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Eastern Conference final preview: Rangers vs. Devils

New York Rangers Brad Richards (19)and Chris Kreider (20) celebrate their win with goaltender Henrik Lundquist (30) after beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 during game six of first round NHL Stanley Cup playoff hockey action at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Monday, April 23, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Fred Chartrand/CP

This has been a long time coming.

The New York Rangers haven't been this deep in the playoffs since 1997 when Wayne Gretzky was a Blueshirt. The New Jersey Devils have done it a bit more recently in 2003, the last time they won it all, but have fallen on hard times since.

And of course the one series everyone will be talking about is the Rangers-Devils clash of 1994, when New York took the Battle of the Hudson in dramatic fashion in double overtime of Game 7.

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Eighteen years later, the drama should be just as thick.

For a closer look at these two teams from the cities involved, we've enlisted the help of two bloggers who cover the Rangers and Devils every day all year: Joe Fortunato from Blueshirt Banter and John Fischer from In Lou We Trust.

1. Okay guys, if you had to pick one or two MVPs from your team so far for the playoffs, who would they be and why?

Rangers: "It would have to be Henrik Lundqvist. His regular season numbers were fantastic. His playoff numbers are even better. But forget the numbers, he's come up big every time the Rangers have needed him to be their best player. If Lundqvist isn't in goal, I doubt the Rangers get out of the first round."

Devils: "The Devils' MVP of the playoffs so far has been Travis Zajac. While Ilya Kovalchuk just passed him in points, Zajac has been consistently excellent at winning his matchups, being the one good option the Devils have for faceoffs and playing well in all situations."

2. If you had to pick out one or two unheralded players or unsung heroes, who would they be and why?

Rangers: "Carl Hagelin. He hasn't exactly be lighting up the scoresheet (he has three assists in 11 games), but he has been vital to the Rangers' forecheck, which has been the second biggest reason for the team's success this postseason. His speed has been a vital weapon, and the first line (which has been the Rangers' best line) simply wasn't the same without him during his suspension. I've seen him get better and better each game during the second round, I'm expecting a lot out of him against the Devils."

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Devils: "The unsung heroes of the Devils' postseason run are the defencemen Andy Greene and Mark Fayne. Both don't seem particularly impressive, but they've only been on the ice for a handful of goals against at even strength, they play a lot of minutes and they've kept the shots against count low when they're out there. Should they continue to perform like they have, it'll be hard to not notice how composed and positionally sound they are in their own end."

3. Your teams are now on the international stage. What is the single biggest stereotype about your team, its players and/or fans that you'd like to dispel?

Rangers: "That these are your 'father's New York Rangers.' This isn't a team that just went out and landed the biggest fish in the pond because they had the pocket change. Yes, the Rangers grabbed the biggest name on the free agent market, but Brad Richards is showing you why he's worth every penny. He – aside from Lundqvist – has been the Rangers' best player in these playoffs. As for the other players who have stepped up? They're all young, homegrown players who were developed in the Rangers' system. This isn't the prelockout New York Rangers. This is simply a different team that's been brilliantly constructed."

Devils: "The biggest stereotype about the Devils is that they still run the neutral zone trap as if it was 1994-95 again. The Devils really have gotten away from that in recent years, and they just crushed Philly with a two-man forechecking system. Hopefully the larger hockey media can realize this by paying attention to how the Devils play as opposed to relying on old cliches. "

4. Why do you think your team will win this series?

Rangers: "The Rangers have boasted this attitude that simply doesn't let them lose. Yes, they've lost games they should have won, and yes, they've taken both series to the seventh and final game, but this team simply gets the job done. They don't quit, they don't give up and they never shut off their engines. Every player has bought into the system, every player is leaving their heart on the ice after every shift. It's special to watch. It's also their biggest strength."

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Devils: "I think the Devils will win this series because they're the superior team in 5-on-5 play. They're the best possession team left in the playoffs; the Devils have been able to crack a defensive-minded Florida team and beat down a more wide-open Philly team. The only way Lundqvist is getting beat is if he's shelled."

James Mirtle's prediction: Rangers in 6

These are two very evenly matched teams, and both are playing exceptionally well right now.

On the one hand, you have to like the way the Devils forwards have forechecked hard and come together as a unit offensively, with coach Peter DeBoer seemingly getting the most out of this group at exactly the right time.

On the other, the Rangers boast just as much scoring potential in Richards and Marian Gaborik, and with two defence cores that are excellent at limiting chances, the series may well just come down to who plays better in goal.

And you'd be foolish to bet against Henrik Lundqvist right now.

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