The New Jersey Devils tied up the Eastern Conference Finals playoff series with the New York Rangers by a score of 3-2 this evening. There were thrills. There were chills. There was even a penalty box door that got stuck and caused an eight minute delay at the World's Most Famous Arena to get it operational. Most of all, there was a result for the good guys. The Devils scored their first goal on Henrik Lundqvist in this series and proceeded to get two more past him in regulation, one in each period. The key on each goal was re-direction.
The first goal was scored by Ilya Kovalchuk on the Devils' second power play of the first period. Yes, the power play looked like a power play in the first period. The puck ended up in the right corner and nearly all attention was paid there with the exception of the point man, Marek Zidlicky, and Kovalchuk, who was on the opposite side. Zach Parise was able to win it back to Zidlicky, who quickly got the puck to Kovalchuk. They flanked all four Rangers skaters, so Kovalchuk had time to skate in, do a fake or two, and fire it just inside the top right corner of the goal over Lundqvist's glove. They re-directed the focus of attack and were rewarded with a score.
The second and third goals bring to mind the more common use of the word. Each were scored on a deflection. Bryce Salvador did a great job to keep the puck in play at the point. A few events later, it bounced to him. He unloaded a low shot that Ryan Carter got a piece of with his stick. The puck traveled upwards and past the glove side of Lundqvist. It tied up the game at two within the final two minutes of the second period. For the third goal, the Devils were again on the attack and Zidlicky pinched in and went down low to keep it going. Adam Henrique moved out to the right point to cover Zidlicky's spot. Salvador gets the puck from Zidlicky after he wheeled around the back end of the zone and fed it to Henrique. Henrique fired a high shot that David Clarkson, standing in front of Lundqvist, got a piece of with the shaft of his stick. The stick was below the cross-bar and the puck angled down and past Lundqvist for the go ahead goal. Two re-directions, two goals, and a win.
While the Devils had the good fortune of two good deflections, they were the better team tonight. They only out-shot the Rangers 27-25, the attempts were heavily in New Jersey's favor at evens given their +11 in Fenwick and their +20 in Corsi. The Devils only were blocked 16 times as opposed to 26 from Game 1; they adjusted in that regard. They took more initiative in the first period and to start in the third period. Even after the Rangers surged in the second period, the Devils battled back to only be out-shot 12-9 after being out-shot 6-0 early on. The Devils threw hits, they made plays, and the "jump" was in everyone. The Devils even were superior on faceoffs, winning 32 out of 59. The Devils deserved this win, even if their equalizer and game winner came from two great bounces.
This isn't to say the Devils could have been better. The Devils took four penalties and three were legitimate, why-would-you-do-that calls. The penalty kill got lit up for two goals. Even though one came off a fluke bounce off the end boards and the other was a deflection by the screening player, it was reminiscent of the Florida series (good first minute, disaster strikes anyway). Some players could have made a bigger impact tonight but didn't. They missed 16 shots, something they can cut down on. Improvements can and should be made for Game 3.
Flaws aside, the Devils did more good than bad tonight. Even if you feel otherwise, they did get what they want: a win. Now home ice is taken away from the Rangers for the time being and the Devils get two days to think about building on what they did tonight. The series has been re-directed to a 1-1 tie. Good job.
For an opposition's perspective on tonight's game, please visit Blueshirt Banter. For more thoughts on tonight's win, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Highlight Videos: This video from NHL.com has three Devils goals and one of the most ridiculous saves I ever seen Martin Brodeur make in my lifetime. You definitely want to see this one:
Oops: Earlier on Wednesday, I went through all of the goals Lundqvist allowed in the playoffs in the hopes of finding some common threads on how he can be beat. I actually stated that the Devils shouldn't expect traffic to benefit the shooter. Well, two deflections by guys in the way of the shot showed me up tonight. In retrospect, I should have just said "Hope but don't necessarily bet the farm on some good luck" or something like that.
