Henrik Lundqvist was everywhere today. Even in a one-on-one with Ilya Kovalchuk. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils lost Game 3 to the New York Rangers by a score of 3-0. That would be the same score that the Devils lost by in Game 1. Like in Game 1, the Rangers got two goals in the third period and tacked on an empty net goal. Unlike Game 1, the Rangers got the first on a power play, a second one a few minutes later, and then sat back knowing they could deflect any attacks by the Devils. They were able to do so because they got rolled over in the first and second periods and still started the third period 0-0 thanks to a man named Henrik Lundqvist and Lady Luck.
The Devils tore through the Rangers with shots all afternoon, out-shooting them in every period. They out-shot them 36-21 in total and 30-17 at even strength. Shooting attempts heavily favored New Jersey, as the Devils were officially counted for 65 attempts compared to the Rangers' 32. In terms of Fenwick and Corsi, it was no contest. The Devils as a team were a +17 in Fenwick (Remember: blocks don't count in Fenwick) and +23 in Corsi. Every single Devils skater was positive in Corsi and only one was negative in Fenwick: Bryce Salvador at -1. The Devils enjoyed the better of possession for the vast majority of the game. They even were the better team on faceoffs by going 34 for 64. The Devils did a lot right in this game and the only reasons why they didn't score was bad luck and Lundqvist stopping the barrage. In a single word: frustrating. If only because I can't think of another, stronger word.
Devils fans have to begrudgingly give all the credit to Lundqvist. He fully earned his shutout today. He saw odd man rushes, and came away with a stop. He had an early breakaway in the second period by Ilya Kovalchuk and he got his body in front of him. He had traffic to deal with and still kept it out. He stopped all kinds of shots; impressively flashing the glove for the ones aimed at his supposed weakspot. Lundqvist was the primary, secondary, and tertiary reason why the Rangers were in this game, as well as being in the Eastern Conference Finals at all. Lundqvist had to be brilliant and he was on everyone from Kovalchuk to the likes of Steve Bernier (he got robbed at the right post in the third, so he stood out). His stops kept the game up for grabs and for a few minutes in the third period the Rangers took it and held on for the final fifteen. Who made that possible? Lundqvist, of course.
I thought the Devils figured him out in Game 2, but upon retrospect the Devils just had better fortune in that one. The three goals were a perfect snipe of the corner by a wide-open Kovalchuk on a power play and two deflections that were favorable for NJ. Today, there would be no such luck. While the Devils created opportunity after opportunity, the finish wasn't there for whatever reason. It all started when Travis Zajac got the puck in the high slot after a forecheck on their first shift. He hammered the shot, but it went wide instead of on net. That should have been a clue that it wasn't New Jersey's day. It was finally cemented when Peter Harrold had a great look down the middle of the ice on a power play, beat Lundqvist, but was denied by the post. It wasn't New Jersey's day. Combined with how impressive Lundqvist was, well, it's just about impossible to win without any goals.
And the Rangers took advantage. Dan Girardi spent most of the afternoon skating about like he was lost in own zone. The Rangers get a faceoff win, it goes right to him, he curls around the coverage and fires a shot against the grain. While Martin Brodeur was cutting off the angle, the shot fit in perfectly inside the post. Less than two minutes later, a puck chips off Kovalchuk's stick, Ryan McDonagh fires a harmless looking shot, and it's re-directed right at the crease by Chris Kreider to make it 2-0. The Rangers were out-played before and after those goals. In general, relying on your goaltender and a surge is a dangerous, seemingly unsustainable approach. Just ask Phoenix, who's not getting that in their Conference Finals. But the Rangers won and so they take back the home ice advantage and the series.
I'm sort of at a loss for words because I'm not sure what I want the Devils to do differently. They did a lot right. They owned in possession. All four lines had good shifts. They forechecked well. They swarmed it up. I only hope the Devils don't freak out and throw away this approach because of Lundqvist or a lack of luck did them in. Special teams needs work; but not the overall gameplan at even strength. It's only 2-1 in the series; so there's a lot of hockey left to be played. If they can beat Lundqvist, then everything may turn out OK. That's a very big if, especially after what transpired this afternoon.
