The New Jersey Devils were shutout in Game 1 and Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers. In the former, the Devils struggled to break down the Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist. In the latter, the Devils just plain struggled with Lundqvist and only Lundqvist. Tonight, neither were the case as the Devils were able to establish dominance early on, score twice on Lundqvist in the first period, and tacked on a third goal in the third period. An empty net goal confirmed a 4-1 victory and a tied series in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The first period was reminiscent of the first period of Game 3 except the Devils had better luck and better execution on their opportunities. In the first period the Devils swarmed it up with a 12-3 shot advantage prior to a Rangers power play that got them four more shots to make the total count a more respectable looking 12-7. All four lines found some measure of success in terms of possession. The Devils took initiative and seemingly controlled the play. Unlike Game 3, the Devils got a break when a shot by Bryce Salvador found it's way through traffic and in between Lundvist's legs. One fight that took Ryan McDonagh off the ice and less than four minutes later, Zach Parise - who was definitely noticeable tonight - torched Michael Del Zotto to get into space. He beat a sliding Dan Girardi with a pass to a trailing Travis Zajac, who hammered the puck in on Lundqvist's flank. Yes, the Devils created a two-on-one and actually converted on it. That gave them the 2-0 lead and it could have been much more save for special teams. I didn't even think Anton Volchenkov's tripping call on Mike Rupp was all that bad as it could have prevented an opportunity for him. That aside, it was very good period for New Jersey.
This was new territory for this series: a team maintaining a multiple-goal lead outside of the third period. It is because of this lead that we saw the Rangers get more success on offense in the second and third periods. The second period was similar to Game 3's second period in that the game opened up for both sides. Both New Jersey and New York found holes in the neutral zone for offensive opportunities off the rush. The Devils squandered most of them; and the Rangers didn't do too much with them. Nevertheless, the Rangers were able to pin back the Devils defenders (the longer distance to the bench helped) and out-shot the Devils 10-9. However, Martin Brodeur was too good in the crease and the Devils defense cleaned up just about anything loose. The Rangers definitely played like a hockey team after a poor first period; but they were denied a way back on to the scoreboard.
For some reason, the third period just became a mess in terms of discipline. The Rangers were clearly frustrated. While the Rangers were becoming more threatening on offense in the second period, they shot themselves in the foot. Derek Stepan high-sticked Mark Fayne early in the period. The Devils' power play, inconsistent as it has been, struck gold. Adam Henrique won the faceoff, Ilya Kovalchuk unloaded a slapshot on net, and an uncovered Parise jammed in the rebound. Four seconds into the power play, it's 3-0 New Jersey and the Devils faithful at the Rock were delirious in delight.
Now, with 17:19 left to play, one would think the Rangers would try to battle back into the game. The Rangers did that, only instead of battling to score, they just figured on straight up battling. 6:18 into the third period, Mike Rupp was going to get a minor for roughing behind the net and after the whistle, he took a shot at Brodeur before engaging in a scrum. He got tossed and a double-minor, Ryan Carter and Stu Bickel got matching minors for beefing, and the Devils had four minutes to play with. The Devils didn't do much with that four minute power play; and not even when Carl Hagelin made it a 5-on-3 for over a minute with a slashing call. The Devils wasted that and another power play - also thanks to Hagelin - and so the Rangers only get back to 5-on-5 with less than seven minutes to play. Talk about making it hard on yourselves. Ruslan Fedotenko did score on a shot Brodeur should have stopped; but it was only a consolation goal. It was too little, too late even as the Rangers out-shot the Devils 9-3 at evens and 11-9 overall in the third. As the Rangers tried to draw up something late with the extra man, Parise flung a puck down the end of the ice that just rolled into the empty net. That put the Devils up 4-1 and it sealed a 2-2 tie in the series.
Tonight, the Devils wailed on the Rangers in terms of hockey and finally solved Lundqvist. The Rangers' response was to get chippy, to get nasty, and they end up receiving with a trip back to MSG with a loss. I'd call that a decisive result. The opposition point of view at least agrees with the chippiness according to Bryan Winters' recap at 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 Game Highlights: Three goals on Lundqvist? You definitely want to see that; you can do so in this highlight video from NHL.com:
The Effect of the Score Can Be Strong: Believe it or not, the Devils actually finished at zero in Fenwick and -3 in Corsi. That's right, the Devils were out-attempted tonight at evens. I'm sure getting out-shot at evens 9-3 in the third period had a lot to do with that. I wouldn't get too unhappy or start believing that the Rangers figured out the Devils in 5-on-5. I believe this is due to score effect. Usually, teams that are losing take more risks on offense and start throwing up more attempts at shooting. The other team doesn't have to take their foot off the proverbial gas pedal when this happens. It's a common response.
