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New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers: Game 48 Preview

The New Jersey Devils will finish up their regular season against Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. This preview guesses what changes the Devils may make to their lineup while pointing out how good the Rangers really are at 5-on-5.

For the last time this season, Ilya Kovalchuk can yell from the bench at MSG.  Oh, and play in the game, too.
For the last time this season, Ilya Kovalchuk can yell from the bench at MSG. Oh, and play in the game, too.
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Final preview of the 2013 regular season. I know, I wish I was doing more too.

The Time: 3:00 PM EDT

The Broadcast: TV - NBC; Radio - 1130 AM WBBR

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils (19-18-10) at the New York Rangers (25-18-4; SBN Blog: Blueshirt Banter)

The Ticket Link from TiqIQ: Want to the go to the World's Most Overrated Arena? Want to avoid the expensive box office? Then go to TiqIQ and find something slightly more reasonable on the secondary market: New Jersey Devils tickets.

The Last Devils Game: It was the final home game of the 2013 season for the Devils on Thursday night. They hosted the Penguins in what turned out to be a meaningless game for both sides. Familiar to much of the last two and a half months, the Devils played a great period and ended up ending the first down 1-0 due to Matt Cooke jamming in a puck on what would be Pittsburgh's second shot of the game. Effort, possession, control, and still losing. The hole was dug deeper in the second period as the Devils didn't romp through the neutral zone nearly as much and Pittsburgh, well, kept on keeping on. Kris Letang sprung Jussi Jokinen perfectly into the Devils zone with a great long pass and Jokinen finished it with a banger on a power play. A funny thing happened late in the second: Patrik Elias fed Travis Zajac down low, and Zajac wisely turned to his forehand. David Clarkson and Douglas Murray were right in Marc-Andre Fluery's grill and so Zajac's shot got in to make it 2-1. The Devils equalized in the third period on a power play when Elias fed Clarkson for a great low shot that beat Fluery's five-hole. The Devils played much more like they did in the first period and they were rewarded. Steve Sullivan led a breakout and made a great lateral pass to Ilya Kovalchuk after gaining the zone. Kovalchuk intended to pass it to Andrei Loktionov in the middle, but his effort tipped just off Brandon Sutter's stick and it found the net. The Devils went up 3-2, continued to get the puck in deep against Pittsburgh, and held on in a 3-2 game that looked closer than it actually was. It may be a meaningless win, but those at the Rock were sent home happy. My recap of the win is here.

The Last Rangers Game: While the Devils were playing the Pens, the Rangers were down in Carolina still looking to clinch a playoff spot. They needed a win and early on, it looked like it would come pretty easily against a Hurricanes team that had nothing to play for. Derek Stepan scored early in the game to make it 1-0 and later in the first period, Derick Brassard roofed a rebound past Dan Ellia to double their money. In the next two periods, the Rangers heavily out-shot and out-possessed the Canes by a combined 28-6 in shots. However, the Canes on half of those shots. Jiri Tlusty converted a power play early in the second, Tuomo Ruutu scored three minutes later, and within the first minute of the third period, Tlusty scored again to put the Canes up 3-2. The Rangers were doing everything but scoring and needed a late one to tie the game up. They got one in the dying seconds of a power play when Brad Richards unloaded a slapshot from the center point. Richards missed, the puck bounced off the end boards, and it had enough velocity to bounce off the back of Dan Ellis' right leg and into the net. Yep. Ryan Callahan went in alone to the outside of the right dot and sniped a near-perfect shot inside the post in overtime for the 4-3 win and to secure postseason hockey for the Blueshirts. Bryan Winters has a recap of the win here.

The Last Devils-Rangers Game: Back on Sunday, April 21, the Devils' playoff hopes were near-dead and the Rangers had a chance to knock them out at MSG on national television. They did so. Here's the quick summary. Derek Stepan helped Ryan Callahan score within the first minute on a communication breakdown. Stepan re-directed a shot by Ryan McDonagh late in the first period to put the Devils down 2-0. The Devils looked good for about seven to ten minutes in the second period. Anton Volchenkov gave a puck away to Brad Richards and then screened Martin Brodeur when Taylor Pyatt shot said puck which led to a goal. After Patrik Elias killed his own team's power play by lipping off to an official, Richards found Callahan all alone by the right post, Brodeur dove to poke check the puck away but all it did was to tip up the puck up and over him to make it 4-0. Ilya Kovalchuk made a great pass to Andrei Loktionov, who rifled one past Henrik Lundqvist in garbage time. The Devils lost 4-1. My recap is here and Jerry's scoring chance count is here. As for the opposition, Bryan Winters was obviously happier about the game.

The Goal: Stick to the process. The game's going to mean nothing three hours after it starts. The Rangers will play next week, the Devils will not. The Rangers will be playing for seeding, but it takes two to Fandango. It is a hated rivalry so I can't imagine the Devils will just laze about for 60 minutes. However, there's no need to get really wound up or suddenly change how things have went this season. The last two games showed what happens when the process gets some breaks that lead to goals. The Devils didn't just beat Montreal and Pittsburgh, but they did it by out-playing them. The Rangers are a very good team, but so were those teams. If the Rangers' hearts aren't into it even by a little bit, then the process can really make it a long afternoon for them just as it was for Les Habs and The Pens.

Poor NBC and NBCSN. They banked on Sunday's game, Thursday's game, and this game being big season-ending games. However, the first one was quickly decided in retrospect, the Pens game might as well have had a graphic flashing "THIS IS NOT HOW THE PENGUINS WILL PLAY NEXT WEEK" periodically during the broadcast, and this one is really just for pride. However, I don't really care about the ratings or what makes the suits happy. This is a Devils blog, after all.

