NEW YORK – The Rangers had fallen behind by three goals just 9:49 into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. The story had been written; the Devils were about to blow the Rangers out of their own building en route to a 3-2 series lead.
But with 4:19 left in the first, Brandon Prust tallied a breakaway goal to bring New York back into the game, and the team started to believe.
Then, 32 seconds into the second period, Ryan Callahan brought the Rangers to within a goal when Artem Anisimov’s bad-angle shot was deflected into the net off Callahan’s leg. The rest of the period was filled with close calls, and raucous ovations from the anxious group of 18,200 customers who could sense a massive rewrite coming.
The comeback was completed 17 seconds into the third period when Brodeur gaffed the puck into his own net on a harmless play by Marian Gaborik.
All of a sudden, the story had been rewritten. Madison Square Garden was rocking, and the Rangers were about to complete one of the most improbable comebacks in the franchise’s playoff history. It wasn’t a question of “if” the Rangers would get their fourth goal, but “when.” Surely, they were on the precipice of taking that 3-2 series lead into Game 6 Friday night in Newark.
“We really appreciate the fans really sticking behind us [at 3-0],” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “That was really helpful for us to stay in the game and not show any signs of giving up – not that we ever would. We really appreciate the Garden tonight, and the way they cheered for us.”
“We played good enough to win that game. Too many mistakes, that’s the way it goes. But we feel better about the way we played tonight,” said Brad Richards. “They got opportunistic, a few seeing-eye pucks, sometimes that happens. We stuck with it, battled, and played a pretty good hockey game.”
But, with 4:24 left in the third, Ilya Kovalchuk beat out an icing, Stephen Gionta fed the puck out in front to Ryan Carter, and the Devils had the 4-3 lead. Zach Parise added an empty netter to finish the game’s 5-3 final score.
“We climbed out of it,” Tortorella said of his team’s early hole. “Fourth goal is just a number of mistakes on it. I felt when we tied it, we stopped making plays. Fourth goal’s a tough one. I think it should be defended, and we didn’t.”
The story had been rewritten. The Rangers still haven’t scored four goals in a game since their opening playoff game against Ottawa, and the Devils have a 3-2 series lead into Game 6. They can eliminate the Rangers with another win.
Now, for the second time in these playoffs, the Rangers have to head on the road for an elimination-Game 6.
“You lean on what we’ve done in the past, but it’s a different team; different series,” Girardi said. “It’s just a matter of, whatever we did right tonight, start that way in Game 6 and let it play into place from there.”
“It’s a tough loss for sure, losing that way,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We have to win one there anyways, so we’ll do the next one and just do it a little longer.”
“We don’t want to look ahead and say we have to win two games, we know we have to do that,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who returned from injury to play his first game since Game 7 against Ottawa. “We just have to focus on winning one.”
It is certainly fair to proclaim excitement about the way the Rangers played. It was their best effort of the series. For large stretches, they stymied New Jersey’s forecheck, and established one of their own. But those strange-bounce goals will haunt Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers if they are unable to get two more wins in the next four days.
“I was right here for the first shot – especially the second one,” Lundqvist said. “I was a little slow to react to it even though I was in good position.”
“We’ve been through it before,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “It’s a hard one to lose the way we lost it, crawling back into it. We’ll go through our day tomorrow, we’ll regroup. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in how we’ll react to this.”
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