Devils know they need to be better

Devils forward David Clarkson falls into Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during Game 1 of the...

Devils forward David Clarkson falls into Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist during Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference final at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.,, May 14, 2012. (MIKE SEGAR/Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:00 AM ET

NEWARK - Enough about the shot-blocking already.

The New Jersey Devils get it.

And now that they're down 1-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers, who block shots like Manhattanites ignore pedestrian signals, the Devils realize the stiff test in front of them.

The Rangers didn't post a shutout in the opener because they got in the way of every shot the Devils threw at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Sure, the Devils were frustrated by the tactic, and had just 21 shots on the Rangers' net, but were in agreement Tuesday that several other facets of their game just weren't good enough.

That includes the Devils' normally intense forecheck, which was the driving factor in their ability to create offence in earlier-round eliminations of the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers. If the Devils aren't making life hell for the Rangers defencemen, they can't get the cycle going, and the Rangers stay in control.

"It can be a lot better," Devils captain Zach Parise said, looking ahead to Game 2 of the series Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

"We looked this morning (on video) at some of the different instances, and a couple of times we didn't dump the puck well enough to let our first forechecker get in there and do his job.

"And a lot of times we were just a little too spread out. We would get our first guy in there but our second guy wasn't close enough. If you don't have that second guy in there, it's tough to get pucks back."

Take it as a positive that the Devils gleaned from watching tape some of the things that were not going well. Had they studied the celluloid and saw themselves playing mistake-free hockey but losing anyway, it would have been time to get seriously worried.

The Devils didn't try to work through their problems with a practice at the Prudential Center, instead gathering for an off-ice meeting.

"They are a good shot-blocking team, and every team you play has strengths in certain areas, and that is one of the Rangers' strengths," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "It is something you have to deal with, but it's not the story of the series. When I look back at (Game 1), it was as much as our lack of execution, and whether it was the layoff (of six days between games) or whatever, we have been able to do a better job of executing."

Where the Devils will have to do a better job is around Lundqvist. The Devils faced Jose Theodore in the first round and Ilya Bryzgalov in the second, and neither matches Lundqvist's ability.

If the Rangers netminder creeps into the heads of the Devils and stays there, this series could be done in four or five games. Furthermore, the Devils can't remind themselves that Martin Brodeur might not be capable of matching Lundqvist save-for-save.

"He's a challenge," DeBoer said. "But Ottawa found a way to score on him (in the seven-game quarterfinal). So did Washington (in the seven-game semifinal). So did we during the regular season. We're going to get goals. We've got to concentrate."

Tactics aside, both the Devils and Rangers could be headed into fairly unfamiliar waters. The Rangers have won two games in a row just once in the 2012 playoffs, but didn't win Game 2 in either of the first two rounds, and the Devils have lost consecutive games on only one occasion in the post-season.

"It has been back and forth and we haven't had a two-game lead yet," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "In this type of playoffs, it's important to get that. We're putting a lot of emphasis on (Wednesday's) game and trying to get that two-game lead. I think we have to have that mindset of we have to be desperate."

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

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