Marty Was Better: Lundqvist certainly wasn't a waste out there; it's not like he had a real chance on the deflections or Kovalchuk sniping him. Yet, he didn't do anything like the one phenomenal save Brodeur had in the second period. Brodeur managed to rob Marian Gaborik with his legs up in the air after he dove on a poke-checking effort. Here, watch it:
Brodeur's glove was very good tonight, notably stopping a few players in a flashy way - like on Brad Richards in the third period. He also read the plays very well tonight. There weren't a lot of second chances for the Rangers and the few they had were denied by the goaltender. Brodeur also had a little luck in his favor. He covered a lot of ground and got some post luck on an early wraparound attempt in the first period. He also got a second stop by the right post when a Chris Kreider shot beat him despite the angle. Brodeur had some luck go against him. A shot by Marc Staal hit the end board and bounced off his foot, his glove, and then into the net early in the second period. Kreider screened Brodeur on an Anton Stralman shot, which bounced off the shaft of Kreider's stick and past him. Overall, there was more to praise than to criticize with Brodeur's performance. If he can keep playing like this, the Devils are fine in net.
Third Line Strength: The Devils definitely had the better of possession as a team at even strength tonight. Yet, the distribution of Fenwick and Corsi shows that the Henrique line had a much better game than I originally thought. I liked their forechecking and they did put together some good shifts. I was pleased. As it turned out, the Rangers struggled to attack against Henrique (+12 Corsi, 10-for-17 on draws), Clarkson (+14 Corsi), and Alexei Ponikarovsky (+13 Corsi). John Tortorella mixed up who went out there against them, and as it turned out they saw the Brad Richards line the most. The Henrique line definitely won that match-up; so I'm even more pleased with how they played.
They were definitely aided by the top four on defense, whom they played with in almost equal times. Zidlicky (+18 Corsi!!) and Salvador (+11 Corsi) were very good in possession and the pairing of Andy Greene (+12 Corsi) & Mark Fayne (+10 Corsi, aside: hit the net, man) were no slouches either. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't be surprised they generated the game winning goal. With the way they were playing, something good was going to happen eventually for them. Let's hope they can keep it up.
First Line Flop?: Peter DeBoer went back to the lines from the Florida series, which meant Parise, Zajac, and Kovalchuk were lined up together. They didn't have such a good night. The line of Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, and Kreider gave them problems, and it didn't help they saw a lot of Dan Girardi, who had a good night in his own right. Kovalchuk was the worst in possession at -4 Corsi, and he was the only one of the three with more than one shot on net at evens: he had two. Kovalchuk at least broke Lundqvist's shutout streak against the Devils; but he didn't get a lot going over the whole game. Zajac was the best of the three at +4 Corsi, but he only got one shot on net, he got his stick broken to no call prior to the Staal goal, and took a dumb penalty while on offense. It wasn't a great night for him. At least he went 11-or-18 on draws. Then there's Parise. He finished -1 in Corsi and got no shots at evens. His lone shot on net was shorthanded. Other than that, the closest he came was when he shoved down a Ranger and threw up a quick turnaround shot that missed the net late in the third period. That could have been a two-on-one, but he botched the initial pass to Zajac. This definitely wasn't one of Parise's better games, his assist on the Kovalchuk goal aside.
Would I panic and switch up the lines? I don't know. The threesome didn't have an easy match-up and didn't do a lot at evens. Yet, the Elias and Henrique lines did a lot more and were excellent. I'd see how things go after another game. Maybe this was just a bad night for them.
The Return of Harrold: Peter Harrold returned to the lineup in place of Adam Larsson. Larsson did good in Game 1. Harrold, well, he didn't do so good tonight. He played a little over 14 minutes with a couple power play minutes. He got two shots on net and he didn't make any glaring mistakes. That's not bad. Yet, the Rangers found offensive success against him at evens. Harrold's Corsi was -7 and his Fenwick was -6. He didn't drive the play forward; and it's not like Anton Volchenkov helped out too much either. That said, Harrold did see the Stepan line more than any other unit; so it's possible he was just a victim of the last change. Whether he should stay in Game 3, I'm not really sure. While he wasn't abjectly bad tonight, he definitely wasn't so good that I thought that Larsson should remain sitting. DeBoer and the coaches will have two days to figure it out.
