The New Jersey Devils allowed center Scott Gomez to become a free agent last summer and in game one of the playoffs, he made them regret it. Gomez came back to haunt his old team, picking up three assists in the Rangers 4-1 win over the Devils in the first ever playoff game at the Prudential Center in Newark. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.
If Gomez relished beating his former team, he wasn’t letting on after the game. “I think growing up as a kid, this is what you want, the playoffs. It’s the most exciting time of year,” said Gomez. “It doesn’t matter who you are playing, it’s just a special time of year. I’ve got a lot of friends over there, but the way you’re raised over there, it doesn’t matter who’s in the way. There were no extra emotions.”
The Devils controlled the tempo of the game for most of the first period but could not get on the board despite some choice opportunities. Brian Gionta had the best scoring chance with just over two minutes left in the period when he stole the puck from Fedor Tyutin and came in towards the Rangers net. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist got the shaft of his stick on the shot and the game remained scoreless after one period.
Gomez began to work his magic early in the second period. In the final seconds of a power play, Gomez skated down the middle and into the Devils’ zone where he found Shanahan at the right circle. The veteran winger took a shot that beat Brodeur low to the stick side just two seconds after the power play expired. He was screened on the play by Gomez who headed to the net after delivering the pass.
The Devils drew even at the 14:14 mark of the second stanza with Gomez in the penalty box for hooking. There was a mad scramble after several blocked shots and Rangers’ forward Martin Straka playing without a stick. Eventually, Patrick Elias found the loose puck and passed to defenseman Paul Martin at the right circle. Martin waited patiently for a diving defender to slide past him before beating Lundqvist on a snap shot. The score remained tied 1-1 after 40 minutes.
The Devils seemed to be the more determined team early in the third period but they couldn’t solve Lundqvist, who made 26 saves on the night. The best scoring chance belonged to Jamie Langenbrunner at the 6:14 mark but he failed to get good wood on a shot from just outside the crease and Lundqvist was able to cover the puck.
The Rangers didn’t manage a shot on goal for the first 7:23 of the period but made their first one count. While killing a penalty, Gomez skated down the right side and laid a perfect drop pass to Callahan, who was trailing the play. Callahan let a shot go which Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur stopped. The rebound came in front of the crease. Brodeur seemed to have the best chance to get it but he hesitated and Callahan raced around from behind the net and pounced on the loose puck before putting the puck in the goal.
Brodeur was disappointed in the way he reacted to the play. “[Callahan] was the first one to take the shot, and I was only looking at Gomer,” Brodeur explained. “I didn’t know he was around. You have to freeze that. It’s not the way I play. I like to keep the play moving. I made a mistake, and it cost us.”
“Part of my game is crashing the net and getting to the front of the net, and I saw that the puck was going there so I tried to get there as quick as possible,” Callahan said. “He misplayed it a little and I was able to bang it in.”
The Rangers added an insurance goal with just 2:53 left on the clock when Gomez skated down the left side and threw a pass towards the front of the net. The puck bounced off the skate of Sergei Brylin and stayed in the slot. Sean Avery got there first and shot the puck into an open net.
Nigel Dawes added an empty-net goal with just 4.5 seconds remaining off an unselfish pass from Shanahan to close out the scoring. Lundqvist was confident but cautious after earning the victory. “We know we are facing a really good team, but we really believe in each other and the way we are playing,” Lundqvist said. “This was a good win. But it’s only one win. We have a long way to go here.”
Game two will be Friday night in New Jersey.
The Rangers were 7-0-1 against the Devils during the regular season and outscored New Jersey 19-10. The two teams have met four previous times in the playoffs with the Rangers prevailing in 1992, 1994 and 1997 before the Devils swept New York in 2006.