Extra effort lifts New Jersey Devils to Game 2 win over New York Rangers, evening the Eastern Conference finals series at 1-1.
The New York Rangers talked about playing with desperation, but the New Jersey Devils played desperate hockey.
And now the Eastern Conference finals are tied 1-1 after the Devils beat the Rangers 3-2 in Game 2 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Game 3 is Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
“It’s been a fun ride. I don’t know if it’s getting good bounces or what’s happening, but it’s been fun,” said Devils winger David Clarkson, whose tip of Adam Henrique’s point shot 2:31 into the third was the winning goal. “With team success, individuals get success and that’s what’s happening.”
New Jersey came out flying in Game 2. At the end of the first period, the Devils led 1-0 and had fired 16 more shots toward the net than did the Rangers (23-7). New Jersey finished with a 59-39 advantage in shots (but just a 27-25 edge in shots on goal). As they did so effectively in the five-game elimination of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals and in the second period of the 3-0 loss in Game 1 against the Rangers, the Devils used the forecheck effectively to possess the puck in the opposition’s end of the ice.
“Our overall game was much better,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I thought we established our forecheck right off the bat in the first period, and we're creating zone time and chances. We felt that if we could play five-on-five and stick with it, that we were going to get rewarded, and that's what happened.
“Tonight our execution was much better.”
The Devils’ execution was enhanced by DeBoer reforming a top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. The Rangers were unable to neutralize New Jersey’s three most dangerous offensive players. All three were on the ice for Kovalchuk’s game-opening, power-play wrister over Henrik Lundqvist’s glove 13:39 in. Kovalchuk walked from the point down the right-wing wall to a spot just below the hashmarks before ripping a blur of a shot past the Rangers’ goaltender.
“We have to get in their lanes,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said when asked about how to defend the Devils. “In the defensive zone, especially, just try to close them out quicker. Try to limit their time with the puck. If we do that, they are not going to have time with the puck.”
Salient points. What was left unsaid is that it is imperative that the Rangers actually play with the puck.
Even though the Rangers led 2-1 late in the second before Ryan Carter’s tying goal for the Devils at 18:09 of the period, neither goal was the result of sustained pressure. Marc Staal’s goal 2:31 into the period pinballed off Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador, then the end boards, then Devils goalie Martin Brodeur’s leg before trickling across the line. Chris Kreider’s power-play tally was the result of Anton Stralman’s off-wing shot ricocheting off of the rookie winger’s stick.
"[It] went off my pad and my glove. I kicked it in myself,” Brodeur said about Staal's goal. “I went out for Staal's one-timer right there and, when it passed me, I kind of just reacted [and] fell on my back. I think if I don't fall, I think maybe [Derek] Stepan would have put it in anyway.”
Brodeur, who had been the focus of controversy for a flippant line uttered after Monday’s series opener, took aim at the Garden.
“It's a tough place to play. There [are] so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere. In the second period, I think two or three just went right in front of my net,” said Brodeur, who finished with 23 saves.
One of those second-period shots came off the stick of Marian Gaborik. It was one of the two that the Rangers’ sniper took on a night in which he was largely invisible. Gaborik took 20 shifts for 15:21 of ice time Wednesday night, but was benched by John Tortorella for the first half of the third period and did not play in the final 1:30 with the Rangers trailing by a goal and Lundqvist pulled for an extra skater.
Tortorella said, “no,” when asked to explain why he sat Gaborik. The Rangers’ coach offered, “We need to improve as a hockey team,” to a subsequent question regarding Gaborik.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman