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The Devils' Cream Is Rising to the Top

The Devils' big guns are outplaying their Ranger counterparts

By Josh Alper
|  Tuesday, May 22, 2012  |  Updated 3:06 PM EDT
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Stars of 2012 NHL Playoffs

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Parise's play in Game Four was crucial to the Devils win.

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When the dust settled on the 4-1 Devils win in Monday night's Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals, it seemed all anyone could talk about was the Peter DeBoer-John Tortorella argument across the benches and the Rangers' attempt to dirty things up that directly preceded it.

That makes sense. It came on the heels of sniping over the weekend between the coaches about the style of play and it added a little more hate to a series that had been living on memories of 1994 in that department.

On top of that, there wasn't all that much to break down about the game. The Devils came out with more energy, took a two-goal lead and then made it stand up as the Rangers fell into undisciplined play that left them without much of a chance to win.

That's the story of Monday night, but the story of why the series is tied at two has a little bit more meat on its bones. And it starts at the top.

With the exception of Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi (and Chris Kreider, if you're willing to put him in this company at this point in his brief career), this series has not been a good one for the best Rangers players. Marian Gaborik hasn't scored a point through the first four games of the series and Brad Richards has just one assist.

They were both invisible on Monday night while Zach Parise was scoring two goals and assisting on a third to help the Devils draw even in the series. Ilya Kovalchuk had an assist to go with his goal in Game Two and his constant presence on the puck in the attacking zone has made life difficult for the Rangers.

It doesn't stop there. Carl Hagelin has been a zero for the Rangers, Derek Stepan's penalty in the third period on Monday was one of the first visible moments of the series for him and Brian Boyle clearly isn't right after his concussion against Ottawa in the first round.

The Devils, meanwhile, have gotten strong performances from rookie Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac to give them more depth at forward. They've also enjoyed strong play from defenseman Bryce Salvador, an unexpected bonus that only underlines how much better the Devils have been up and down the lineup.

New Jersey has dictated the pace of this series for almost every minute and it is hard to come up with an explanation that doesn't come back to how much better the Devils' best players have been in the series. The Rangers aren't going to be able to swing things back their way unless it is the stars who carry the team the way that they did in key moments of the previous two series.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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