Stanley Cup Finals Preview - New Jersey vs. Ottawa

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - New Jersey vs. Ottawa

Stanley Cup Finals Preview - New Jersey vs. Ottawa
April 24th, 2007

(Sports Network) - After watching the Devils split their first four playoff games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, everybody was still waiting for Martin Brodeur to become his usual, dominating self.

The Devils goaltender didn't make us wait long, as Brodeur backstopped New Jersey to consecutive wins in Games 5 and 6 to snap the 2-2 series' deadlock and send his club to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Brodeur especially made a statement in the fifth game of the series, as he made 31 saves and posted his 22nd career postseason shutout to lift the Devils to the 3-0 win.

The Montreal native also stopped 32 shots in Game 6 at Tampa, including all 10 he faced in the third period. Overall, Brodeur finished with a 2.26 goals against average and .917 save percentage in the series.

The Devils displayed a balanced scoring attack in the first-round set, as six Jersey players notched five points or more against the Lightning.

Scott Gomez led the Devils with nine points in the opening series, posting two goals and seven assists, but it was 22-year-old sensation Zach Parise turning all the heads.

Parise, a native of Minneapolis, scored six goals against the Lightning to tie a Devils team record for most tallies in a single series. Claude Lemieux also had six markers against Pittsburgh in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals.

Brian Gionta wound up just one goal behind Parise for the team lead in the first round. Gionta also added an assist to equal Parise's point total against Tampa.

On defense, Brian Rafalski led the way for the Devils as was expected, as he notched two goals and five assists to fall one point shy of his own club mark for points in a series by a defenseman.

Originally an undrafted free-agent signing by New Jersey, Rafalski is closing in on a few Devils postseason records. The Dearborn, Michigan native now has 17 goals in his playoff career to match Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens for the most postseason tallies by a defenseman in franchise history.

Rafalski also has 59 career playoff points (17 goals, 42 assists) and is just five points away from tying Niedermayer for the club record.

The Devils did an excellent job on the power play against the Lightning, as they converted 25-percent (7-of-28) of their chances with the man advantage. However, the team did struggle a bit on the penalty kill, surrendering four goals in 26 shorthanded situations.

OTTAWA SENATORS (4th seed, East)

REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 48-25-9

2007 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Pittsburgh 4-1 in conference quarterfinals

REVIEW - Ottawa hasn't had an abundance of easy playoff series in its history, so this year's postseason has started off on a positive note for the Senators.

The fourth-seeded Senators disposed of Pittsburgh in five games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Ottawa, which is in the postseason for the 10th straight year, earned the fourth series' win of five games or less in franchise history. The club has never swept a series in 15 all-time playoff series.

The set with the Penguins was expected to be one of the tighter series in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs this year, but Ottawa clearly had Pittsburgh outgunned in terms of depth and experience. The youthful Pens were led by five points from Sidney Crosby, this year's Art Ross Trophy winner, but Pittsburgh was held to just 10 total goals in the series.

In the depth department, the Senators took turns filling up the scoresheet as 12 different Ottawa players posted three or more points against the Pens.

Captain Daniel Alfredsson led Ottawa with three goals and three assists in the opening set.

Right Wing Dany Heatley, who paced the Sens with 105 points during the regular season, added two goals and two assists to highlight a group of five players with four points in the set.

However, the fact that the Senators offense clicked is hardly surprising considering they scored 288 goals during this season -- the second most in the NHL to Buffalo's 308. On the other hand, the play of goaltender Ray Emery against the Pens may have caught a few folks off guard.

The 24-year-old Emery had an excellent regular season for the Sens, going 33-16-6 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against average, but his poor showing in the 2006 postseason made him somewhat of an unknown quantity.

Emery put those fears to rest against the Penguins, as he posted a shutout and ended the series with a 4-1 mark, 2.01 GAA and .909 save percentage. A huge improvement from last year, when the Cayuga, Ontario native went 5-5 and gave up 29 goals in 10 playoff games.

The Senators were excellent on the power play in the opening round, as they notched six goals on 24 opportunities (25-percent) with the man advantage. However, Ottawa also gave up four power-play goals in 28 penalty-killing situations (85.7-percent).

MATCHUP

Brodeur has been the Devils' trump card in the playoffs for over a decade now and shows no sign of slowing down. However, if Jersey wants to move into the conference semifinals, his team as a whole will need to play better against the Senators than it did versus Tampa Bay.

On the other hand, Ottawa will need to be patient in this set as scoring against Brodeur is never easy. The Senators were able to fluster Pittsburgh's young goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the first round, but will have a hard time rattling the steely Brodeur.

It's no secret that the Senators have more individual talent at their disposal than the Devils, but that notion won't stop New Jersey from giving Ottawa all that it can handle. In fact, Jersey won three of its four encounters with the Sens during the regular season, although the lone setback was an 8-1 thrashing in Ottawa on October 21.

The Devils and Senators have split a pair of playoff series in their histories. Ottawa won the first encounter in six games during the 1998 conference quarterfinals, but Jersey exacted revenge with a seven-game series' victory in the 2003 conference finals.

Overall, the Senators have more than enough firepower to outlast the Devils, but Brodeur will likely find a way to steal a few games and make this set go the distance.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Senators in 7

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Re: Stanley Cup Finals Preview - New Jersey vs. Ottawa

Breaking down the Eastern Conference semis
April 24, 2007

Devils (2) vs. Senators (4)

Leading playoff scorers

Devils: Goals -- Zach Parise (6); points -- Scott Gomez (9)

Senators: Goals -- Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Kelly (3); points -- Alfredsson (6)

Goaltenders
Devils: Martin Brodeur -- 4-2, 2.26 GAA, .917 save percentage, 1 shutout Backup -- Scott Clemmensen

Senators: Ray Emery -- 4-1, 2.01 GAA, .909 save percentage, 1 shutout Backup -- Martin Gerber

Keys to series

The Devils were up and down against the Lightning, and even Martin Brodeur looked human at times. The Senators have many more offensive weapons than Tampa and play a much more complete game. This will be a tougher test as GM/coach Lou Lamoriello tries to match his checking line of John Madden and Jay Pandolfo (who were skated into the ground against the Lightning) against Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.

The Senators are also capable of playing a sound defensive game if necessary -- and they'll need it at times to slow Zach Parise and the recently hot top line of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.

Ottawa dispatched the upstart Penguins, who had a better power play and more speed and pure talent than the Devils. But the Devils have a better defensive corps and are typically sound fundamentally. This still is a team opponents can't afford to make a lot of mistakes against.

New Jersey also is a team that makes its own share of mistakes, and the waves of speed and talent the Senators can throw at them will be too much. It won't be easy, and it'll go the distance. If Ray Emery can finally be the goalie that doesn't wilt in the playoff spotlight for the Senators, this team will find itself in the Eastern Conference finals against its division rival, the Sabres.

Prediction: Senators in 7

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