May 16, 2012
Devils pull even with Rangers
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
NEW YORK - David Clarkson has been called lots of things during his NHL career, many of which aren't suitable for print.
On Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, the New Jersey Devils forward was asked whether ‘Mr. Clutch’ might apply.
“I don’t know about that,” Clarkson said with a grin. “I’m going to stay up and down and finish my checks and (the pucks) just bounce off me, it seems like.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to contribute. (The season) has been a fun ride. With team success, individuals get success.”
Clarkson scored the winning goal in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers, the third time in the post-season Clarkson has provided the difference.
The best-of-seven series is now tied 1-1, with the next two games in the Battle of the Hudson across the river in Newark.
No other Devil has more than one game-winner in the playoffs.
This one came in true Clarkson fashion as he went to net and tipped an Adam Henrique shot behind Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 2:31 of the third period. At first glance, it appeared Clarkson’s stick might have been too high, but replays proved otherwise.
Clarkson told reporters before the series started that the Devils would have to get in Lundqvist’s face in order to be successful, but that didn’t happen in Game 1. The Devils were a lot more eager to do that in Game 2, and it was not a coincidence that two goals, including one by Ryan Carter in the second period that tied the game 2-2, came off deflections.
But it wasn’t just going to the net that made the Devils successful. They forechecked with more enthusiasm than they did in the series opener, and it’s from that relentless style that most of their offence originates. Because of that, they had more puck control. Shot-blocking was not a significant factor as the Rangers had just 16.
“We did a much better job,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “We didn’t turn the puck over in the neutral zone. We made their defencemen have to turn and get pucks. We made it hard on them. All in all, we like the way we played.”
The Devils’ vigour wasn’t lost on the Rangers.
“In the corners and along the wall, they were pinching and cycling us pretty good,” Rangers defenceman Marc Staal said. “Their forecheck and battles in the corner, they were coming out with more of those than we were. That’s something we can fix and we’re going to.”
Devils coach Peter DeBoer made a lineup change, inserting defenceman Peter Harrold in Adam Larsson’s spot. More importantly, DeBoer had Travis Zajac centre Parise and Kovalchuk on the top line. Kovalchuk was the best player on the ice in the first period, and he scored the only goal in the opening 20 minutes when he fired a shot over the left shoulder of Lundqvist.
Staal and Chris Kreider scored for the Rangers in the second period, giving the home side a brief lead.
Kreider got his name in the NHL record books when Anton Stralman’s shot deflected off the rookie and into the net. It was the fourth playoff goal for Kreider and his sixth point, tying the playoff mark in both categories for players who have not yet played in an NHL regular-season game.
Devils netminder Martin Brodeur shone, making several big stops in a 23-save performance.
“Key saves at key times,” DeBoer said. “You’re on your heels. It’s the third period, they’re giving a push. I thought the third period was his best, and that’s when you need him to be his best.
“Just our overall game was much better. I thought we established our forecheck right off the bat in the first period and we were creating zone time and chances.”