The duo who turned the nightmare into a dream: Stephen Gionta (11) and Ryan Carter (20). (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The New Jersey Devils have pushed the New York Rangers to the brink of elimination by winning a wild 5-3 Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. From a results standpoint, there's a lot to be happy about. However, the actual game itself told a far different tale. The Devils were very fortunate to win. Here's a summary, and it's a long one because, well, this game had a lot going on.
The game started off better for New Jersey than anyone could have expected. Three goals on five shots in the first period. The Devils didn't just build up a 3-0 lead on Henrik Lundqvist; they did it within the first ten minutes of the game. Stephen Gionta put back a rebound on a Mark Fayne shot 2:43 into the first. Patrik Elias got a touch on an Adam Henrique shot that led to a bounce off Artem Anisimov's skate that beat Lundqvist at 4:13. Travis Zajac rushed up ice and got an open shot on Lundqvist that got past him blocker-side at 9:17. Five shots, three goals, and it wasn't even ten minutes into the game. The Devils simply stunned the Rangers faithful that filled the Garden. Luck and skill had the Devils up with an incredible lead on the road. A Devils fan couldn't ask for a better start.
Then the dream slowly turned into a nightmare. Score effects accounted for the Rangers taking more advantage with the puck. However, a turnover by Marek Zidlicky in the neutral zone led to a breakaway for Brandon Prust. Zidlicky dove to try and make a play; Martin Brodeur went for the pokecheck, but the rolling puck got under the arm to make it 3-1. The Devils finished the first slightly ahead in Fenwick and Corsi and out-shot 9-6. It's hard to be mad or unhappy with a 3-1 lead after the first. Yet, the Prust goal gave the Rangers a lifeline and reason for the Devils fans to worry.
The second began with an awful bounce for the Devils. Anisimov wins a puck in the corner and flings it towards the top of the crease. Ryan Callahan crashed the net with Dainius Zubrus and the puck was re-directed off his shin pads past Brodeur. It was utter lucky break, not unlike the Devils' second goal, and the Rangers got a huge lift from it. As the second ran on, it became shockingly clear that the Rangers were doing to the Devils what New Jersey has done to them in the last three games. The Rangers were forechecking hard and succeeding. The Rangers were generating shooting opportunities and many more of them. The Devils were pinned back, struggled to put two passes together, and whatever little offensive opportunities they got, they squandered - especially their two power plays. The scorer generously gave them five shots on net; whereas the Rangers earned their eleven plus a goal post for Callahan on their sole power play. The Rangers looked fresh and fantastic and the Devils looked like they were the team with more mileage on their bodies. The Devils were fortunate to escape the second up 3-2; Devils fans had every reason to freak out. They were in serious danger of blowing a 3-0 lead in the playoffs, on the road, to their most hated rival, and in a pivotal game of the series.
And then the worst possible outcome happened. After an absolutely horrendous no-call for interference that knocked Fayne down away from the play, Martin Brodeur came out to play the puck at the goal line. He made an absolute mess of it. Instead of knocking it hard up the boards or putting it hard behind the net, he just touched it off. The puck trickled outside of the trapezoid, placing him no man's land. Marian Gaborik took it and fired a low, lateral shot. Brodeur gloved it but he was sliding and released his glove - and the puck dropped into the net behind him. Brodeur didn't just give up the equalizer, he did it in the most embarrassing way possible. It was 100% his fault. The feeling of doubt, dread, and doom loomed large as the Rangers went back to attacking and the Devils went back to doing little on offense.
Some how, with about seven or so minutes left, the Devils actually settled the game down for them. They started getting more success with their forechecks. They were getting more stops in the neutral zone. They started getting some more attempts. Peter DeBoer boldly didn't shorten his bench, instead he started mixing up the lines. He gave more ice time to Stephen Gionta - even giving him shifts with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. The gambit worked. Kovalchuk pinned Del Zotto perfectly in the corner, which allowed Gionta to retrieve it. Ryan Carter just came on the ice for his shift and charged the net, blowing past Carl Hagelin. Gionta hit him perfectly and Carter one-timed it in. The Devils scored to make it 4-3. The nightmare was over. It turned out all right in the end.
