The New Jersey Devils were bloodied when their heavyweight fight ended Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Bloodied, yes. But victorious. And one win from advancing to the fifth Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history.
“It’s a good feeling. We worked really hard to get in that position,” goalie Martin Brodeur said after the Devils outlasted the New York Rangers 5-3 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night. The Devils lead the best-of-7 series 3-2. Game 6 is Friday night at The Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
“We’ve just got to keep going,” Brodeur added. “Nothing is done yet. We’ve just got to be happy to be in this situation and try to win the next game.”
Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter and Zach Parise scored for the Devils. Brodeur stopped 25 of 28 shots.
Brandon Prust, Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik scored for the Rangers. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist allowed four goals on 16 shots.
The Devils did not so much win Game 5 as they survived. New Jersey was outshot 28-17 for the game and were in the unfamiliar role of being the forechecked instead of the forechecker.
“They pushed hard,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “We were fortunate.”
By their own admission, the Rangers were outworked during the first four games of the series, causing a group who defines itself by an ethos that effort equals success to suffer from a collective existential crisis.
Effort was not the issue for New York on this night. The Rangers used their forecheck to physically wear on the Devils, which allowed New York to habitually control pucks in the Devils’ zone for the first time in the series. All three of the Rangers’ goals came from under the hashmarks.
“We were forechecking and hunting down pucks. We were grinding down low and they were getting tired,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said.”We just kept coming at them. That’s obviously the way we have to play for the full 60 [minutes].”
Ostensibly, spotting the opponent a 3-0 lead in the first 9:49 is not part of the Rangers’ game plan. But that’s exactly what happened as Gionta, Elias and Zajac stunned the majority of the 18,200 that packed the Garden with back-to-back-to-back goals.
“When you get that type of lead, your mindset changes just a little bit,” DeBoer said. “It was just a slight change in the mindset. That’s a tough lead to have that early in the game.”
New Jersey had the lead, and New York was desperate to get back in the game. Which it did.
It started innocently enough with Ruslan Fedotenko flipping the puck into the Eighth Avenue side of the rink. Prust outraced two Devils to the loose puck before backhanding the puck past Brodeur while tumbling to the ice.
The Rangers were on the board at 15:41 of the first. They had tied the game by the 17-second mark of the third period. Artem Anisimov’s off-wing shot pinballed off Callahan’s leg 32 seconds into the second and Gaborik shoveled a Brodeur turnover into the goal 17 seconds into the third.
“I think when you get a three-goal lead you shouldn’t have to [steal a game],” Brodeur said in an act of self-flagellation. “I think with the energy in the building on their side it is a tough place to play. We were able to get it back and a good hockey finds a way to win. We did.”
In part because the Rangers, who were frenetic in getting the game even appeared to fear making a mistake of aggression.
“We stopped making plays,” lamented Rangers coach John Tortorella.
And the Devils’ checkers made one at a most opportune time. Carter tipped Gionta’s centering pass under Lundqvist to put the Devils up 4-3 with 4:24 left. Parise added an empty-netter at 19:28.
“The puck was just sitting there and [I] closed my eyes and threw it out to Cart,” Gionta said of the game-winning play. “I just saw him coming down the middle, and I was hoping he was still alone when I put it out there.”
He was and now the Devils have two opportunities to knock their most despised rival out of the playoffs.
“We’ll be good,” DeBoer said of playing a clinching game in front of their fans. “We’re at home in front of our home crowd. We worked awful hard to have this opportunity. I’m confident we’re going to throw a good game out there.”
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman