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Unfriendly neighbors meet

Madison Square Garden and the Prudential Center are separated by only 14 miles, but the two buildings might as well be on different planets. The Rangers play in the storied Garden under Manhattan's bright lights while the Devils perform in their modern but sleepy home in dreary Newark.

What brings them together, other than the Eastern Conference final, is a methodical approach that has transformed into winning in the playoffs. Neither team is going to win many beauty pageants or style points. The Devils are known for boring fans, but they're actually the more exciting team in the series.

Game One is tonight in New York.

"It's going to be exciting time in Madison Square Garden," Devils winger Patrick Elias told reporters after practice Sunday. "There's not too many better buildings to play in. The fans are great. And I'm sure we're going to get a lot of our fans coming to [New Jersey] for our game. So we're looking forward to it."

In truth, for all the hype over their geographic and divisional rivalry, seat belts aren't required for this series. It could be a yawner if the two teams weren't playing to reach the Stanley Cup final. Expect low-scoring games and overtime.

The Rangers are sticking with what worked during the regular season, which is to say they're scoring little and giving up less. They came dangerously close to getting knocked out in each of the first two rounds. The Blueshirts arrived in the conference finals with the most number of games (14) and least amount of rest among the four remaining teams.

Ottawa could have scored an upset over New York with a little luck in the first round. The Rangers were fortunate to get past Washington in the second round. They needed a tying goal with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation in Game Five before winning in overtime. They eventually won both series in seven games.

Last year, Boston needed seven games to win three series on its way to the Cup.

"We're still in the middle of the process of the New York Rangers trying to become one of the elite teams," Rangers coach John Tortorella said after the Game Seven win over Washington. "This is a tremendous experience for us. [The playoffs are] where your legacy's made."

The conference finals are expected to be tight between the two Atlantic Division rivals, both of whom won three games apiece during regular-season meetings. The Rangers have the best goaltender in the league this season in Henrik Lundqvist while the Devils have one of the best in NHL history in Martin Brodeur.

It will be the sixth playoff meeting between the Rangers and Devils. New York won four of the first five. It includes their epic seven-game showdown in the conference finals in 1994, when Mark Messier guaranteed victory and followed up with a hat trick in Game Six before leading the Rangers to the Cup. The Blueshirts last eliminated the Devils four years ago, when it won a first-round series in five games.

Lundqvist is coming off the best season of his career and is a finalist for the Vezina after posting a 38-18-5 record with a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. King Henrik has a 1.68 GAA and .937 save percentage in the postseason.

New Jersey, which is looking for its fourth Stanley Cup, hasn't gone this deep into the postseason since beating Anaheim in seven games for the title in 2002-03. The conference finals are hardly foreign territory for Brodeur, who is making his sixth appearance on his way to the Hall of Fame.

The four-time Vezina Trophy winner has been the one constant in the Devils' championship seasons. He posted a 1.67 GAA and .927 save percentage or better en route to each of their first three titles. His 107 postseason victories are more than double the total of the other three final-four goalies put together.

Brodeur, 40, is set to become an unrestricted free agent. The likelihood of him re-signing with the Devils increases with every postseason victory even though his play has fallen off in recent years. Brodeur had a 2.41 GAA and .908 save percentage during the regular season but has a 2.05 GAA and .920 save percentage in the postseason.

"This is a great time in everybody's lives," Brodeur said. "We need to really take it all in. You never know when you're going to get back in the situation that you're going to play for a chance to go to the Stanley Cup finals. And playing against our biggest rival kind of puts a cherry on top."

Here's a look inside the two teams:

Rangers update -- Reached the conference finals for the first time since 1996-97. They're scoring only 2.07 goals per game but allowing 1.86 per game. Their special teams have been pedestrian with their power play converting 15.8 percent (ninth among playoff teams) and their penalty-kill stopping 82.6 percent (10th). Brian Boyle scored in each of the first three playoff games but has just one assist to show for his last 11. He missed three games with a concussion. Brad Richards has six goals, the most in the playoffs since he had 12 while leading Tampa Bay to the title in 2004. The Rangers need more from Derek Stepan, who has one goal in 14 games. Rookie Chris Kreider, a big hit after scoring two winners, did not have a point in the final six games against Washington.

Devils update -- Needed consecutive wins over Florida to win the series in seven games but cruised past Philadelphia in five. Patrick Elias, who has won two Cups with New Jersey, has nine goals and 18 points in 12 career playoff games against the Rangers and 43 goals and 122 points in 150 postseason games overall. Ilya Kovalchuk had two goals and six points in four games against the Flyers. David Clarkson, a 30-goal scorer this season, has scored only twice in the playoffs but each was a winner against Philly. Rookie center Adam Henrique has not scored since netting two goals in Game Seven against Florida. Rookie defenseman Adam Larsson, the fourth overall pick last year, was a bright spot against the Flyers.

Outlook: The Rangers have had surprising difficulty while the Devils have won with surprising ease in the first two rounds. Lundqvist prevails in this goalie war. Take the Rangers in seven games.

email: bgleason@buffnews.com