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The Globe and Mail

Who wins battle of youth vs experience: Rangers or Devils?

New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blows water into the air before the second period of Game 5 of a second-round NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Matt Slocum

The New York Rangers have been described in many, many ways throughout these playoffs, starting with defensively sound, committed and blue collar.

But one thing they also are is incredibly young, with an average age of about 26 years old that had them as the third youngest team to make the playoffs (behind only the Los Angeles Kings and Nashville Predators).

A lot of that youth is on the back end, too, where 28-year-old Dan Girardi is the oldest member of a six-man unit that really only relies on five bodies given how little Stu Bickel plays.

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On average, those five are just under 25 years old, with Ryan McDonagh (22) and Michael Del Zotto (21) logging top four minutes and Marc Staal and Anton Stralman (both 25) chipping in as well.

Add in four forwards who are 23 and younger (including the under-the-radar Derek Stepan who is averaging 20 minutes a night) and that old adage about veteran experience in the postseason hasn't really applied to the Rangers (or the Kings for that matter in the West).

Coach John Tortorella was asked prior to Monday's Game 1 whether or not he bought into the fact that two seven game series could have tired his team out – something he called "a bunch of crap" – as no Cup winner has ever played 14 games in the first two rounds.

What New York will likely have to rely on its their young legs being able to overcome the fact they only had one day off (to the New Jersey Devils' six) before starting the Eastern Conference finals.

It's that old rest versus rust conversation, albeit with a bit of a twist given the Devils were the league's oldest team (average age: 30.5) – led by 40-year-old netminder Martin Brodeur – during the regular season.

"We had yesterday to kind of regroup a little bit, refocus, and that was more than enough," Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "I think everybody now is locked in enough that we can have success."

"I don't think that that's an issue," winger Mike Rupp said. "Right now, you've got so much emotion and so much adrenaline that everyone feels like they could skate all day."

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They may just have to in this series, which features 11 a.m. morning skates, 8 p.m. start times (thanks to U.S. television interests) and the potential for several overtimes given how many shootouts these teams had during the year (16 for the Devils and 25 combined).

The Devils for their part chose to argue the experience angle on Monday, which is to be expected given the composition of their team. At 27, Travis Zajac is New Jersey's second youngest forward (behind only Adam Henrique) and they have five players in big roles who are 35-plus.

"I think all the veterans with experience, all the people in the organization with experience, Marty, Patrik Elias and [Petr]Sykora and Lou [Lamoriello]and his wealth of experience, I don't think you can have enough of the people that have been through it before, and been there, seen that," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's a great resource that we have as an organization here.

"I think it's just the composure, the words of wisdom, staying positive at key times, the between-period conversations that go on in our dressing room. Both after good stretches to make sure we're grounded and also after poor stretches to make sure that we get our game back on track.

"It's not necessarily a board and a marker and you should go here, should go there, it's much more the mental state of our team and managing that, and they do a great job of that."

Neither coach was revealing much about their lineup on Monday morning, but based on their most recent games, these should be the lines for Game 1 (note that Tortorella generally cycles through five defenceman rather than having a standard three pairing setup):

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Hagelin - Richards - Gaborik Anisimov - Boyle - Callahan Fedotenko - Stepan - Prust Kreider - Mitchell - Rupp

McDonagh - Girardi Staal - Del Zotto/Stralman Bickel



Kovalchuk - Zajac - Ponikarovsky Parise - Elias - Clarkson Sykora - Henrique - Zubrus Carter - Gionta - Bernier

Salvador - Zidlicky Greene - Fayne Volchenkov - Larsson


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