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Rangers-Devils Game 5 Preview: Many Wars On Several Fronts

If a journalistic military analyst were judging the Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference Final, he would conclude that there are wars on many fronts both on and off the ice. 

With Game Five of the deadlocked tournament coming up on Wednesday evening at The Garden, any one of these hostilities could decide which outfit advances to the Stanley Cup round. Consider the following:

* THE WAR OF ATTRITION: New York's game has been a take-off on the Lunchpail A.C. John Tortorella's credo -- "Everybody blocks shots" -- inevitably takes a toll over an 82-game schedule and two earlier rounds which endured a full seven games. The unanswered question is whether the wounds have significantly affected the Rangers progress. 

Why then couldn't the Blueshirts summon more energy on Monday night when Peter DeBoer's skaters outhustled, out-checked and out-scored the visitors? Was it an off-night or have the Rangers been slowed by their style? Answers will surely be provided in Games Five and Six. 

Not that the Devils have enjoyed a chaise lounge post-season; far from it. Their seven-game set with Florida -- Devs down three-games-to-two, win next pair in overtime -- was draining and the five-gamer with Philadelphia wasn't exactly a piece of cake but more like an English muffin. 

DeBoer has an older, slower team and that explains his pivotal benching of unproductive veteran Petr Sykora in Game Four. Speedy Jacob Josefson, Sykora's replacement, proved to be a distinct improvement both speed-wise and otherwise, contributing at both ends of the pond. 

* THE WAR OF WORDS: Ever since the regular season homestretch, when the DeBoer-Tortorella conflict began, the respective coaches have upped their I.Q.s -- as in Intensity Quotients. With the intensity came charges and countercharges over such major matters as cheap shots, suspensions and who planted the first verbal bomb. 

To say that the coaches had a heated exchange between benches on Monday night at The Rock would be like describing molten lava as "warm." Suffice to say that the Tortorella-DeBoer War has become as captivating as Torts' post-game press conferences. The Maven wonders whether the coaches uprisings will have an effect on their respective teams. Tortorella's inner volcano is well-known. DeBoer is showing his for the first time and his players are impressed -- and motivated.

* THE WAR OF GOALTENDERS: If any of the two starting goaltenders -- Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist -- figured to be physically and emotionally fatigued, it was Mister Goalie of New Jersey. At age 40, Marty can't possibly be expected to move with alacrity while Lundqvist is at the very apex of his career and a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. But, as we've seen, Marty still plays a heady game and can compensate for age issues with smarts. 

Outwardly, the netminders respect each other although it was evident in Game Four that the Rangers Michael Rupp mis-read Brodeur's chest and mask for the top of a nail and hammered the future Hall of Famer harder than the Devils stalwart ever was whomped. Whatever Rupp's motives, the assault can only stimulate the New Jersey troupe to more dynamic play.

* THE STARS WARS: For reasons yet to be fully explained neither high-priced Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards nor Ryan Callahan have played to their prior starry notices. Tortorella has taken note, benching Gabby and moving his chessmen around in search of a winning combo. The majority opinion is that sooner or later the aces will come up big and that could be as soon as Wednesday night. 

On the other side, much ado was made about captain Zach Parise's scoring failures until he interceded by commanding his skaters with an A-1 performance including a pair of goals and non-stop hustling in Game Four. What's more his linemate, Travis Zajac, punctured Lundqvist's wall by converting a perfect Parise pass for the game-winning goal. 

But the Devils counterpart to Gaborik is Patrik Elias whose offense has been stifled although he produced a more effective game on Monday. 

* THE FISTIC WARS: There are mixed feelings over Game Five possibly resulting in bloodshed but there are plenty of possibilities. Stu Bickel did a number on Ryan Carter in Game Four in a one-sider because Carter hoped to sucker the Ranger into a misconduct simply by turning a cheek. However, he miscalculated and wound up in the sin bin from where he and Stu continued their filibuster. At the final buzzer, Bickel sought Carter who was too busy congratulating Brodeur on surviving the Rupp reprisal to take on Stu.

And let's not forget that belligerent Brandon Prust will be returning from his one-game suspension full of his usual vim, vigor and who-knows-what-else. Yeah and even normally mild Adam Henrique and Ryan McDonagh might have a re-match of their previous Monday night preliminary card.

You all get it; the playoff wars are in full swing and by late Wednesday night we'll know who's swinging and who's swooning!


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