Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference finals matchup: Forwards

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.

Forwards

New York Rangers (lines)

Carl Hagelin — Brad Richards — Marian Gaborik

Chris Kreider — Derek Stepan — Ryan Callahan

Ruslan Fedotenko — Brian Boyle — Artem Anisimov

Mike Rupp — John Mitchell — Brandon Prust

Overview: Richards and Gaborik lead the charge with 11 and 10 points respectively, and both have provided timely scoring (Richards especially).

After going scoreless in his first five games, Stepan has eight points in his last nine.

Outside of some occasional production from Anisimov and Boyle’s early heroics against Ottawa, the bottom six hasn’t provided much offense at all.

Strengths: The Rangers are versatile up front. Richards and Gaborik bring the skill, Hagelin and Kreider possess a speed game, Boyle and Callahan are physical presences while fourth-liners Prust and Rupp provide requisite toughness.

Weaknesses: Due in part to their workmanlike approach (and no bonafide No. 2 goalscorer after Gaborik), the Rangers are prone to long dry spells — specially at 5-on-5 (1.36 per game). There was a stretch during the Washington series where NY only scored one “pure” 5-on-5 goal in over 144 minutes of action, not counting Gaborik’s bank shot off Matt Hendricks in Game 6.

New Jersey Devils (lines)

Zach Parise — Patrik Elias — David Clarkson

Alexei Ponikarovsky — Travis Zajac — Ilya Kovalchuk

Petr Sykora — Adam Henrique — Dainius Zubrus

Ryan Carter — Stephen Gionta — Steve Bernier

Overview: Much like their defense, the Devils utilize a balanced attack. Twelve different forwards have at least three points (compared to eight Rangers forwards) with the highly-underrated Sykora-Henrique-Zubrus line combining for 18. That said, New Jersey’s high-end talent has carried the team at times. Most notable was Kovalchuk’s Game 3 performance against Philly which drew “world class” reviews.

Strengths: The forecheck. New Jersey runs an aggressive two-man system that absolutely throttled the Flyers (the Devils outscored them 14-8 even strength.) Here’s what MSG analyst Ken Daneyko told New York Magazine about New Jersey establishing the forecheck against Philly:

I thought the Devils felt they could exploit their defense, and that’s exactly what they did, by getting pucks in the corner — the Devils are one of the better cycling teams in the league — and they use their big bodies protecting it and spending a lot of time in the Flyers’ end.

Even if they didn’t score on a particular shift, if you’re in there 30 or 40 seconds, that can really wear a team down, physically as well as mentally, and I think that’s what they were able to accomplish against the Flyers.

Weaknesses: It’s not the toughest, meanest or most physical group. Peter DeBoer has parked two of the more noteworthy pugilists from the regular season brouhahas (Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen) in favor of more versatile players — like the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Gionta.

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