By the end of the second period, I was feeling real confident in the New Jersey Devils. They went into the middle period up 1-0, scored 2 goals, out-shot the Rangers 11-5, brought up a team Corsi of -5 up to 0 with a lead, got Henrik Lundqvist pulled, and the only mark against the Devils was Ryan Callahan firing a brilliant shot. Even then, the Rangers didn't (immediately) build on that goal and the Devils cruised into the second intermission with a 3-1 lead.
The first period wasn't all that and a bag of chips. Ilya Kovalchuk scored a beautiful goal, the Rangers then took over, then the Devils fought back, and in the dying seconds of the first, Brandon Dubinsky had an empty net on a rebound and hit the crossbar. A good break to say the least. But the second period was largely Devils hockey with two fortunate occurrences helping out the Devils: Dan Girardi knocking a puck that trickled through Lundqvist from a Dainius Zubrus shot into the net; and Marc Staal giving the puck up that Patrik Elias turned into a feed for a Brian Rolston bomb from the point. I was feeling comfortable. I was thinking about how well the Devils were doing. I was mentally writing about how it wasn't just a win over a rival, but a convincing piece of evidence that the Devils have turned it around.
Then the third period happened.
The Devils shot themselves in the foot with 4 minors (the one on Anton Volchenkov was a bad break). As the Rangers clawed one goal back on a 5-on-3, a Vinny Prospal pass re-directed unintentionally by Henrik Tallinder past Martin Brodeur. Possession was on the Rangers' side thanks to those power plays. Shots went heavily in favor of the Rangers, 14-2. Martin Biron could have read a magazine for much of the period. The Devils should have tried to attack, instead they weathered the storm as I watched on in worry as the breaks started going New York's way.
When Biron was pulled, the Devils seemingly had the chance at an open net but Travis Zajac had a shot blocked wide. With 30 seconds left, the Rangers barreled ahead to try and set something up. The Devils fought them at every length. With less than 8 seconds left, a short shot (pass?) was in Brodeur's direction. 6 seconds left He caromed it around the net just to get it away from bodies and was jammed at the net by Callahan. 5, 4, 3, 2 seconds left. The puck careened to a Ranger, Dubinsky lunged to tip it at a diving Brodeur - 1 second left.
And Brodeur got a piece of it enough for the puck to hit the post. The puck fell into the slot, time's up. Game over. Devils win 3-2.
To call it a tense third period may be an understatement. To say it was an exciting game would be an understatement. Fitting for a rivalry, and a monumental win as the Devils are now no longer dead last in the NHL. The Rangers fans certainly didn't think it was a good game, such is the sentiment at Blueshirt Banter. But I can hardly say it was a good game by the Devils. I'll explain my thoughts after the jump.
The short version is this: the Rangers and Devils had their moments of power in the first period; the second period was pretty much all Devils hockey; and the third period was all Rangers.
The stats tell a more interesting story. Here are a some quick points.
Faceoffs Went NJ's Way: While the Devils didn't play well for all 60 minutes, they were great on faceoffs. The Devils went 39-for-62, a 63% winning percentage. Travis Zajac was a monster at the dot, going 14-for-20. Patrik Elias had a great night on draws by going 9-for-14. The worst Devil was Jason Arnott and even he finished at 50% by going 5-for-10. If nothing else, the Devils picked on Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan pretty badly.
Devils Team Corsi was...Zero? Yes, Really: The Rangers finished the game with a lead in even strength, 17-13, and yet the Devils ended up at even (0) in Corsi. Perhaps the Devils' inaccuracy was enough to make up the difference? Overall, the Rangers finished the game 27-18 thanks to their 9 power play shots on net.
The Best Corsi Player Was This Guy: Amazingly, David Clarkson was a +8, the best Corsi on either team. His linemates, Rod Pelley (+2) and Tim Sestito (+1), were positive, but Clarkson was just strong in the 8:26 of even strength ice time he played. Had he not fought - or rather knocked out quickly - Sean Avery, he could have had more time to contribute. Clarkson didn't have any shots on net, but did have 3 blocked and was denied on a stash-in attempt early in the game by the Rangers defense. Incidentally, Pelley was the only one on that line who had a shot on goal; Sestito had 2 attempts blocked.
The Hotness Will Continue Until Further Notice: The line of Rolston, Elias, and Zubrus remains hot. Their Corsi wasn't so hot, as Elias was the only one who was positive at +4. They remain productive. Rolston led the Devils in shots on net with 4 and scored the shot that sent Lundqvist to the bench. Elias only had one shot on net; but he turned Marc Staal's giveaway into Rolston's goal which continues his point streak. Zubrus was looking good early. He had a nice drop pass that set up Kovalchuk's strike; drew the first power play for New Jersey; scored a goal thanks to Lundqvist mishandling his shot and Girardi putting it in; and was solid on the penalty kill. The only mis-step he made was contacting Biron in the third period, the first of four penalties against the Devils in that period alone.
