Rangers Devils Defense

Rangers-Devils Eastern Confernece finals matchup: Defense

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With the Devils and Rangers set to begin the 2012 Eastern Conference finals tonight at Madison Square Garden, PHT will be spending most of today breaking down the positional matchups.

Defense

New York Rangers

Time on ice: Dan Girardi (27:39), Ryan McDonagh (27:27), Marc Staal (25:27), Michael Del Zotto (22:50), Anton Stralman (16:37), Stu Bickel (4:55)

Overview: The Rangers have relied almost exclusively on the “big four” of Girardi, McDonagh, Staal and Del Zotto, though Stralman has been a nice surprise offensively, scoring three goals in 14 games after netting just two in 53 regular season contests.

Strength: Defensive defensemen. New York boasts three of the best in Girardi, McDonagh and Staal, who have combined to block 112 shots and thrown 94 hits this postseason. Ergo, it was no surprise to see Ottawa’s 35-goal man, Milan Michalek, held to just one tally in the opening round, or Washington’s two leading goalscorers (Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin) held to just two goals between them in Round 2.

Weakness: You’ve got to wonder about the wear-down factor. In addition to all the hits and blocked shots, Staal (356 minutes), McDonagh (384) and Girardi (387) have played more than anybody this postseason, roughly the equivalent of six full games each.

New Jersey Devils

Time on ice: Marek Zidlicky (24:38), Andy Greene (23:42), Bryce Salvador (22:59), Mark Fayne (21:29), Adam Larsson (15:39), Anton Volchenkov (15:21), Peter Harrold (14:15).

Overview: Peter DeBoer is much more liberal in his allotment of playing time, though he leans on the veteran Zidlicky in a number of situations (notably on the power play). Adam Larsson appears to have solidified his spot in the top six — bumping Harrold to the press box — with a strong series against Philadelphia.

The blueline doesn’t score much, but has received surprising production from Salvador (2G-4A-6pTS).

Strength: As the numbers suggest, New Jersey has a very balanced blueline. Fayne and Greene are both solid, responsible guys 5-on-5 and, after a nightmarish start to the playoffs, Volchenkov has rebounded with some excellent penalty-killing work.

Weakness: This is not a physically overwhelming group. Zidlicky (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) and Greene (5-11, 190) are on the small side and Larsson (19 years old) can be overwhelmed by stronger opponents. Fayne — who goes 6-3, 215 — has exactly nine hits in 12 games played.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.