I don't know about the rest of the fanbase, but I was delirious with excitement when the celebration began. After being out-shot (final: 28-17 Rangers), out-attempted (Devils were -10 in Fenwick and Corsi), out-drawn (Devils won 40% of all faceoffs tonight), out-worked, out-hustled, and simply out-played for the majority of the game, the Devils were leading. And the Devils shut it down with Zach Parise hitting another long-range empty net goal.
Let's be blunt for a change: The Rangers played their best game of this series and the Devils won 5-3. And the heroes of the night were Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter. I admit I'm still trying to comprehend it, I can't say the Devils did well, I must say they have to be better in their next game, and I will agree that the Rangers' best was simply not enough tonight.
For an opposition point of view, please go visit Blueshirt Banter. For more of my thoughts about this game, 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: Questionable goaltending! Eight goals! Thrills! Spills! Watch some of them in this highlight video from NHL.com:
When A Fourth Line Doesn't Have Cruddy Players On It, They Can Have the Occasional Big Night: The story for the Devils should be about how well Carter, Gionta, and Steve Bernier played tonight. The Devils' offense was rudderless for most of the game, as indicated by the 16 shots on Lundqvist. Those three combined for three of them and they had at least one important shift in each period in this game.
The one in the first period ended with a Gionta goal. While I can see why Rangers fans and Derek Stepan have an argument about how Gionta got away with a high-stick prior to the shot, Gionta was left wide open because they didn't play to the whistle. Fayne's shot didn't leave a great rebound, but Lundqvist was in a bad spot so Gionta easily put it back in.
Their big shift in the second period came at the end, as it was the only strong offensive shift for New Jersey in the entire period. They kept the puck in deep and actually had pressure on the Rangers. It was an oasis in a desert of inept offense.
In the third, the play was obvious: Carter's goal. OK, it wasn't the full fourth line, there was a change as Carter came on for (I think) Elias, and DeBoer was making changes in the lines prior. Still, Gionta to Carter won the game. That's massive.
Overall, a fourth line doesn't have to do much to have a good game. Get some offense going, don't get destroyed on defense, and try keep it simple for 8-10 minutes as the other forwards can get a little more rest. Bernier (-1 Corsi), Gionta (0 Corsi), and Carter (+4 Corsi) did just that and produced two goals against one of the best goaltenders in the world. Yeah, the fourth line deserves love - especially Gionta, who was just all over the place in a good way.
Mirror Netminders: Martin Brodeur will certainly get a lot of deserved criticism for the then-game-tying goal he allowed to start the third period. It'll definitely be on blooper reels and brought up any time something bad happens to say, "He's lost it! Look at this goal! Remember that screw up!" The effect may be somewhat mitigated because, you know, he won.
Strangely, while Brodeur had more shots to deal with, I felt both goaltenders tonight played about the same. That's not a compliment. Both could and should have been a lot better tonight. What struck me was how the first three goals they allowed were so similar. Lundqvist and Brodeur were first beaten on bad situations for them. In Lundqvist's case,it was a wide open Gionta at the crease. In Brodeur's case, it was Prust breaking in with Zidlicky "helping" by getting a piece of the puck to go past him. The second goals allowed came from bad bounces off Rangers skaters. Anisimov in Lundqvist's case and Callahan in Brodeur's case. The third goals allowed were simply goals they should have stopped. Lundqvist had a clear look at Zajac and he just got beaten. Brodeur fouled up the dump-in and mishandled the shot from Gaborik. I find the similarities interesting, to say the least.
Of course, the big difference was that Lundqvist was beaten one additional time. He had no chance on Carter's one-timer. It was on his flank and right at his doorstep. It's nothing to really start getting on the "Marty's Better" wagon, especially given that Brodeur gifted the equalizer tonight. Still, both goaltenders should feel their performance left a lot to be desired.
