Five things to watch heading into Game 3
TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
|New York Rangers' Marian Gaborik leaps over New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur as he dives to make a save during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL Eastern Conference finals. (GETTY)
NEWARK, N.J. - Some thoughts and observations regarding the Eastern Conference final between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, which continues on Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark with Game 3. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.
1. The Rangers have to light a fuse under Marian Gaborik. That has been a recurring theme for much of the playoffs, but the lack of production from their most talented player came under a microscope in Game 2 when Gaborik was benched for much of the third period. By the time the game had finished, Gaborik played just 15 minutes and 21 seconds, his lowest ice time in the Rangers' 16 playoff games. Gaborik's lack of hustle in the defensive zone helped result in the Devils' goal that made it 2-2 in Game 2, and coach John Tortorella had seen enough. "You guys like calling them benchings, but as coaches we're trying to find a way to win a hockey game, and we make decisions accordingly," Tortorella said. Gaborik would have had a goal if not for a brilliant kick save by Martin Brodeur, but otherwise, was not overly noticeable. And for that matter, Brad Richards didn't exactly create a lot, either.
2. Devils defenceman Marek Zidlicky might get a little more of the spotlight because he is slick, but one of the unsung heroes for the Devils in the post-season has been defenceman Bryce Salvador. Never mind that the 36-year-old Salvador, who missed the entire 2010-11 season with an inner-ear concussion, has eight points (two goals and six assists) in 14 playoff games after recording nine assists in 82 games during the regular season. The native of Brandon, Man., leads all Devils with a plus-9, is on the first penalty-killing unit and averages nearly 23 minutes of ice time a game. "I can tell you he's the one guy that probably doesn't even know how many points he has," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's another guy that we wouldn't be here without him."
3. Brodeur still has it, just not all the time. The Devils goaltender turned 40 during the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers, and his elderly status (by NHL standards) has popped up at times, often during games in which he has made sensational saves. That occurred in Game 2, when he clumsily knocked the puck into the Devils net after Marc Staal's shot came back off the end boards, but also made a save on Gaborik when a poke-check failed and Brodeur kicked his leg up while lying on his stomach. Of the Staal goal, Brodeur said, "I don't know if I shook it off, but I definitely rolled my eyes." Brodeur always has played behind a solid defence, and though it is not what it once was, the Devils, of the four teams remaining, are allowing the fewest shots (27.3 a game). Henrik Lundqvist might be stronger than Brodeur, but he doesn't have the playoff experience of his counterpart.
4. Rangers captain Ryan Callahan enjoyed his most successful regular season in the NHL in 2011-12 from a production standpoint, but that has not translated in the playoffs. Callahan has just six points (three goals and three assists) in 16 games, and has scored just one goal in the past 12 games. This while Callahan's ice time has increased dramatically in the post-season, going to an average of 24 minutes and seven seconds (the highest among Rangers forwards) from 21 minutes and two seconds in the regular season. The intangibles Callahan brings are great -- he leads the Rangers with 73 hits and his 28 blocked shots are the most among New York forwards. But when you're coming off your best regular season (29 goals and 54 points), more is expected in the playoffs, no matter how tight the games are.
5. Tortorella was "good" during a conference call with reporters Thursday, but all that really means is the Rangers coach actually came down from his pedestal to answer questions with some insight. It's at the point now where Tortorella is getting credit for this when he does it, which isn't right. There's no reason Tortorella can't give some thought to answering questions all the time, whether it's in the minutes after a win -- or a loss -- or during an off-day. For the most part, the majority of his coaching colleagues do it. And for those who point out that Tortorella is taking away attention from his under-achieving players, not really. People aren't forgetting that Gaborik is struggling because Tortorella doesn't answer questions. DeBoer, on the other hand, doesn't want to give away state secrets either, but with the media, he does his job with respect and tact. Tortorella might want to take note.