I think that was most apparent in the second period when the Rangers started attempting more stretch passes and crashing the net a bit more. The long change combined with some long shifts for the defensemen made this a more reasonable tactic; but the main driver was the fact they're down 2-0 in an important game and they need something to get back into this one. Their usual approach of dumping and chasing just wasn't working; and the Devils plus bad ice made moving traditionally through the zone difficult. It opened the game up and the Rangers did a bit more with it than the Devils did with their odd-man rush opportunities. They had to because what else could they do? Let the Devils skate all over them again like they did in the first period?
So, yes, the Devils were out-shot at evens 21-24, evened up in Fenwick (all attempts except blocks) and slightly below zero in Corsi (all attempts). This wouldn't be good if the game was close or if the Devils lost. However, this game wasn't close for 45 minutes. That the Devils came out only slightly negative suggests that the Rangers just chipped away at it, which I'm fine with. It also means that anyone who came out positive really had a good night.
New Line Success: That one line that came out positive in possession was the new unit of Parise, Zajac, and Dainius Zubrus. Parise was absolutely fantastic tonight. He put up five shots on net, scored two goals, set up Zajac's goal with a great pass and posterized Del Zotto on the play, and put up the highest Corsi on the Devils at +8. John Tortorella threw Girardi and McDonagh for a plurarity of the time against Parise and they lost. The other players he tried lost. Parise was by far the best player on the ice tonight.
The other two linemates weren't scrubs either. Zubrus used his size very well, took a lot of punishment, and dealt some out - particularly on Marc Staal. He got three shots on net out of five attempts, put up a +5 in Corsi, and actually played more than Parise tonight: 20:15 to 18:30. Zajac doesn't have an impressive statline. He was below 50% on faceoffs by going 7-for-15 and he got only one shot on net. That said, his one shot was really good - it ended up behind Lundqvist. In fact, the play that led his goal pretty much summed up how that line did tonight. Poor Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, and Chris Kreider. They couldn't do much but defend when these three were swarming. May it continue.
Inconsistency Elsewhere: The other three forward lines had some very good shifts and some very quiet ones mixed in. The only other Devil to get more than three shots tonight was Kovalchuk, who had five. Normally, five shots from Kovalchuk is pretty good. One of them led to Parise's power play goal, even. Yet, only two of those shots came at evens. While the Devils collectively put up 30 shots, it was a team effort. I like it when everyone gets involved. However, tonight it meant that a player would only have one or two shots. For example, Adam Henrique got one shot on net in the second period. That was it for him. Patrik Elias had two, but one came in the first period and the second came on a power play in the third. While three came on the power play, Kovalchuk can at least claim getting rubber on Lundqvist in each period. Only Zubrus can claim that too. I really appreciated seeing all four lines have shifts where they get the puck deep and pin the Rangers back. Yet, with a goaltender like Lundqvist in net, I wanted more of that to turn into shots.
As a post script, if they get two-on-one opportunities, the team as a whole could stand to read the play better. The second period could have had more shots on net and more possession if the initial rush wasn't botched with a misfired or a blocked pass. Perhaps I'm picking nits at this point; but again, getting something out of those rushes.
Why Fights in the Playoffs Are Dumb - Ranger Edition: In the first period, shortly after Salvador's goal, Adam Henrique and Ryan McDonagh got in a tussle. I'm not sure what exactly tipped it off. Perhaps games of contact wearing each other out to a point of anger? A particular event? Somebody said something about someone's mom? I don't know. But they fought. And it was dumb - for the Rangers. New York was already running five defensemen for the most part and McDonagh has been leaned on heavily in this postseason. As he sat in the box for five minutes, the Devils were more than happy to skate all over the Rangers and get a score. That decision to fight (and taking down Henrique) may earn him kudos with the guys and the fans, but it really hurt on the ice.
Henrique, on the other hand, didn't have such an eventful night. He only had one shot on net, he was just kind of "there" on some shifts, and he was just below zero in Fenwick (-1) and Corsi (-2). I don't want him to go out and risk an injury or an extra penalty for tussling, so I can't say I'm pleased with him fighting either. However, the Devils needed him less than the Rangers needed McDonagh.
