10 April 2007

Playoff preview: New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7)


Series B - #2 New Jersey vs. #7 Tampa Bay
Date Time (ET) Location Network
Thu., April 12 7:30 p.m. at New Jersey RDS
Sat., April 14 7:00 p.m. at New Jersey CBC, RDS
Mon., April 16 7:00 p.m. at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
Wed., April 18 7:00 p.m. at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
*Fri., April 20 7:00 p.m. at New Jersey CBC, RDS
*Sun., April 22 TBD at Tampa Bay CBC, RDS
*Tue., April 24 TBD at New Jersey CBC, RDS

A series featuring teams that utilize two drastically different styles of play - the Devils with their much-maligned but highly-effective defensive emphasis against the freewheeling and often careless up and down play of the Lightning. Can Tampa actually dictate the pace of this series at any point?

Why New Jersey
should win the series: Martin Brodeur, of course. Already possessing a legendary career, Brodeur turned in possibly his best season yet in leading the (once again) low-scoring Devils to a division title and challenging Buffalo for first overall in the East. Aside from Brodeur, the Devils do have some dangerous weapons in Patrick Elias, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and especially young Zach Parise who led the team with 31 goals. If need be, this team has the front line ability to score. Their defensive acumen is more defined by their overall team commitment as opposed to their defense, notably defensive forwards John Madden and Jay Pandolfo.

Why New Jersey
should be afraid: Seeming lack of scoring depth. With only 216 goals scored, they're easily the least-prolific team in the playoffs. If they slip in their play and allow the Lightning to gain quick leads, New Jersey will struggle when they'll have to open up their tight system in a game of catch-up. There's not much worry of that happening, however.

Tampa Bay should win the series: Tampa Bay obviously is outmanned in some areas, most notably defensive play (including goaltending). But their trump card is offence, and a potentially explosive one. Vincent Lecavalier will probably not be a Hart Trophy finalist, but by all rights he should be, having his best season with 52 goals and 108 points. Martin St. Louis (43 goals, 102 points) and Brad Richards (70 points) make up the trio of talented forwards and Dan Boyle (20 goals, 63 points) needs to start being in the discussion of most dangerous blueliners in the NHL, playing over 27 minutes a night and becoming an offensive presence.

Why Tampa Bay
should be afraid: Depth. Critics had a field day when GM Jay Feaster put nearly 50% of his payroll into the big three up front, especially the $7.8 million payout to Brad Richards. The problem is hardly their talent, but rather who fills out the rest of the roster. The overall defence is a problem, contributing to 261 goals against this year - easily the worst of any playoff team. Then there is the goaltending problem, where neither Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist have come close to securing any consistency in the crease.

Random useless but fun playoff facts: In their 14 years in the NHL, the Lightning have only made the playoffs five times including each of the last
four seasons (and a Stanley Cup in 2004). The New Jersey Devils - noted in the modern era as a model franchise - certainly didn't start that way. They began play in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts and two years later became the Colorado Rockies where they resided for six seasons. Only once did they make the playoffs (1978, Colorado) and were bounced in two games by Philadelphia. Only in their sixth year in New Jersey did they win 30 games and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They stunned the NHL by advancing to the conference finals where they finally bowed out to Boston in game seven.

Our pick: Tampa Bay is just not a complete team right now. Their chance to win this series is to be able to dictate the pace of the games - open it up and make it a horse race, a style that New Jersey quite prefers not to play. The Lightning will have to find a way to both be more conservative in their own end while taking chances to get early leads. New Jersey is far too patient a team to let that happen and even if it does, they have Marty Brodeur to man the fort. The Devils are too much for the Lightning here: New Jersey in 5.

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