One Point Shy: Salvador picked up two assists tonight: one primary for his shot that was re-directed by Carter and one secondary for getting the puck to Henrique, who had his shot re-directed. He is now one point shy of matching his season total in points. Salvador led the Devils in ice time tonight with 23:37 and he did it in all situations. I think he had a few chances to clear the puck where he didn't - one that eventually led to the Staal goal if I'm not mistaken. He wasn't perfect, but for the most part, he did more good than bad in his own end. And on offense, he definitely chipped in with two shots out of six attempts. No other Devil had as many shooting attempts, though several had five. If Salvador is attempting six shots, then he's had looks on net. Fire away, and the points may keep on coming.
Increased Power: Both the Devils and the Rangers looked much better on their power plays, if only for not allowing multiple shots by the other team's penalty kill. The Devils' first two power plays looked like it and put up four shots - the final one being Kovalchuk's goal. They held possession, they attempted passes to open up the Rangers, and they eventually succeeded. The Devils' third power play was much ado about nothing; but with a 3-2 lead, maintaining the puck sufficed. The Rangers got six shots on their four power plays and scored on two of them. They got a lucky bounce off the end boards for the first and a deflection for the second. They still count and are successes. I'm sure both coaches will look at their PK units before Game 3.
You Can't Hit Guys Away from the Play: The Devils took four minors and three of them were stupid calls to take. Patrik Elias got two for hitting Callahan, who hit Greene hard along the boards in the neutral zone away from the puck. That wasn't needed and the call was deserved. Travis Zajac lost his stick and just bowled into Ryan McDonagh in the offensive zone way away from the penalty. That was a clear interference call and it led to the Rangers' second goal. Later in the third, Steve Bernier hit Staal hard into the boards to prevent him from getting to a puck. The hit came too early and so the refs tagged him. All three were avoidable and one of them proved costly. While it was a good thing for the Devils to up the tempo and take some initiative both in terms of speed and physical play, they were dumb calls.
Seriously, Chris Lee: The call on Alexei Ponikarovsky, however, was garbage. Ponikarovsky was given two for interference for picking Michael Del Zotto. The contact was minimal at best, Del Zotto wasn't going to be able to make a play regardless, and the call came all the way from center ice. That call was not only bad, but the penalty was shortened because Staal scored on it. Fortunately, the Devils rose above this one.
The World's Most Famous Arena: The Zajac penalty delayed the game for quite a bit of time because the door to the Devils' penalty box was jammed. It would be partially open one way, but not the other. I know MSG has undergone renovations and has more to do. Now, they got to look at the doors, right? At least we learned that kicking the door several times won't fix a jam. Also: that the Prudential Center is superior by way of better doors for penalty boxes.
Hmmmm...: Brad Richards got three shots on net tonight and an assist - on the power play. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
The Fourths Were...Fourths: The fourth line of Carter, Bernier, and Stephen Gionta deserves credit for getting the puck in deep and attacking prior to Carter's goal. However, like a fourth line, they didn't do much beyond that. Carter's deflection was the only shot on net from all three forwards tonight. On the other hand, they didn't hurt the Devils too much in the 8-10 minutes they played; only Gionta was a negative Corsi player at -2 (Fenwick was worse, though). As much I appreciate the goal, the fourth line was just that tonight: a fourth line. Considering the Devils had fifth line players there during the season, I'm perfectly fine with this.
Note: Taking initiative and looking to attack proved to be good ideas tonight. Hopefully, the Devils will keep this up no matter how they adjust in the next game.
One Final Thought: While the Devils were the better team in the first and third periods, the game was nerve wracking coming down to the wire. I hoped the Rangers wouldn't get one break or one bounce or one glorious look to tie it up late. The Devils had to hang on to win - and they succeeded. It occurs to me now that we should get somewhat used to this. While I'd like to see the Devils blow the game wide open or even get an empty net goal; close games have been the Rangers' way in this postseason. The Devils are no strangers to that themselves. It's something to think about as the series moves to the Rock. It's also nigh impossible given the nature of the game and the stakes. Ah, playoff hockey, may you never cease being stressful.
That's my take on tonight's 3-2 win by the Devils. What's yours? Did you think the Devils were the better team tonight? Or do you think they were more lucky than good in getting this win? What's your opinion of the special teams? Would you keep the lines together as-is now that they won, or would you make some lineup adjustments? What did you make of Harrold's return to the lineup? What did you make of the team's overall effort? Can they build on this for Game 3? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thanks to everyone in the gamethread for commenting and to those who followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.