Devils square series with Rangers
Lance Hornby, QMI Agency
|Zach Parise #9 and Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils celebrate their 4 to 1 win over the New York Rangers, May 21, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP
NEWARK - The Rangers must be so brutalized by clogged Manhattan traffic they can’t recognize a clear lane when it’s there.
How else to explain New York is now 0-for-7 when given a chance to take a two-game lead in these playoffs? Despite Henrik Lundqvist’s great goaltending (no more than three goals against in 19 games) and everything else in their 109-point regular season, they can’t put back-to-back wins together when it counts, plagued by poor starts.
With the New Jersey Devils squaring the heated Eastern final at twos Monday night with a first-period blitz and 3-1 win, this is going at least six games. The Rangers’ two previous series already went the distance.
“We weren’t too smart out there, but this team has been there before,” said coach John Tortorella, recovering his voice from a shouting match with Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer between benches in the third period. “It’s a best of three now. I’m very optimistic (about Game 5). I still think some guys are close to getting their game. All year, all playoffs, this team finds a way.”
On Monday, they found a way to make life hard on their MVP Lundqvist, who could not bail them out. He was down 2-0 in the first period, wilting under odd-man rushes. Tortorella felt compelled to park defenceman Michael Del Zotto on the bench. With Stu Bickel in the lineup for the suspended Brandon Prust, Tortorella used the swing man to take Del Zotto’s place with Steve Eminger.
While half of New York’s winning playoff goals have come from blueliners amid 34 points overall, the Devils showed their group has some pop, too. Bryce Salvador, blanked in 82 regular season games, skipped in a puck for his third of the playoffs at 8:10, the first in nearly 60 shots on Lundqvist from 20 feet or more out since Game 7 of the Rangers’ win against Washington.
Barely had the din from that goal subsided at the Prudential Center when the Rangers’ most potent defender, Dan Girardi, was stuck in the neutral zone, stranding irregular partner Del Zotto on the 2-on-1. The latter was no match for Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, with Parise getting his first of two goals.
“I’m just the goalie, I can only answer for my own game,” Lundqvist said of the team’s sluggish start.
Tortorella called it a case of the “yips” by his players misplaying pucks.
“We just gave it back to them. It was a struggle for a number of our (defence). But we have to move by it, have a short-term memory. I thought we gained some traction as the game went on.”
Ruslan Fedotenko broke Martin Brodeur’s shutout late in the game and they almost made it 3-2 before a Parise empty netter.
Defenceman Marc Staal said the Devils continue to dump pucks and apply sufficient pressure so that New York can’t exit cleanly.
“We have to be initiating, instead of sitting back,” Staal said.
Tortorella made no apologies for the game’s chippy conclusion, when a Mike Rupp penalty that bubbled over into Rupp throwing a gloved fist at Brodeur.
“It’s a series,” he said. “You don’t want a parade to the penalty box, but you still need to play.”
After two games of in-house pre-game hype for ‘explosive Devils playoff hockey’, the home side finally got through the Ranger sentries to beat Lundqvist. The Devils pressed the issue right away, despite a couple of own-zone puck gaffes, and out-shot the Rangers 7-0.
The two early goals made the decision to switch Ilya Kovalchuk from left to right wing and move Patrik Elias from centre almost moot decisions for DeBoer. Kovalchuk remains with just three goals in his past nine outings, but had a third-period assist on Parise’s power-play goal.
Fans also had a fight to digest in the first frame, with Ryan McDonagh and Adam Henrique dropping the gloves. That came after post Game 3 verbal exchanges by the coaches following Prust’s elbow on Anton Volchenkov. The Ranger fourth liner was booted by the league for Monday’s match, while Tortorella was accusing the Devils of equal skullduggery.
The two early goals were all that 40-year-old Brodeur needed as he put career playoff win No. 109 in the book, with 200 games a certainty if the Devils make the Stanley Cup final. Game 5 is back at MSG on Wednesday, by which time the Los Angeles Kings might have finished off the Phoenix Coyotes in the West and be heading in this direction to get acclimatized to meet the Eastern champ.