It’s not like they weren’t due for a good bounce or two. Last night at MSG, the New Jersey Devils got back into their quarterfinal series with the Rangers with a 4-3 overtime victory that featured a couple of very fortunate bounces that resulted in goals. Of the four tallies scored by the Devils, three of them went in because they hit a Rangers’ stick, body and skate blade in that order.
The killer was John Madden’s unassisted overtime game-winner at 6:01 which ricocheted off the back edge of Marc Staal’s blade and beat Henrik Lundqvist through the five-hole. It was just the Devils second win in 11 tries versus the Rangers this season and it clearly was the most important to date. Another loss for the Devils would have surely made it a short series, but now the Blueshirts know they are in for a quite a battle with their cross-river rivals.
Make no doubt about it; the Devils were the beneficiaries of some good fortune in this contest, but that didn’t take away from the fact that they played very well and gave the Rangers all they could handle. It was a very entertaining affair; there were several lead changes and the final outcome was in doubt every second of the game.
The Devils obtained their first lead in the series when Sergei Brylin was awarded a goal at the 3:01 mark of the opening period. The goal was initially waived off as it appeared the puck was deliberately kicked in, but after a lengthy video review, the call was overturned. Blair Betts, who failed on a clearing attempt that started the Devils, attack swiped at the puck during the scramble in front of Lundqvist and inadvertently directed it in the net. Two gaffes on one shift for the usually reliable Betts was not a good way to start off the game. But Brandon Dubinsky got his first of two on the night at 12:17 (assists to Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka) to tie the score at one. The first period ended with the Rangers just out-shooting the Devils 12-10.
Sean Avery gave the Blueshirts their only lead at 6:50 (his third tally in the series) of the second during a five-on-three manpower advantage. He redirected a great feed from Scott Gomez at the top of the crease and easily beat Martin Brodeur. Just seconds earlier on the power-play, he was at his antagonistic best when he face-guarded Brodeur for several seconds in an attempt to block out his view of oncoming shots; it was great theater and something never seen before on the ice.
In the second half of the middle frame, the Rangers slipped and the Devils gained an edge in play. Back to back power-play tallies for the Devils turned the one goal deficit into a one goal lead. Patrik Elias at 12:56 and Zach Parise at 15:19 silenced the packed arena. Shots overwhelmingly favored the visitors 12-5.
It took just 55 seconds, though, for the Rangers to respond in the third period with Dubinsky’s second on the power-play. Jagr got a secondary assist on the goal for his third point of the night. With the game deadlocked at three, neither club was willing to make that one final mistake. In the overtime, the Devils were the dominant team and when Madden’s centering attempt caromed in, they were back in the series. Brodeur, who made 27 saves, won for the 95th time in the playoffs. Lundqvist stopped 29 shots and was finally beaten for more than two goals, although one can’t blame him for any of them.
The next game is Wednesday night at the Garden. All three games have been intense and each one has seen an increase in edginess, especially during the scrums after the whistle blows. Expect the same level, if not higher, as the Devils attempt to even it up. The Rangers, if they are to succeed, must stay out of the penalty box and better utilize their more powerful offensive abilities.