The Disappointing Offense: So the Devils did what the Senators and Capitals didn't do in the playoffs: score four goals on Lundqvist. Yet, I can't say the offense had a good night because it just dried up after Zajac's goal until some point past halfway through the third. It's very hard to win with less than 20 shots on net. The Rangers got their blocks in, but the possession clearly favored New York. The best Devils line in terms of Corsi was the fourth line (combined +3 Corsi), with the Henrique line following just slightly behind (combined +2 Corsi). The Zajac and Josefson lines got beaten decisively by their match-ups. Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko were great against them; Callahan was seemingly everywhere; and Brad Richards wasn't afraid to bomb away. The forwards backchecked but usually with desperation until the final four minutes of the game. As such, they struggled to get the puck going forward, which led to a lack of shots. So did the passing up of what few looks they had in the second period and parts of the third.
But you don't need to look at just Corsi, just shots will do. Again, the Devils only got 16 shots on Lundqvist. As great as four of them went in; it's not going to get the job done in future games against Lundqvist or most other goalies. No Devil had more than two shots on net tonight. Kovalchuk got two assists and a non-assist on the game winner, but no shots on net. David Clarkson and Dainius Zubrus weren't slouches but they both were shotless. Zach Parise had one shot on Lundqvist and one into an empty net. Your shots-on-goaltenders leader is a five-way tie between Henrique, Elias, Bryce Salvador, Jacob Josefson, and Carter with two each. I'm fine with the latter three: Salvador's a defensive defenseman, Josefson is coming back from injury (he was OK), and Carter's a fourth liner. I expect more from the other two in that list. By the way, the team leader in total attempts was Bryce Salvador. It's great he picked up another assist but there's a serious problem when Bryce Salvador has more shooting attempts than any other skater. The lack of attempts in general contributed to the Devils getting rolled over in this one. They have to get back to swarming it up and fast. I don't think they'll be so lucky if they don't.
Whistle to Whistle: The refs missed calls on both sides, including an egregious interference call prior to the Gaborik goal and Zubrus getting cut from a high-stick. The Rangers will feel Gionta should have been penalized prior to his goal among some other calls. That said, I was impressed that none of the garbage from Game 4 carried over into this one. When the Rangers went down three goals, they generally kept their cool and didn't go looking for trouble. When the Devils were getting their butts kicked and their lead blown, they didn't start looking for "energy" by getting violent. The only ugly incidents were Prust running Peter Harrold's head into the goal post and then flopping when the eventual retaliation came (Prust is so honest); and something at the end that saw Del Zotto and Bernier sent to the box with five seconds left in the game. Each team had two power plays and save for a goal post on a rebound attempt by Callahan (thank you goal post and physics for the puck not bouncing off Salvador), they were uneventful. The game was largely decided by the players and it wasn't terribly nasty. I appreciate that.
Again with the Power Play: The Devils got two power plays, both in a second period where the Devils were getting beaten badly in possession and not generating a lot of offense. They were opportunities to get something going. Instead, they got one shot on net, blocked a couple of times, and spent more time trying to breakout than get set up. Oh, and the Rangers got two shorthanded shots on goal. If the Devils can get their power play to at least be threatening, then they'll be far better off. When it's like this, it's just a waste of time.
Congrats: Brodeur's brainfart was Marian Gaborik's gain. He has registered his first point of the series. It was his only shot on net, but it went in, so he can feel good about that.
Picked On: The Corsi charts are interesting for the Devils defensemen tonight. Andy Greene and Mark Fayne were even, which is quite good on a team that finished at -10. Peter Harrold struggled as indicated by his -5 Corsi, while Anton Volchenkov wasn't too bad at -2. However, Salvador (-9 Corsi) and Marek Zidlicky (-6 Corsi) were just poor tonight. Salvador was the better of the two, as he wasn't caught too far out of position. He was way away from doing anything on the Prust goal, but that's because of Zidlicky. Zidlicky was awful tonight. He turned the puck over to Fedotenko, who sprung Prust for the breakaway, and his dive didn't just cut down Prust but also got a piece of the shot. Zidlicky struggled at the point, his passes were spotty at best, and he was just chasing guys on defense. It's rather shocking that he's doing so poorly after being so great against Florida and Philadelphia. I'm not saying Henrik Tallinder has to step in now and stem the bleeding, but someone's got to let Zids know he needs to be calmer with the puck and more aware of where he is on the ice. Tonight, he was just a problem and the Rangers took advantage of his pairing.
