So here we are. Barely caught our breathes after yet another game seven and it’s already time to start skating for Lord Stanley again. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. It’s a Hudson River rivalry series that’ll see either the Devils or Rangers advance on to the final round of fighting. It’s the aging goat against the gorgeous goalie. It’s the anti-media bench boss against the anti-Lemaire upstart coach. It’s Captain Cally against Pari-”C”. Kovy versus Gabby. First seed versus the sixth. A Garden and a Rock. I could go on for days, but there’s hockey to be played and match ups to break down so let’s get to the goods and preview this sucker. Without further adieu, here’s Barstool New York’s Comprehensive Conference Finals Preview Post Extravaganza…
#1 New York Rangers – #6 New Jersey Devils
Let’s get one thing straight before we start overhyping the shit out of this series – it simply can’t live up to 1994. That was without question one of the most exciting, drama filled, storybook playoff match ups of all time. If you think we’re going to get anything as legendary as The Guarantee out of these games then you’re in for a little letdown, my friend. I mean I’d love to be proven wrong here but I just don’t think it can be done. With that being said, it still has all the makings of a could-be classic so maybe I should just wait until the story lines play out before assuming what’s impossible. The key to this series will be the general intensity level. No team has won a Cup after playing fourteen games in the first two rounds so fatigue could factor in hugely here. Meanwhile, the Devils are playing arguably the best hockey left standing and breezed by Philly in five. If the Rangers can’t match New Jersey’s mojo in the first game, a big battle in the war of psychology will have been lost. It’s all a question of who shows up for the Blueshirts – the stinkers from game six or the victors from game seven.
Special teams will obviously play a big role as well. The Devils’ penalty kill made mince meat out of our power play this season, and can capitalize on a man advantage as well if not better than the team we just played. Can the Rangers find some consistency or will the kills be easier than a baby murder spree for New Jersey? The goalie battle’s another major talking point – Lundqvist loves playing against Brodeur and the ageless wonder at the other end is eager to prove that 40 is the new 34. Who can steal one when it matters? Who’s going to make that Bryzgalov-like mistake at just the wrong time? Who’s going to take the rubber match of their playoff history? Only time will tell. In a series this tight, it’ll take every ounce of sweat, blood and luck left in these guys to win four of seven. Can’t wait to watch…
Prediction – Though I wouldn’t tag them as favorites considering how well New Jersey’s playing, I feel like having an entire series of home ice advantage is going to benefit the Blueshirts. Rangers in, what else, 7.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes – #8 Los Angeles Kings
Who would have thought for these teams out west, eh? After one game in the books, the Kings are making their #8 seed status look like a goddamn joke as they’ve gone 6-0 on the road so far and have only lost one game all postseason. But don’t sleep on Phoenix; if they can win the second game and split the series heading back to LA, they might just have a chance to make things interesting. But the Coyotes are going to need an offensive spark, as they can’t trust that Jonathan Quick will let in Derek Morris slap shots from the red line every game. Can LA continue dominating the five-on-five game as well as they are or will their power play deficiencies start to show? Can Mike Smith continue his Conn Smyth campaign and upstage on the game’s best young goalies? We shall see…
Predicition – Now I’d much rather see Phoenix in the finals if the Rangers win, but I just don’t see it happening with the way Sutter’s got his guys rolling. Hollywood hockey prevails – Kings in 6.
While there’s less to breakdown on paper as the field slims, there’s much more at stake on the ice. Four wins separate four teams from a chance to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup, and if you they’re going to let little things like broken bones and bruises stop them from doing whatever it takes, you’re out of your fucking mind. This is it. This is what every pro plays for. The paychecks may have stopped, but it’s the heart that fuels the fire now, not money. To be so close, failure is not an option and if means running punks through the boards or fighting for a final chance as the clock clicks down than you can bet your ass that these guys are going to give it their all and then some. I almost envy those of you with no rooting interest. Just sit back and enjoy the best hockey on the planet while the rest of us have heart attacks every ten minutes just waiting for something to go wrong.
For the emotionally invested, good luck. I have a couple friends who are Devils fans (which is a couple too many) and I’ve got nothing but respect for their fans and the quality product Lou Lamoriello has managed to field year after year. Can’t argue their success, and why would you want to. It’s their triumphs on the ice that make the match up so damn intriguing. I think it’s safe to say that even before the Islanders move to Kansas or Seattle or Brooklyn or where ever, there’s really only one rivalry in this region that matters. Facing New Jersey in the conference finals is what Ranger dreams are made of, and I’m sure it’s the same for those of you in the Garden State rocking your red. Whatever happens, we’ve all earned the right to be here and deserve the spoils at stake. Enjoy the game, and LET’S GO RANGERS! @Osgood_StoolNYC