The New Jersey Devils broke the scoreless streak early and didn't stop it at just one measly goal. They went on to decisively win 4-2 over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. And this was a big win. For starters, it re-established the Devils' confidence on offense when Brian Rolston let loose with a bomb from the point that Henrik Lundqvist didn't have a chance on. Dainius Zubrus did well to set up the shot by drawing attention, tossed it to Brian Gionta, who tossed it to Rolston. Rolston noted that David Clarkson was right infront of Lundqvist and fired at the one place Lundqvist couldn't possibly see. It was a great goal. It was a power play goal. And that it was a goal was massive. I'll get to the others, which if seen in succession would form what could be called a dazzling array of boo-yah.
Second, it just so happened that the Penguins lost to Montreal thanks to an Andrei Koystitsin hat trick and the Flyers got shutout by Columbus tonight. The Devils' win propels them to one point ahead of Pittsburgh, two points behind Philadelphia, and four behind the Rangers. Oh, and did I mention the Devils all have games in hand still on all of them? These points not only stopped a losing streak, but puts the Devils in a good position. They'll still have to win in St. Louis and in Dallas to continue progressing; but it is still a big win with respect to the rest of the division.
Third, and most importantly, it was the Rangers. Our Hated Rivals! The Devils went in there, silenced the crowd quickly, and ended the game with a solid result and some light booing. They didn't let Henrik Lundqvist get in their heads. They didn't panic when the Rangers finally decided, "Hey, we should try playing them more aggressively" late in the second. And they didn't crumble in a physical affair. It was a solid win over a hated rival in their building and that's always massive.
When you consider all three of these factors, this is clearly a crucial win. If it was any more crucial, it'd be a youth crew hardcore band from the late 1980s. The Devils did do a lot of things right against Boston and Pittsburgh earlier this week; but the finishing wasn't there and it ultimately was their main cause for losing. Tonight, it was there and it came against an opponent where every one of those goals was sweet.
Let's talk about this game a little further. The first period was as good as you would have asked for. A goal on the game's first power play? Check. The first goal of the game? Check. How about a quick second goal? On a penalty kill, Travis Zajac won the puck up on the left side of the point. The puck was a bit out of his reach to control it, so what did he do? He noticed a man in white streaking up the middle and figured to knock it that way. That man in white was Patrik Elias who went in all alone and cooly put it top-shelf past Lundqvist. That shorthanded goal was so pretty that I'm amazed it won't be featured on the cover of Vogue or some other fashion magazine.
The Devils would go on to out-shoot the Rangers 17-7, look good in 3 power plays (whilst only scoring on the first), and the only flaw against the period would be that Nigel Dawes responded a minute after the Elias goal with a goal of his own. Dawes came across the slot, caught Scott Clemmensen sliding across, and put enough power behind a backhanded shot to put it through Clemmensen's legs. Still, a very good first period for New Jersey. They opened up the scoring early on this one and added to it quickly.
The second period saw a more even game, especially after Zajac put home a rocket from the point to make it 3-1. After a power play that was unsuccessful for the Devils - Rolston came close with a shot hitting the post - New Jersey still kept up the momentum. A three-on-two developed with Elias drop passing the puck to Zajac, who was late on the charge. Zajac released this monster of a shot that I didn't know he had to beat Lundqvist and really put the screws the Rangers. However, the Rangers eventually outshot the Devils 17-11 in this period largely due to the last 3-4 minutes of the period. David Clarkson got called for playing with a broken stick for one penalty, giving the Rangers ample space on a power play. And, boy, did they use that space. They got even more when Madden got called for interference with 39 seconds left on the Clarkson minor. A brief 5-on-3 followed by another 5-on-4? Just what the doctor would order for a team down by two goals.
Only the doctor didn't know about Scott Clemmensen and the Devils' defense. That Dawes goal would be the only flaw to an otherwise strong game by the penalty killers. They were great in cleaning up loose pucks and interfering in Rangers' plays all night long. Paul Martin was big in his own end for all 25:35 that he played. Jay Leach looked like a vet out there, not a call-up from Lowell. But when the Rangers had a chance to score, Clemmensen did his best Martin Brodeur impersonation and robbed them all in the second period. There were not one, not two, but three amazing saves late in the period where Clemmenen bailed out NJ on the disadvantages. Critics of the Iowa-based goaltender, you should be quiet after this one.
In the third period, the teams played more evenly. There were no penalties and the shots ended up 7-9, favoring the Rangers. The Rangers started pressuring more, what with being down by 2 goals in the third period and at home. The fans finally got something to cheer for when Dimitri Kalinin scored his first goal as a Ranger with a massive slapshot. It just sent the puck end over end and cleanly over Clemmensen's shoulder. I'd say it was a nice goal if it didn't make the game more nerve-racking for the Devils. But the Devils kept their nerve and started responding with some more offensive shifts of their own. Travis Zajac, clearly the best player on the ice tonight, sent the puck down low to Jamie Langenbrunner, who curled around the net and tossed a cross-crease pass. Zach Parise pounced on it and the puck just slammed into the net to get the Devils' their fourth goal and to really ice the game. The crowd became silent, the Rangers' aggression stopped, and the Devils went onto win.
Looking at the stats, you'll find much more to be impressed by. John Madden and Zajac (seriously, he was a beast tonight) led the Devils to win faceoffs 62% to 38%. The team as a whole blocked more shots than the Rangers: 16-6. Johnny Oduya and Mike Mottau combined had as many blocks as the whole Rangers' lineup. The Rupp-Holik-Clarkson unit hit tons of people, as they combined for 16 hits. The Devils only outshot the Rangers by only 2, but in the 35 shots the Devils did have: Parise had 8, Martin had 5, Rolston had 4, and Gionta, Zajac and Elias had 3 a piece. The defense held the Rangers' marquee players of Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, and Nikolai Zherdev to absolutely nothing on the boxscore. Clemmensen was great when he needed to be.
The goodness spread around the whole team and it's fitting as the Devils win tonight came from a strong team effort with that all important finishing. You finish plays while playing good and you get a good result. 4-2 over Our Hated Rivals is a great win after two scoreless losses and it's great before heading into another week of 3 games in 4 days. Great stuff, guys!