The Faltering (in Possession) Rangers: Callahan had a bad Game 4 and responded quite well. He got a great bounce off his legs for a goal and was less than an inch from scoring a second on a power play in the second period. He got redemption. On the other hand, Del Zotto ended up negative in Corsi and Fenwick (-4 each) despite the Rangers' strong possession game. He did not get redemption tonight. It's not his fault he got checked perfectly by Kovalchuk in the corner that led to the game winner. He didn't get smoked by Ryan Carter - that would be Carl Hagelin. I suspect some won't feel that way. They may also point to the Zajac goal as another spot where he could have done better.
In other negative Rangers in Corsi despite the team being a +10, Anisimov created the Callahan goal but also the Elias goal by accident. He ended up a -5 in Corsi as he continues to flounder at evens in this series. Chris Kreider cooled off and looked like, well, a rookie tonight. He was a -2, which isn't bad but again, you'd expect more since his team were better at evens tonight. Lastly, Marc Staal amazingly got to -5 Corsi despite the Rangers out-shooting the Devils at evens when he was out there. The blocks and misses dragged that down.
Beastly Defender: Ryan McDonagh was a beast at +15. He also wisely stayed out of the box, so he got to play over 25 minutes, block 6 shots, and help drive things forward. He's a very good defenseman and he'll have to be going forward, especially if Del Zotto is going to struggle and John Tortorella keeps using terrible players as the #6 d-man.
Here's Your Heart: In reviewing the goals for this recap, I noticed the following. Kovalchuk drove through the neutral zone and got the pass off to Henrique while falling down at the point prior to Elias' goal. He not only kept it in play, but he put it in a spot where Henrique could just collect it and rip it towards the net. In the third period, he goes into the corner ahead of Gionta and pins Del Zotto perfectly along the boards. The puck was free, Gionta took it and flung it to Carter, and that turned out to be the game winner. His last shift lasted 52 seconds, defending in a 6-on-5 situation. He did well down low, calmly collected the puck off a pass, got it up to Parise instead of skating it up at the defender, and Parise created space to score. Kovalchuk could have done a lot more tonight. A shotless night from him is not a good night. I want more from him. But he also demonstrated that he can contribute in other ways and while they weren't necessarily sexy, highlight-reel moments, they showed that Kovalchuk has as much heart, grit, moxie, or whatever you want to call it as anyone. Respect.
One Final Thought: Peter DeBoer is a calm person on the bench. He doesn't get too animated. He doesn't freak out when things go awry. I was livid with the team's performance as the Devils were listless after each intermission. The Rangers got back into the game and erased a three goal deficit. Yet, tonight proved that panicking is never a good answer even if 3-0 is erased. It took a while and some risks, but the Devils settled down and started getting some chances of their own. They managed to score and take the game. With the Rangers now on the brink of elimination, the Devils will have to remain calm like their coach's demeanor if they want to end this sooner rather than later.
That's my take on tonight's wild 5-3 win. What's yours? How did you react when Carter scored, poor camera angle aside? How did you feel when the Devils got the 3-0 lead? How did you feel when it was erased on such a bad goal allowed by Brodeur? Would you agree that Gionta was possibly the best Devil on the ice tonight? If not, then who would you name? Do you think we saw the best the Rangers had to offer? Do you think that they lost despite their performance will help or hinder the Devils on Friday? Based on this game, what one aspect do you badly want the Devils need to do better in their next game? Thanks to everyone who commented in the Gamethread and followed @InLouWeTrust on Twitter during the game. Thank you for reading.