In the first two rounds of the playoffs, the New York Rangers won game 1, lost game 2 and then won game 3. Their Eastern Conference Final series followed the same pattern for the first two and they were looking to continue that pattern and get a game 3 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center Saturday afternoon.
For the majority of the first 40 minutes, the Rangers looked like they had 2 hours, rather than 2 days, between games. As much as coach John Tortorella has been denying it when asked, the Rangers looked like a tired team. The Devils dominated play, winning battles and spending an inordinate amount of time in the Rangers’ defensive zone. At 1:51 of the second, after Henrik Lundqvist denied attempts by Ilya Kovalchuk, Dainius Zubrus and Adam Henrique, the coach used his timeout to try and get the team to regroup. The Devils got 26 shots on goal in the first 2 periods, each and every one of them turned aside by Lundqvist, who was key in keeping the Rangers in it and the game scoreless.
But yet, as they have so many times this season, the Rangers found a way to collect themselves. They came out in the third looking like a different team. At 2:11 of the third period, Devils’ defenseman Bryce Salvador took a hooking penalty, setting the stage for the Rangers’ power play to go to work for the second time on the afternoon. Brad Richards won the faceoff and moved the puck back to Dan Girardi, who was all alone at the circle. Girardi fired and beat Martin Brodeur on the stick side, giving him his third of the playoffs and the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
“During the regular season and we’ve gone through the playoffs, that’s what I like about our team,” Tortorella said after the game. “I’m not sure how far we go. I’m not sure what goes on from here, but it’s a team that stays with it. And, again, I thought our game started coming back a little bit in the second period. Our third period was more what we were trying to get to. We still have things to improve on. But there’s no panic. We know who we are. We know how we have to play. We’re trying to do that more consistently. And that’s how we’ll go about it.”
Girardi’s goal would prove to be the game winner when all was said and done. All three of the All-Star defensemen’s goals in these playoffs have been game winners.
The Rangers, however, were not quite done paying back their goaltender for his heroics on the day. Chris Kreider continued to write an incredible playoff story for himself, scoring 1:57 after Girardi broke through, giving him his 5th goal of the playoffs. The tip-in of Ryan McDonagh’s shot put Kreider in the record books, making him the only NHL player to score 5 playoff goals before ever playing a regular season game.
”I don’t even know the kid,” Tortorella responded when asked when he sensed the rookie would be so good for them. “For me to sit here and say I thought it was going to be that time, I have no idea. I don’t know the kid at all. I’ve probably spoken to him probably three or four times since he’s been here. But he has a knack. The puck follows him around. And he has a ways to go away from the puck, but he has a knack with that puck. We talked about it in between periods. We needed him to be better defensively, but we felt he had the best chance to score the goal. We end up scoring a couple of them, and him scoring one.”
Ryan Callahan, who has struggled to score in the playoffs, solidified the victory with an empty-net goal at the 17:47 mark of the 3rd period.
Lundqvist stopped the remaining 10 shots the Devils took in the game to secure his second win and second shutout of the series. He agreed with the coach’s assessment of how the team as a whole found a way to win.
“They had some chances in the second, and I felt like it was a good timeout by Torts, they came out flying there in the second created big chances. But we didn’t panic, and that’s the biggest thing. I think we had moments during the year where we got into some tough minutes, if you can call it that, but we didn’t panic, we kept our composure, kept playing the same way, and as a goalie, you know sooner or later it’s going to turn. It’s going to turn in our favor. We’re going to get a chance. We’re going to get a break. And that’s the feeling I had. In the third we came out big, made some really big plays and scored some really good goals for us.”
Without Lundqvist’s stellar performance, the Rangers would have never had a chance at being in this game, let alone the opportunity to win it. As the playoffs go on, “The King” continues to throw his hat in the ring for Conn Smythe consideration, and silence the critics who have criticized him in the past for not coming up big in the playoffs when he’s needed the most. He’ll need to come up with 2 more superhuman efforts in this series for the Rangers to move along. The Rangers will once again get an opportunity to take a 3-1 lead in a playoff series on Monday night. They have yet to do so, a part of the playoff pattern that they hope won’t repeat itself for a third time.
Brandon Prust will have a hearing with the NHL Sunday morning regarding his elbow to the head of Devils’ defenseman Anton Volchenkov in the second period. There was no penalty called on the play, and Volchenkov was not injured and remained in the game.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927