For a happier perspective about this game, you need to read the opposition's blog, Blueshirt Banter. For more thoughts about today's 3-0 loss, please continue on after the jump.
The Stats: The NHL.com Game Summary | The NHL.com Event Summary | The NHL.com Shot Summary | The NHL.com Play by Play Log | The Time on Ice Shift Charts | The Time on Ice Head to Head Ice Time Charts | The Time on Ice Corsi Charts
The Game Highlights: If you want to see a lot of Lundqvist saves, then please see this game highlight video from NHL.com:
The Power Play Needs to Be Better: For all the talk about the refs, the Devils came out on the better end of calls with five power plays. In the ten minutes they had with a man advantage, they generated six shots on net. That's not a lot. Even worse, it wasn't because the Rangers penalty killers were like a blanket out there.
The Devils had several stretches of good possession, moving the puck around and such. The problem is that their puck movement and possession didn't translate into many shots. Some of the passes weren't so crisp, so instead of a one-timer, pucks had to be settled. For the most part, the power play units kept looking for something great instead of settling for a good look. That's why we saw passes go the point with a reasonable shooting lane end up going back down low and to nothing. That's why we saw players hold onto the puck in the hopes of something opening up, only for a Ranger to get set for a block or get in position. As a result, most of these developments ended up becoming a clearance by way of a bad pass going over the blueline or the puck ending up on a Rangers stick - which ended up going down the length of the rink.
I know the Rangers are a good penalty killing team and Lundqvist is who we all thought he would be. However, I think the Devils' power play suffers when they look for "perfect" instead of "good." This was most apparent on their two third period power plays when the Devils badly needed something, anything to get back into the game. The Devils didn't take full advantage of ten minutes of power play; they were ultimately lost opportunites. Combined with not getting a score and how the Devils just out-performed the Rangers defense on offense at evens, the power play effort today fueled further frustration. If there's something the Devils need to work on for Game 4, it's this.
What of the Other Special Team?: At the risk of inviting controversy, I don't think the Devils penalty kill was horrible today. They held the Rangers to only two shots on net. Yes, they gave up a conversion; but that's the result of a lost faceoff going right to the wide man (Girardi) on the point. His shot was well placed, there's not a lot one could ask the PK or even Brodeur to do on that shot. You can fault Elias, I suppose, for losing the draw. You can even fault Bryce Salvador for taking the hooking call at all. Other than that, I'm not sure who else deserves a finger to be pointed at.
Another Silver Lining - Only Two Minor Penalty: Additionally, I have to say the Devils' discipline was quite good today. Salvador's hook was the only deserved minor. Kovalchuk got hit with high-sticking in the first period which was I thought rather harsh at the time. It's my understanding his stick did go up, so whatever. Given that the Rangers were more than willing to goon it up, the Devils kept most of their cool. It sucks that it turned out to be 0-for-5 on the PP while 1-for-2 on the PK.
Suspend the Man: Brandon Prust managed to hit Anton Volchenkov in the back of his head with an elbow well away from the play in the second period. Prust somehow got away with this during the game. Heck of a job by Kevin Pollak and Brad Watson to miss the strike entirely and only blow the whistle when Volchenkov initially didn't get up. It was a cheap shot. It was a head shot. It was an illegal shot. Will he get at least a game for it? With the NHL, who knows.
The Offense that Didn't Score: Let's talk about the Devils offense. They got 36 shots on net along with 10 missed and 19 blocked. The vaunted Rangers' shot blocking didn't deter the Devils from finding lanes for shots on net at evens. Who did the most work? In terms of driving the play, Andy Greene and Mark Fayne really got it going as they were the only Devils who surpassed double-digits in Corsi and Fenwick. They were also the only stand-outs, as the rest of the team found levels of success.
