Friday, May 25, 2012

Rangers vs. Devils, Game 6 Tonight At 8 p.m.

Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals is set to begin in just about two hours from now, and the Rangers will be looking to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 back at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. The Devils, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to end this series tonight so that they can get at least a few days off before the Stanley Cup Finals start on Tuesday, where the Los Angeles Kings are laying in wait for whoever wins this series.

There's only one lineup change expected tonight, and that's Steve Eminger returning to the lineup in place of Stu Bickel, who had a brutal game on Wednesday and would be a healthy scratch for the second time in the past three games. The Devils are expected to dress the same lines they had in Game 6.

Overall, from what I've been reading it seems like this Rangers team is a confident bunch heading into tonight's game. They're not overly confident, but they've already been in this scenario three times this postseason and are almost veterans at this point in facing elimination games. So all the heart-racing, down-to-the-wire moments they've given the fans over the course of the last few weeks do actually have some positives to them. John Tortorella likes to talk about gaining experience playing in these types of games, and the team is certainly getting all the experience they needed and then some. This team is battle-tested and has proven they relish games like tonight. The Black and Blueshirts style that the Rangers play with is certainly, in my opinion, the type of style you want to play in elimination games because of how important and how tough every single shift is.

Click below to read my thoughts on tonight's game and the keys to victory for the Rangers tonight.

Here are my four keys to tonight's game in what the Rangers must do to come out on top and keep their season alive:

It goes without saying that the Rangers will need Henrik Lundqvist to be on the top of his game tonight or else they'll have zero shot at extending this series. Hank had an absolutely brutal game in Game 5, but you're going to get a game like that every once in a while when you've played 19 playoff games in the first two and a half rounds so far. The Rangers live and die by Lundqvist's performances in goal, and it's vital for him to come out strong tonight. This is obviously the No. 1 key to winning tonight - Henrik Lundqvist needs to play like Henrik Lundqvist.

Key No. 2 is the offense. An early goal sure would be nice tonight. After scoring three unanswered goals in Game 5 on Wednesday night, I thought the Rangers' offensive pressure dropped off significantly. There were two distinct possibilities for this - either the Rangers just flat out ran out of gas after battling uphill all game long or they went back to playing a comfortable, safe style that they usually do in a tie game. I didn't necessarily see the Devils doing anything much differently in the third period. The Rangers will take the positives from Game 5's offensive outburst into tonight, but they need to remember that their season is on the line here and they'll have to take advantage of every shot attempt they take. I really think scoring a goal in the opening few minutes of the period and taking the lead would be huge for the Rangers and their psyche for the rest of the game. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan - I'm look specifically at you three. The Rangers need their offensive guns to step up big time, and those are the three names that need to carry this team's offense.

The third key is to remain disciplined. I'm not really worried about this since this Rangers team rarely lets their emotions get the best of them, but I still think it's worth repeating anyway. The Rangers cannot afford to give the Devils any added momentum by getting suckered into a fight the way Ryan McDonagh did in Game 4 or by taking dumb, careless penalties the way Brandon Prust did in Game 5. They need to play a tight game and limit the Devils' opportunities as much as possible. I'm not saying to let them push and not push back, but just be smart about it.

The last key is to play desperate, but not too desperate. What I mean by that is that the Rangers need to remember their season is on the line tonight and be more aggressive in the offensive zone, however they shouldn't do anything too extreme either. The Rangers are still in this series and have gotten this far because of their system, and I'm not saying they should abandon that philosophy. This goes back to my above point, but I really think getting the first goal of the game is so important for the Rangers because it can put them in the driver's seat without them feeling desperate and pressured into thinking that they have to score on every shift. An early lead would allow them to sort of just settle in and get back to playing their game, whereas an early deficit would turn what's already a must-win situation into even more of an uphill battle.

And so here we go again. The Rangers are 3-0 in elimination games this postseason, and they'll need to be 5-0 to get back to the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. This team has responded well to playing with their backs against the wall all season long, and it's time to rally the troops and get back at it again.

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