A matchup against the New York Rangers always seem to bring the best out of the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils picked up where they left against the Rangers last season, playing its most complete game this season to defeat New York, 3-1, tonight at the Prudential Center.
The win was the fourth straight for New Jersey over their rivals, extending a streak that began during the Eastern Conference Finals. New Jersey used the same formula to beat New York as the other three wins – establish a forecheck, play well in the defensive end and get key stops from Martin Brodeur.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” center Adam Henrique said. “We know we need to get on the forecheck to have success. A lot of our goals are generated off forechecks – generate turnovers, get pucks to the net and get pucks up to the point. The defense has done a great job of getting pucks through, and guys are getting out front and paying the price this year.”
David Clarkson paced New Jersey with two goals, and Patrik Elias finished with three assists.
New Jersey jumped ahead early, with Henrique putting the Devils on the board just five minutes into regulation. The play started with the forecheck, with Clarkson forcing a turnover behind the goal line. He sent the puck to Elias behind the net. The Devils left wing made a great pass to the front, finding Henrique below the left circle. The Devils center went stick-side, beating Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for his second goal of the season.
“Patty made a great, almost behind-the-back pass from behind the net,” Henrique said. “It might have fooled [Lundqvist]. It looked like Patty was going to come out the other side. I knew I just had to get it up short-side, and luckily enough it went in.”
Henrique’s last goal against the Rangers came in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when he scored in overtime to send New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Devils forecheck was relentless in the period, cashing in on a critical Rick Nash mistake with 53 seconds remaining. The Rangers left wing couldn’t handle a loose puck in front after Stephen Gionta lost it, and Clarkson took full advantage. The Devils right wing beat Lundqvist through the pads, pushing the lead to two.
The two first period scores were the first opening period goals for New Jersey since a 3-2 overtime win over the Washington Capitals. The good start was encouraging to the Devils players.
“It was big,” Clarkson said. “Everyone knows that, as a team, we’ve had a tough time getting off to good starts. We showed the leadership we had in this room by battling back every game, but tonight, finally, we got off to that big start and continued with it through the rest of the game.”
New Jersey also took care of the Rangers on the power play, keeping New York scoreless on five opportunities. One of the biggest came in the first period, with Andy Greene in the box serving a double-minor for high-sticking Aaron Asham. New Jersey made the four minutes uneventful, but still needed Brodeur to make a game-changing save.
Brodeur stopped Marc Staal on an open opportunity just over two minutes into the extended power play. The Rangers defenseman snuck down from the point, taking a cross-ice feed from Chris Kreider. He snapped a low shot on net, but Brodeur met it with his left pad. The Devils netminder then spun down to the ice to cover the rebound.
“I saw Kreider, and he had an opportunity to shoot,” Brodeur said. “I saw his eyes looking back door and I thought ‘Whoa, I got to get there,’ and it was desperation. I got a little lucky.”
Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said that penalty killing and goaltending were key.
“Our penalty killing and our goaltender were obviously the two big stars for me,” he said. “When we got sloppy at different points of the game, we were able to rely [on them]. I thought both those areas were rock solid.”
Gionta said New Jersey wanted to force the Rangers into making quick decisions on the power play. They held the Rangers power play to just three shots on five attempts.
“The last couple of games, we wanted to try pressuring as a four-man unit,” he said. “I thought we did a good job of that. And tonight, when we had a breakdown, he [Brodeur] was there to bail us out.”
New York responded in the second period, outshooting New Jersey, 9-4. Nash missed a chance to get the Rangers on the board just 14 seconds into the period. He stripped Elias of the puck in the right wing and cut toward the net. He deked around Brodeur, getting him down to the ice, but sent his shot attempt through the crease.
Marian Gaborik had another chance late in the second period, firing a shot from the right side. Brodeur stuffed the attempt with his pad.
“We let them carry the play too much [in the second period],” Elias said. “But Marty was solid and we found a way to get through it and play smart. Great two points for us to have.
New York broke through in the third period, with Kreider netting his first goal of the season. Brad Richards carried the puck over the blue line, finding a wide-open Kreider in the right circle with a pass. His shot beat Brodeur high over the shoulder to cut the deficit to 3-1.
Brodeur shut the door after that.
First he stopped Richards, who was wide open when he let go a shot from the left circle. Then came a stop on Gaborik, who also had his left circle shot smothered by the Devils netminder.
Brodeur saved his best save for last, robbing the Rangers on a 2-on-1 rush at the 12:32 mark. Nash started the play, carrying the puck down the right side. He sent a pass to a streaking Carl Hagelin, who tried to chip the puck past Brodeur. The Devils netminder snared it with his glove, keeping New Jersey ahead by two.
“Nasher was coming down the wing, and I don’t know if he was tired, but he slowed down a little bit,” Brodeur said. “He was looking for a trailer pass, so I knew that he was not going to shoot the puck. So when he made that pass, he used his long reach to get around the defenseman and make that pass, and Hagelin he got handcuffed. He just chipped it. It wasn’t that hard coming at me, but I just stayed up as long as I could and I was able to get a glove on it.”
Brodeur finished with 24 saves on 25 shots. Lundqvist finished with just 19 stops.
DeBoer knew his team wouldn’t need to manufacture energy for the matchup with the rivals.
“You don’t have to say really anything,” he said. “We talked about how motivated the other side would be today. It’s a tough summer when you go home and you don’t win, just like we did with L.A. If you get an opportunity to play the team that beat you out, there’s obviously extra motivation. We talked about that and we thought our guys were prepared, and I thought our were prepared and that showed in the first period.”
Clarkson had a chance for the hat trick with Lundqvist on the bench, but Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto intercepted a pass at center ice by closing his hand on the puck. Brodeur thought Clarkson should have been credited the goal.
“I don’t know why they didn’t give it to him. The guy [Del Zotto] closed the puck on his hand there. It should be a goal.”
With the net open, it looked like Brodeur tried to take a shot at scoring a goal. But he told reporters after the game he was just trying to clear the puck.
Gionta has four assists in the past four games.
Elias recorded his third multi-point game of the season, and leads New Jersey with eight assists.