high 71, one more than Gomez.
"Jaromir's played well for me the whole season," Renney said. "I think what it translates to for us is ... a guy who can help us get to where we need to go. He's a huge leader on our team."
After winning two Stanley Cups in seven seasons with New Jersey, Gomez signed a $51.5 million free-agent contract with the Rangers in July and did not disappoint, posting a team-high 54 assists with six against his former club.
Though he seemingly was booed every time he touched the puck in New Jersey, Renney said that wasn't an issue for Gomez.
"That's the type of competitor he is, so I don't think it will faze him one bit. I think it will just crank him up," Renney said.
The Rangers' Chris Drury had four goals and three assists in his last four games against the Devils. With 25 goals, Drury tied Jagr for the team lead, followed by 23 from Brendan Shanahan, another former Devil. Ten Rangers reached double figures in goals this season.
New Jersey comes in having scored just 206 goals, the fewest among all East playoff teams.
Game 2 is scheduled for Friday night in New Jersey.
|Apr 18 '08||NYR 5 at NJD 3||C. Drury|
|Apr 16 '08||NJD 3 at NYR 5||M. Staal|
|Apr 13 '08||NJD 4 at NYR 3 - OT||J. Madden|
|Apr 11 '08||NYR 2 at NJD 1||S. Avery|
|Apr 09 '08||NYR 4 at NJD 1||R. Callahan|