Seventeen years , 364 days have elapsed since the New York Rangers opened up an Eastern Conference Finals series against the New Jersey Devils.
There have been three Presidents. Apple stock was selling at $30.00 a share. Only two of the current NY Rangers were teenagers. That night a 19-year-old goaltender named Martin Brodeur was in Nets for the Devils. While Brodeur is the only tangible link to that classic seven-game series, it is worth noting that the Rangers defeated a Dale Hunter led Washington Capital team to move into those finals. Two days after finishing off the Dale Hunter coached Capitals, the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Will History repeat itself ? Will this Battle of the Hudson have a Stephane Matteau moment, will there be a guarantee of a win ? Will Henrik Lundqvist continue to get the better of Brodeur? The two have faced off in 34 regular season match ups,with Lundqvist going 23-6-5 with a 1.73 GAA, including five shutouts.
The atmosphere at the garden was electric. Nine minutes prior to the game PA announcer urged all the fans to put on their free Blue T-shirts that said “Believe” across the front and had a special guest Stephane Matteau alongside him. The song which signified the 94 cup run, Van Halen’s “Right Now,” blasted from the Garden speakers followed by a video montage on the ice that got the Garden faithful into a frenzy.
The game started off with a feeling out period and started to pick up about six minutes into the game. Dan Girardi stepped up on Zach Parise who side stepped him for what looked like a clean break away until Ryan McDonagh caught him from behind to deny the scoring opportunity. About a minute later Henrik Lundqvist made a big glove save on Adam Henrique. Ryan McDonagh once again showed his value when off of a block of a Brandon Prust shot, Ilya Kovalchuk looked like he would have a clean breakway, once again only to be thwarted by McDonagh to keep the period scoreless.
While not singling McDonagh out individually coach John Tortorella said of the defensemen, “He played real well tonight, his skating ability certainly showed there, and those were two big plays.”
When asked about those two plays and bringing his game to another level, McDonagh towed the company line. “You just do it for each other here in the locker room, thats the mindset. You want to pick each other up, play hard for your teammate next to you on the bench. We’ve done it all year like that, there are no individuals on the team. We win and lose as a team and this was just a great team effort.”
Both teams traded ineffective power plays. The Devils played a very strong road period, to quiet the Garden crowd as the period ended with no real advantage in play.
The second period started with the Rangers committed to playing the body much more. The Stepan-Callahan Kreider line controlled play down low and cycled effectively. The Devils countered off an awful give away by Dan Girardi down low that led to several scoring opportinties.
The Rangers finally got the puck out and drew a hooking penaltly against Danius Zubrus. An inspired shift by Mike Rupp, John Mitchell and Brandon Prust early on gave the Rangers life. The second period featured Brad Richards double shifting after Derek Stepan got banged up a bit. Stepan returned and drew a slashing penalty to Andy Greene at the 14:05 mark. During the power play Henrik Lundqvist stopped Zach Parise on three shots from point blank range. The teams traded some chances in the waning moments of the second period but neither team could cash in.
During the playoffs John Tortorella has made a point of saying that these games are a test to see what players are made of. A scoreless third period is one of those golden opportunities, and Dan Girardi cashed in just 53 seconds into the third period off of a beautiful passing play from Chris Kreider and Michael Del Zotto.
The Rangers fed off the goal and came in waves. Martin Broduer made the save of the game diving to his right to stop a Marc Staal shot headed to the back of the net. With the Rangers pressing Steve Bernier took a boarding penalty that Rookie Chris Kreider cashed in for a 2-0 lead at the 12 minute mark.
The Rangers went into lock down mode limiting the Devils to just four shots in the third period. An empty netter by Artem Anisimov sealed the game at 18:33, and Henrik Lundqvist held on to record his 5th career playoff shut out.
When asked if his competitive nature is fueled when he looks across the Ice and sees Martin Broduer, Lundqvist replied, “Everytime you play against great players it’s exciting, it’s inspiring to play against him, and it’s always a challenge.”
It’s a challenge Henrik and the Rangers hope to meet only three more times.