New Look Rangers: While I'm on the subject of the opposition, I noticed that Tortorella changed his lines up. Richards was utilized with Callahan and Kreider the most at evens. He is better than Stepan, so I can see why he made that change. It didn't work out so well as all three players had uneven games. Callahan was picked on all night long as suggested by his team-worst -7 Corsi and nearly picked a beatdown when he got into it with Kovalchuk due to striking the Devil in a sensitive spot. Kreider has been hot for the Rangers, but three shots aside, he was everywhere and nowhere. Richards had a good game with three shots on net, his first even strength point of the series with an assist - it went to Fedotenko, though, and a +5 in Corsi. I wonder if Tortorella will keep them together.
The other "top" line turned out to be Marian Gaborik, Hagelin, and Stepan. Stepan took the minor penalty that led to a 3-0 score and got mauled on faceoffs by going 7-for-19. Hagelin's main contributions tonight were to take a minor penalty during a double-minor penalty kill and to take another minor penalty less than a minute after that one ended. He now has fewer points in this postseason than Brodeur. Gaborik at least got five shots on net - and all of them were stopped. He remains pointless in this series. On second thought, maybe Torts will tinker further.
The Return of Josefson: Jacob Josefson returned to the lineup tonight, which prompted the other line changes the Devils did. For someone who hasn't played since the first week of April, I have to say that I was pleased with his performance. He didn't shy away from going into the boards. He followed through on cycles. He played with pace. He kept his head up to read the situation and did so quite well. In just under 13 minutes, Josefson got two shots on net (one was a great one-timer from the right circle in the first period) and went 9-for-14 on faceoffs. Interestingly, his ice time was all at even strength and he got shifts against the Rangers' top two lines. To come out of that at only -3 Corsi and a long layoff is quite impressive. Josefson had a good game and I hope he can build on that in the near future. I also hope Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky have stronger games in the near future to help him out.
Not So Good from #2: Marek Zidlicky was great in the Florida series and fantastic in the Philadelphia series. So far in this one, I can't say he's been all that good. While Zidlicky hasn't been getting torched or making horrible errors, he's had better games. Tonight, he struggled to keep the puck in at the point. He only attempted two shots and only one got through. Bryce Salvador, he of little offensive talent, managed five attempts on net, including a goal, and should have had more instead of passing it to Zidlicky. It was that kind of night, where I wanted Salvador to take shots instead of Zidlicky. On power plays, he made some bad decisions with the puck (e.g. failing on a one-timer that led to an easy clear in the 5-on-3), which compounded his possibly poor luck. In his own end, he had some moments of panic where he'd lose possession and someone else would have to bail him out. He had a memorable lost-his-edge moment when he was trying to dipsy-doodle around in the left corner in the second period that thankfully led to nothing. Zidlicky was poor with the puck tonight. Off the puck, he was better. Nevertheless, I'm hoping that he's not crashing down to reality after being so great in the last two playoff series.
A Memorable Fourth Line Moment: The fourth line generated one shot on net tonight. For a fourth line, that's not terrible since their job is more or less to spell the other forwards and not get totally destroyed on the ice. The shot itself was part of a great sequence, possibly the apex of the Devils' forecheck in this game. Stephen Gionta creates his own shot, Lundqvist saves it, and as Callahan was about to clear the rebound, Gionta stripped it and ripped it. That second attempt missed, but it wasn't by much. Had that been in the net, the Rock would have exploded in delight and Tortorella would have been more than happy to dig a hole for Callahan to crawl into. Too bad it didn't happen. I still remember it, and it was pretty cool. It was much better than seeing Steve Bernier shoved down by Mike Rupp after Rupp punched Brodeur.
This Is How I Know You Had A Bad Game: Del Zotto played 11:39 tonight, went shotless, put up a -6 in Corsi, and may have nightmares of Parise coming at him tonight. Steve Eminger played 14:24 and even got a shot on net. When Steve Eminger gets more minutes and you're not hurt, then you've been pretty bad.
This Is How You Throw Goodwill Away: Mike Rupp had the game of his life in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003 with two goals against Anaheim. A lot of that goodwill has faded over time and even more was just wiped out when he took a shot at Brodeur in the third period. I'm not sure what the purpose was; it was just out of anger. It's not like Brodeur's going to be intimidated of anything, given his long and illustrious career. Rupp deserved to get tossed for it. I think that may be far enough in terms of punishment. If Torts thinks Rupp should be taking a regular shift, then I hope Peter DeBoer utilizes good lines against him - anybody but the fourths. He's not a good hockey player and he hurt his team tonight by making it more about beef than trying to come back in the game. Too bad the Devils didn't extend the pain with a power play goal for his penalties.