Incidentally, Blueshirt Banter's George Ays noted that Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer would be likely to draw that line in the comments to the preview post. Tortorella mixed it up at evens against the Elias line: Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy got little more time than Sauer-McDonagh. I can't say for certain who was better but given that both pairings saw them, I would think the Rangers boss wanted to spread the assignment around. Especially since David "+8 Corsi" Clarkson saw most of Del Zotto-Gilroy. Girardi-Staal did face off a lot against Zajac and Kovalchuk.
Sympathy for the Ranger: Brandon Dubinsky had a tough night. He had the awful (-ly good for NJ) luck of hitting the crossbar on an empty net and having his desperate last-second re-direction hit the post to end the game. It goes deeper than that though. He finished with a -10 in Corsi, the worst among both teams tonight. He had a lot of time on the Rangers' power play with 5:36, played a total of 20:36, and still finished with only two shots on net and no points. At least he can feel good about being the one Ranger center wasn't completely housed on draws - he went 8-for-17 this evening.
The Thing Lemaire Should Yell A Lot About: The penalties, oh, goodness, the penalties. Talk all you want about how the Devils didn't score on a 5-on-3 early in the game or how they only had 4 shots on net in 4:12 of PP time. The Devils at least had possession then, they weren't total wastes.. What really hurt the visiting team tonight was that the Devils were shorthanded for 9:37, most of it in the third period. A great way to make a winning game more difficult is to give the other team several man advantages by being stupid.
Most of the calls the Devils took were fair by the refs, I mean stupid as in the players were stupid. I'll forgive the Anton Volchenkov delay of game call because he hit a puck in mid-air that went high. That's just bad luck. Not the others. Tim Sestito got tagged for taking a second shot at a Ranger he already hit kind of late. Mattias Tedenby whacked at a defenseman's hands while trying to chase down a puck on offense - a dumb move. Zubrus contacted Biron, so that was an easy interference call. Colin White gets hit unaware by Avery and he responds by jumping on him and facewashing him during the play in front of a ref. Nick Palmieri hooks a Ranger while the puck was high in the air in the slot. Those 5 penalties could have been avoided - especially the White call since the refs usually call retailitation.
Seriously, Devils, when you have a lead, you cannot afford to take this many calls and these types of calls. It's a big reason why the Rangers were pretty much in full-attack mode for the third period. Even without shooting, they have the puck in control, and they make their moves on their own terms. Plus, it tires out the PK units so with more penalties puts them at more risks for breakdowns. Thankfully, the only time the Rangers converted, it was early in a 5-on-3 and it was a bad bounce. On another night, they pound in a few and walk away with the big comeback win over a rival. I'm sure Lemaire will make a point of this before the game against Florida.
The Return of Fayne & Tedenby: The defensive pairings were a bit weird for NJ, as White was seen with Volchenkov, Anssi Salmela was with Greene (which was hard to watch early), and the now-healthy Mark Fayne played with Tallinder mostly. Fayne was decent. A -3 in Corsi, got a little PK time, played over 16 minutes, saw plenty of Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zucarello. Didn't really make a terrible mistake I can immediately recall.
Tedenby was a little more productive but didn't play as much. He had 3 shots on net in the 8:34 he played tonight. Incidentally, Kovalchuk wasn't really double-shifted too much. Tedenby got little time because A) a good chunk of the game late was on the PK; B) his minor was pretty dumb so I'm sure that's a factor; and C) his line just didn't get a lot of time. Arnott and Vladimir Zharkov each only got a little over 9 minutes. The Corsi of that line is weird with Tedenby at -1, Arnott at -5, and Zharkov at +3. I don't know if Tedenby did enough to make a case for more time. We'll see tomorrow.
An Interesting if Somewhat Meaningless Fact: Both the Devils and Rangers played 5:28 of the second period before the first shot on net - an open look by Stepan - was taken.
Highlights: Lastly, here are the highlights from tonight's game. Savor Kovalchuk's goal. Love Rolston's slapshot. Be amazed in how similar Callahan's goal was to Kovalchuk's. Witness some saves in between it all. Enjoy it.
I'm very glad the Devils beat the Rangers, a.k.a. Our Hated Rivals, for the first time all season; I'm very glad they are not in 30th place in the league right now; but I can't say it was a good game by NJ. They'll have a chance to do better tomorrow night against Florida.
That's my take on tonight's game. What's yours? What did you like most about the Devils effort? What did you think should be done differently? Do you think Martin Brodeur should give the goal frame at MSG a "Thank You" card? Who were you most impressed with? Please leave your answers along with all other thoughts about tonight's game in the comments. Thanks to the commenters in the Gamethread and thank you for reading.