The New Jersey Devils will try to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals when they host the top-seeded New York Rangers tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
After posting consecutive victories in Games 4 and 5, the sixth-seeded Devils are ahead 3-2 in this series and are one win away from making their first trip to the Cup Finals since 2003, when the franchise won the last of its three championships.
Meanwhile, the Rangers, who led this series 2-1 at one point, need a road victory this evening to stave off elimination. New York will have to win two straight against New Jersey to make its first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since winning it all in the spring of 1994.
New York was in this same situation earlier in the postseason when it trailed Ottawa 3-2 in the conference quarterfinals. The Rangers won Games 6 and 7 to take that series and then went on to eliminate Washington in seven games during the East semis. If the Blueshirts win tonight, then they'll host a decisive Game 7 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
The winner of this series will host the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday. The Kings, who are seeded eighth in the West, won the franchise's first conference title since 1993 by eliminating Phoenix in five games.
The Devils are 5-2 on home ice during this postseason and are 1-1 as the host in this series. New York is 4-4 as the visiting team in this year's playoffs.
New Jersey blew a three-goal lead in Wednesday's Game 5 in New York, but the Devils were still able to pull out a 5-3 triumph to take the 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven series. Ryan Carter scored a tie-breaking goal with 4:24 remaining in the third period and Zach Parise added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the win for New Jersey.
"It was an adventure. Kind of a tale of two or three games out there," said New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Mark Fayne both had two assists for the Devils, while Martin Brodeur earned the win with 25 saves.
Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac all scored in the first period for New Jersey, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead over New York and its goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. New York cut the deficit to 3-1 before the end of the first on a goal by Brandon Prust and the Rangers eventually tied the contest at 3-3 on a Marian Gaborik tally just 17 seconds into the third period.
Ryan Callahan also scored for the Rangers, while Lundqvist stopped only 12 shots, his lowest save total of the 2012 postseason.
"We had a tough start," said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. "Tough luck for them a little bit on a couple of them. But I thought we probably played our best game of the series tonight."
New York forward Brandon Dubinsky (lower-body injury) played for the first time since Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals. He recorded an assist over 15 minutes, 38 seconds of ice time.
Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello could see his first action of this postseason tonight. Zuccarello has been sidelined since late March with a broken wrist.
As Atlantic Division combatants, the Devils and Rangers met six times during the regular season and each team won three of those tilts.
The Blueshirts have dominated the postseason history against the Devils, winning four of the five all-time playoff series between the clubs. New Jersey's only triumph came in the form of a sweep in the 2006 conference quarterfinals, but the Rangers avenged that loss by eliminating the Devils in five games in the opening round of the 2008 postseason.