Squandering Power Play Opportunities - Again: To be fair, the Devils' special teams were ultimately successful. The Devils killed their only shorthanded situation tonight and they scored a power play goal. That's quite good. It also helped that Girardi's and Callahan's idea of defending Parise was to look at him and use their powers of telekinesis to thwart him, only to find out that they don't have any powers whatsoever.
Yet, I was underwhelmed with how the Devils did on the extended power play time the Devils got in the third period. I know they were up 3-0 and it ultimately didn't matter. Yet, the passing and the decisions on the breakout were just plain stupid at times. Zidlicky was particularly bad; but the units as a whole just didn't realize the situation that they were in. From Kovalchuk to Elias, they just forced passes more than attempting shots when they had a look on net. Only five shots during a four-minute power play, which was a 5-on-3 for over a minute of it, and then a two minute power play afterwards is underachieving. The space was there, the opportunity was there to really bury the Rangers, and they had three goals on Lundqvist. Yet, they weren't as aggressive as I felt they needed to be at the time. Killing clock is one thing, but going for a larger lead with a man advantage is always worth the additional effort.
The Goalie Section: Martin Brodeur was on his way to having a shutout before he got beat from distance by Fedotenko. We can say now that the goal didn't mean much. All it did was eliminate a shutout performance. Yet, Brodeur really should have stopped that shot. It didn't come in from a difficult angle, it was from distance, and it wasn't like a perfect shot. It was a soft goal against. Because the Devils actually scored multiple goals on Lundqvist, thankfully, it doesn't matter too much. Other than that error, Brodeur did everything you would want from a goaltender. He kept his rebounds in check, his glove was good, he read the play well, and he got his body in front of the majority of the Rangers' attempts to score. Oh, and he now has four assists in this postseason - one more point than Hagelin.
Lundqvist was quite good tonight, but he wasn't perfect. The goals against weren't his fault. I thought the first one was live, but I was mistaken - it went through traffic and possibly got deflected off a Ranger. Tonight showed that when he's not perfect and not getting all the breaks, the Rangers can get into real trouble. That's all I have to say about that. Now let's wish he doesn't return to his unbeatable self soon.
A Missed Call: Amazingly, Ryan Carter got hit up high in the third period right into open ice and there was no call. The culprit was Stu Bickel, who surprisingly had the Rangers' best Corsi of +9 in his limited action. He's got a reputation for being nasty and that action on Carter justifies it. I want to thank the following from Twitter for pointing him out since I didn't catch him immediately live: @NonAmericanHero (or as you know him here as Kevin), @joeylab11, @Sather_did_what (a Rangers fan), @DownGoesAvery, @ethics13, @WesPilon, @amazingjr87, @zelmoses, @tweetcarnbro (a pro golfer), @Joviforever, and @jointfurymj. Note: ILWT isn't responsible nor necessarily condones the content of these tweeters; I'm just giving them a shout-out for answering a question I had during the game.
One Last Thought: Except for the most enthusiastic/rowdy fans, most need a reason to cheer for a team. While the pre-game video does a great job and the fans respond well to other means in game, usually they require success to really get into it. After all, it's a great feeling to see your favorite team score or make a big stop - especially against a hated rival. The Rock was far louder and energetic than they were in Game 3 because the Devils did get those early goals and kept pushing for more. As a result, fans appropriately applauded strong possession shifts by the Devils; they really let Lundqvist hear his first name; the Rangers players heard tens of thousands of Devils know what they felt about their team; and players got love as the situation called for it. As a result, most of the people at the Rock went home very happy and they'll get a chance to come back on Friday. I, for one, am looking forward to it. Hopefully, there will be a reason to feel real good going into that one.
That's my take on tonight's 4-1 victory over the Rangers. Now I want to know your take. Do you think score effects accounted for how the game went? How impressed were you by the first period performance? Now that the Devils put up three on Lundqvist, do you think they'll be able to beat him again on Wednesday and in future games? What do you think of the new Devils' lines now that you've seen them in action for a game? Would you change them? Are you concerned about Zidlicky's performances? What do you think of Mike Rupp now? Can the Devils keep doing what they're doing in Game 5? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight's win in the comments. Thank you to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter. Thank you for reading.