NEWARK, N.J. – Stopping Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez and Chris Drury isn’t the biggest task facing the New Jersey Devils in their first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers.
Getting the puck past Henrik Lundqvist in Game 1 on Wednesday night at the Prudential Center is going to be a much bigger concern.
The Rangers’ goaltender posted a 7-0-1 record against the Devils this past season, limiting them to nine goals in eight games.
“I don’t think he’s in our heads,” Devils forward Dainius Zubrus said of Lundqvist, who had two shutouts and two one-goal games against New Jersey. “There were chances that we had and sometimes we didn’t capitalize or bear down enough, or we didn’t make his life difficult enough. I’m not taking anything away from him, but I believe we can score.”
Before practising for about an hour on Tuesday, the Devils watched videotape of Lundqvist – both the Devils’ failures against him, and other teams’ success.
Goalie Martin Brodeur said the Devils need to pay more attention to Lundqvist’s tendencies, and put themselves in positions where they have better angles to score.
“It’s a matter of bearing down and knowing the goalie you are playing against,” Brodeur said. “Don’t make his life easy. If he likes to play the puck, don’t give it to him. Find a way to get where he is not comfortable playing the game.”
The Devils didn’t do that much in the regular season, or at least until the last few games against New York.
“It will be interesting to see,” Brodeur said. “I don’t think he’s in our kitchen, even though we didn’t score many goals. It’s mostly the Rangers, themselves. They kept us to the outside.”
Devils coach Brent Sutter wants his team to take more shots. In three of the losses, New Jersey had 17, 18 and 22 shots.
“He’s a very good goaltender, I’ve said that, and he’s played very well for the Rangers,” Sutter said. “You have to expect him to play well in this series, too, no different than Marty. Marty is a very good goaltender, too.”
The last time these rivals met in the playoffs was two years ago. New Jersey swept New York in the opening round in a series in which Jagr was hurt in the first game.
This year, the task is much different. Jagr is healthy and on a roll, having scored seven goals in the last eight games. The Rangers are much deeper, having signed Gomez, the former Devil, and Drury, in the off-season, while adding veteran Brendan Shanahan a year ago.
The defence also is stronger with the development of rookie Marc Staal, Daniel Girardi, Fedor Tyutin and the solid play of Michal Rozsival.
“Hopefully we can keep playing with the confidence we’ve been having against this team during the year,” Lundqvist said. “It means a lot when you play with confidence. You play more patient and you don’t run around or don’t take chances to get chances. You know you’re going to create chances even though you’re playing a strong defensive game.”
Gomez, who won two Stanley Cups with the Devils, is excited heading into his first playoff series against his former teammates.
“Going through a Rangers-Devils series, you definitely know you’ve been in the playoffs,” he said. “I guess you couldn’t have written it better. You’ve got to go through New Jersey. It’s a huge test and it’s probably the ultimate test in the East just the way the team has always been there. It’ll be fun, there’s no doubt about it.”
It also will probably be low scoring, Jagr said,
“Well, don’t forget on the other side is Marty,” he said. “It’s going to be a battle of two great goaltenders – the young kid and the old guy. It’s going to be special.”
Four of the eight games between the teams this season were decided either in overtime or a shootout. The Devils got their only win in the regular-season finale, 3-2 in a shootout, to clinch home-ice advantage in the best-of-7 series.
“It’s going to be a series where if you make that one mistake you’re going to be going home,” Gomez cautioned. “You can’t make a mistake against that team, especially in the playoffs. That’s what you’re taught over there. This is the time of year where you’ve got to be patient and jump on mistakes.”