And the Devils will definitely go into this game far different than most other games against Our Hated Rivals. For one, Martin Brodeur will be the backup. Johan Hedberg will start the final game of the season as reported by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice. Good luck, Moose. For another, there's the matter of Mike Sislo and Harri Pesonen. Both were called up along with Gelinas with the intent of getting them in a game. Since this is the last one, I would think they'll be in the bottom six somehow. Plus, Steve Bernier got the night off on Thursday so he could return to the lineup as well. And if there's any time to throw Krystofer Barch into the lineup for some reason, you might as well make it a meaningless game against a hated rival. Gulitti's lines from practice suggest otherwise, but there are many options for the bottom six. I think the top six will remain the same as I doubt DeBoer changes Elias-Zajac-Clarkson given their recent run of production and I wouldn't touch Loktionov and Ilya Kovalchuk. Adam Henrique didn't really do a whole lot on Thursday, but maybe he'll have a better afternoon today.

We could see some other changes on defense. In Friday's practice report, Gulitti noted that Alexander Urbom was paired with Peter Harrold. I doubt Peter DeBoer will take out Harrold now. That said, I think Henrik Tallinder and Eric Gelinas may be a more interesting pairing to try out on the road. Tallinder can handle big minutes should Anton Volchenkov not be able to - and he did handle 18 minutes quite well on Thursday. Gelinas will get chances to shoot. I'm fine either way.

The Rangers will look a little different today as well. Andrew Gross reported on Friday at Ranger Rants - the blog of the Bergen Record's Rangers beat reporter - that there have been no update on the status of Ryan Clowe. Clowe was helped off the ice in the second period against Carolina on Thursday with an apparent leg injury. Gross thinks he may also be suffering from an elbow from a previous game. It doesn't appear to me he'll play today. Clowe has enjoyed his time so far in New York with three goals and five assists in twelve games, a far sight better than his no goals in 22 games with San Jose. Without him in the lineup, the Devils will have one less body to contend with. If he's not in, then the called up Kris Newbury could be inserted at forward. From the same post by Gross, that could be it - Tortorella wouldn't comment on whether he'd give the King of Dives, Henrik Lundqvist, yet another start.

Ultimately, the Rangers will appear to be the same strong team they have been on paper this season. They've been very good in possession this season and they got out of their shooting slump a lot earlier than the good guys so their 5-on-5 shooting percentage is just in the lower third of the league instead of as low as New Jersey. They've also received great goaltending which has been mostly driven by Lundqvist with a fantastic 93.6% save percentage at even strength and a not-too-bad 85.7% on the power play. Even if the Devils do draw Martin Biron, his few appearances have gone well for him this year.

The Rangers have been prolific at shooting the puck and they have many players who can make you pay. The line of Callahan, leading scorer Stepan, and Carl Hagelin each have over 100 shots, over ten goals, and over twenty points. They are the biggest threats. Even if the Devils quell them, they have to deal with the hard-charging Rick Nash, the hard-working Brassard, and whoever lines up with those two as Clowe is out. Nash, in particular, has been a force with 169 shots on net, 19 goals, 21 assists, and can occasionally drive to the net like it's no big deal. Brad Richards can still set up many different players, he's got 11 goals and 21 assists after all. Defensively, they've been good this year in terms of shots allowed. The pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have averaged over 24 minutes a night and have done quite well against tough competition. Michael Del Zotto and Anton Stralman represent a second pairing that has done good work in more favorable spots and the third pairing hasn't been a tire fire of awful play as far as I can tell. It's a crew that would look a lot better with Marc Staal but as they are now, they've done the job. Plus, they have an ace goalie who can bail them out repeatedly plus a system that emphasizes dropping five skaters below the dots when pinned. But, seriously, the Rangers have been a very good 5-on-5 team and now that the pucks are going in a bit more often, they could be a real surprise for whoever draws them in the first round. As for today, the Devils are going to want to exploit the Rangers' depth as much as possible. Beating Stepan's line is hard. Beating their fourths, possibly not as hard.

Interestingly, 5-on-5 may be where both teams want to keep this game today. Neither side has been all that successful on special teams this season. The Rangers' success rate of 16.3% on the power play is about the same as the Devils and below the league median. The Rangers' penalty kill has been just slightly more successful at 80.6% as opposed to the Devils' 80.4% - both also below the league median. It's not so much that they're both awful at one thing or another; it's just not a real strength. Should the Rangers do get a bunch of power plays, the Devils will want to keep an eye on Callahan as he leads the Rangers with six power play goals. Should the Devils get a power play, their top four man unit by shorthanded ice time per game has been Callahan-Stepan Girardi-McDonagh. Or two-thirds of the Rangers' top line and their top defensive pairing. As with 5-on-5, the Devils' power play should seek to make the most of their work when they're not out there. The Devils' power play may be feast or frustration but I like their chances against Anton Stralman and John Moore than Girardi-McDonagh.

As a final point, well, thank you for reading 48 game previews of Team Outlier 2013 the New Jersey Devils this year. There won't be any more until preseason this fall. Hopefully, they helped you prepare for the game and make you learn something about the opponent as they did for me in writing them. Even though the game will mean nothing this evening, I'm sure you would enjoy a Devils win to close this regular season out. I know I would. Please tell me what you think will happen and any updates for today in the comments. Thank you for reading.