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Rangers-Devils Game 3 Preview: Pick Me a Winner



Anyone who tells you he knows who'll win the Eastern Conference Final between New York and New Jersey also will sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and Alley Oop's version of Better Homes and Gardens.

This vibrant, tempestuous series is as unpredictable as NHL refereeing and as melodramatic as Madonna's next gig.

After Henrik Lundqvist and his cement-mixer defense built a concrete wall in front of the Rangers’ net in Game 1 (3-zip for the boys in Blue), the general feeling was that the Devils’ next goal would be scored sometime in a September scrimmage.

But Peter DeBoer's shooters put a trio behind The King and his Castle on Wednesday night at The Garden and now we have a series that resumes on Saturday in Newark with a bazillion theories why the Rangers -- and Devils -- will win. Take your pick:

DEVILS PLUSES:

• MOMENTUM: New Jersey's come-from-behind 3-2 win at MSG had overtones of a similar rebound in Philadelphia where the Devs began their run of four straight to take the series. DeBoer's theme song could be "We Did It Before And We Could Do It Again."

• TWO STRAIGHT AT HOME: After regarding The Rock as something akin to Alcatraz-on-ice, Zach Parise and Pals are getting to like Prudential Center. They'll like it even more if they can win on Saturday and come back and do ditto on Monday night.

• THE FOUR FORECHECKERS: Up-tempo forechecking has become New Jersey's brand with all four lines participating. The surprise has been effective work from the Stephen Gionta-Steve Bernier-Ryan Carter unit. The forechecking technique flummoxed Philly and could do likewise to New York.

• CRAFTY CLARKSON: Just when you start believing that David Clarkson's 30-goal season was a mirage, the tough Torontonian produces yet another winning goal. David's red lights may not be artistically crafted but -- who cares! -- they count.

RANGERS PLUSES:

• BOUNCE-BACK-ABILITY: As captain Ryan Callahan has often said, the Rangers foremost asset all season has been the club's ability to rebound from a defeat and come out strong the second time around. They'll get another chance to do so on Saturday.

• HOT-HANDED HENNY: Not one of the three goals allowed by Lundqvist were The King's fault. On any given night a shutout could be in his repertoire and with his assortment of shot-blockers aligned in front of him, Henny is a formidable foe.

• THE KREIDER EFFECT: We all knew that Chris Kreider had "star" written all over him when he leapfrogged from Boston College to the NHL, we just didn't expect it to happen so fast; and, brother, the New Englander IS the reincarnation of Kid Lightning.

* SLEEPING SNIPERS: The benching of Marian Gaborik was no secret on Wednesday night. Torts put the Slovak sharpshooter on the pines for a reason. But like Brad Richards, Gaborik could suddenly emerge and deliver a BIG one as he's done in the past.

THE IFFYS:

• MARTIN BRODEUR: Mister Goalie's passes have lacked the authority of yesteryear and have nearly backfired in every series. He's still allowing freebies such as the Rangers' first goal on Wednesday; the backboard bouncer that should have been nabbed. Marty must be better.

• PUCK-BLOCKING WOUNDED: No matter how valiant puck-blocking may appear when the likes of Callahan, Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonough slide into a shot, the hard puck takes a toll. There's a possibility that some Rangers have become vulcanized by all the rubber they're stopping.

Take all of the above, put them in a brain-mixer for a half-minute and then let it cool down. By that time you'll know as much as The Maven.

And all I know right now is that I don't have clue as to the route this series is going!

MORE:

Rangers Playoff Central
Devils Playoff Central
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