The fourth line allowed very few shots on net and were present for multiple strikes; all taken by Steve Bernier (four shots). Needless to say, Bernier had a good game. The first line had a more productive afternoon. Kovalchuk led the team in shots on net with six, split evenly between power play and even strength. He had a breakaway and a second one where Marc Staal mugged him, but did not convert. I suppose we could say he came the closest to scoring. We can also say he made Girardi's afternoon feel really long; the defender finished the game at -18 Corsi and he saw the Zajac line the most. The Henrique line did good things against the Rangers' third line; Adam Henrique put up four shots, which is quite good. Harrold and Volchenkov weren't awful and helped get things going.
There were disappointments however. The pairing of Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador didn't drive the play much. While that's no big deal for Salvador, Zidlicky's value comes from contributing at both ends. Two shots, getting blocked three times, and losing Kreider before his goal means he could have done better. (Aside: Zajac lost him too, but I may be splitting hairs.) Given how good the Greene & Fayne pairing were, I'm not sure why Salvador & Zidlicky got more even strength ice time. The line of Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, and Dainius Zubrus drew the Brad Richards line and didn't really win the match-up by a lot. I thought Zubrus had a good game, but Sykora ran hot-and-cold and Elias was just off. Seriously, he missed some passes he normally could make; he didn't cycle well on offense; and he just not making good reads at times. David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky were more or less offensive passengers with one shot between the two (Clarkson had it and it was in the first period); Henrique had to carry them. Zach Parise had a weird game where he'll do something positive and then not much and then get a shot somewhere and then go back to doing not much. He ended up with three shots, which isn't bad; but I was felt wanting. I still do - even though the Devils put up 36 shots on Lundqvist.
As much as I love the fact that only four Devils went shotless today (Ponikarovsky, Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Volchenkov), I want more consistency from Parise, Clarkson, and Elias. Will it lead to goals? Maybe. All the Devils can do is try. Perhaps we'll see it in Game 4. Possibly on the power play, even.
Like Giroux Before Him: Brad Richards - no even strength points in this series. He won the faceoff that led to Girardi's goal and took two shots. Yet, at evens, he's being shut down fairly well. Speaking of, Marian Gaborik remains pointless.
What of Brodeur: When the game opened up in the second period, the Rangers had some of the best chances of the day to score. They caught the Devils with numbers and had some good bounced. Martin Brodeur was heroic in that period. He absolutely robbed Ryan Callahan at the post, he denied a two-on-one with a simple pokecheck, and held the posts quite well this afternoon. Unfortunately, he got beat by a well-placed shot by Girardi where I'm not so certain it was an easy shot and a deflection in front of the net. More importantly, he got no goal support so even if he stopped those two, a win wouldn't be guaranteed. He's been good. Alas, Lundqvist has been brilliant - and he has had to have been brilliant.
One Penultimate Thought: The series is only 2-1 and the Devils have been the superior team at 5-on-5. Lundqvist has been the chief reason why the Rangers are where they are now; and they won on the strength of five strong minutes in the third period along with him. I think the Devils should keep following their current game plan at even strength. While they didn't score today, I don't think changing it is suddenly going to make Lundqvist vulnerable. I doubt Lundqvist will be perfect forever. That's why I'm not freaking out or panicking or even all that upset with this 3-0 loss. The approach is correct and we know it's effective to a point. The luck and finish just hasn't been there. That - and hopefully better special teams play - could easily change on Monday night and hopefully that will be enough to get the must needed result. If not, well, I don't know what to tell you.
One Final Thought: That all said, this was an extremely frustrating game. The score flatters the Rangers; but in a results-oriented business, flattery can take you anywhere.
That's my take on today's game. Now I want to know yours. What do you think of the Devils' performance? What would you want the Devils to focus on in preparing for Game 4? How dumbfounded were you that Lundqvist was so good today? Who do you think had a good game for the Devils? Who do you think could have done a lot better? Who do you think needs to have a better game on Monday? How would you address the power play and penalty kill given what you saw today? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on today's game in the comments. Thank you to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.