The New York Rangers better hope that history continues to repeat itself in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final with the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night (8 p.m. EST, NBCSN) at Madison Square Garden. Not only have the Rangers alternated wins and losses for 11 games in a row, they've spoken ad nauseum that one game's result doesn't carry over the next.
After the Devils dominated Game 4 with a 4-1 win, New York has to hope that's true. New Jersey, just like it has for most of this series, came out with energy New York could not match, this time scoring twice in the first period, unlike Game 3 when Henrik Lundqvist stole the win for the Rangers. The fast start set the pace, and the Rangers were unable to generate any modicum of offense, getting thoroughly outplayed in the loss.
The encouraging thing for the Rangers is that the series is tied at two games apiece. It's also become a best-of-three series with them controlling home ice. But even with the series even, New Jersey, by a good margin, has been the better team. The Rangers have been opportunistic with most of their goals, reliant on defense and living and dying by Lundqvist's play in net. That's similar to the recipe of success they've used all season, though scoring has been harder to come by and they really use some production from their top-six forwards, not named Chris Kreider. Too much of their offense has been "one and done," as they've failed to win enough puck battles to sustain any zone time. That makes their chances for a wins totally hinged on Lundqvist.
For the Devils, the game plan should be the same: use their forecheck to wear down their opponent, thereby creating more offensive chances and causing headaches for the Rangers in exiting the zone. New Jersey has proven that it is balanced -- and captain Zach Parise has found his game after a three-point night -- and can roll all four lines on the ice and get some sort of contribution. It has also showed that it can combat New York's cycling style, by winning the battles along the boards and transitioning quickly of their own zone. Though the Rangers did not score on their power play chance in Game 4, the Devils should do them no favors by being undisciplined -- New Jersey has been the better team five-on-five -- as New York has gone 4-for-11 on the man advantage.
NHL Playoffs: Rangers and Devils Set for Game 5 of Heated Eastern Conference Finals Series (via sbnation)