- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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"I'm not going to tell you guys the game plan," Burns told a small crowd of scribes after Tuesday's practice. "But, we'll be ready to play when the time comes."
In these playoffs, the second-seeded Devils were more than ready to dispatch the Bruins and Lightning, beating both in five games. Both teams were clearly inferior competition for a club that is making its third trip to the conference final in the last four years.
The top-seeded and Presidents' Trophy-winning Senators, however, aren't the Bruins or Lightning. They're a young, fast, well-coached, highly skilled bunch determined on taking the next step on their road to a championship. They had little problem dispatching the Isles and Flyers, and are a clear a present danger for the playoff savvy Devils.
In the past, opponents have taken the low road against the Sens, who've had a reputation as a soft team. Last year, for example, the Leafs used a variety of tactics -- many illegal -- in eliminating the Senators in the conference semifinals. According to Burns, the Devils won't be stooping those levels.
"We're going to hit them," Burns said, "and we're going to play physical. But we're not going to go looking for trouble."
The Devils could get into trouble if Burns isn't able to orchestrate the right matchups. The most glaring matchup of the series is the Senators' skilled and speedy right wingers (Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat) against the Devils' left side stay-at-home defensemen (Scott Stevens, Colin White and Ken Daneyko).
The Senators were the only team in the league to record three wins over the Devils in the regular season. Havlat, in particular, gave the Devils fits, registering three goals and four assists in four games. With Hossa and Alfredsson playing in front of him, Havlat drew less personal attention from the Devils.
In this series, Burns might want to lean on his top two defensive pairs of Stevens-Brian Rafalski and White-Scott Niedermayer, while spotting his third unit (Daneyko-Tommy Albelin or Oleg Tverdovsky) against the Sens' less threatening fourth line.
Burns also will have to figure out how to utilize checking center John Madden. In their first two series, Madden was able to lock down on the Bruins' Joe Thornton and the Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier. But the Senators don't have a center of that magnitude. Radek Bonk, who has been playing with Havlat and left winger Vaclav Varada, is their only center who has a similar combination of skill and size, although neither qualities are on par with Thornton or Lecavalier. If Burns doesn't want to use Madden in that spot, he could sent him out against either Todd White (who centers Alfredsson's line) or Bryan Smolinski, who has been playing with Hossa. That said, Burns likely would start Madden against Bonk.
"I think we'll have to see how the games are being played," Burns admits. "We'll make adjustments according the game and the situation."
Goalie Martin Brodeur, who will get a chance to add to his legend against the Senators, figures it will take more than a one-line effort to slow down the Senators.
"They have speed spread throughout their lineup," Brodeur said. "So, it will be important for us to make sure our gap (the space between the forwards and the defensemen) is tight in the neutral zone.
"I think we've been paying more attention to detail during the playoffs, but everybody will have to stay on the same page against these guys."
The Devils' goalie takes comfort in knowing that his team will be well prepared for the battle.
"In the next few days, we'll break down every single player on that team," Brodeur said. "We'll know if they're tough or not tough. We'll know how they like to play and whether or not they would take a dive in a tight spot. We don't want to be fooled by anything they might do."
Knowing their propensity for preparation, the Devils won't be surprised.
Then again, knowing something is coming doesn't mean you can stop it.
12hPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald