Simply put, the better team won this series. The Devils were no match for the Rangers this year, as they won only two of their thirteen match-ups (regular season plus playoffs). The Rangers remained one step ahead of the Devils throughout the regular season and well into the playoff series.
Many hoped that the Devils would be able to turn their 3-1 deficit around and come back like they did in 2000, the year they went on to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in franchise history. But at that time, that 3-1 deficit was against the Philadelphia Flyers and not against the Rangers who have posted a stellar record of winning a series where they held a 3-1 advantage. In the eleven previous instances when they have led the series 3-1, they’ve won them all. Friday night was no exception as they proved they were still 100% likely to win the series when they were ahead 3-1.
The odds were always very much in the Rangers’ favor throughout the season and the series. First, losing an important playoff figure like Scott Gomez in free agency to the Rangers caused serious damage to the Devils’ line-up. They lacked a player with comparable speed, agility and skills. Fortunately for the Rangers, they had two players with that speed, agility and skill in their line-up, Gomez and Sean Avery.
Second, the Devils lacked a strong defenseman that could go up against Jaromir Jagr. With Colin White still struggling physically (due to being sidelined throughout most of the regular season), keeping up with Jagr left him exhausted most nights.
Third, the Devils had a difficult time throughout the regular season trying to defeat the Rangers and came up with only one victory in their eight meetings. Any win that the Devils could gain in the post-season, would have been sheer luck. As Jagr put it, “They scored a lot of lucky goals…but so did we.”
Historically, the Devils have only defeated the Rangers once in the post-season. The Rangers have always had an upper hand in the post-season going up against the Devils. 2006 was a fluke year for the Rangers – the only year that the Devils ever defeated the Rangers in the post-season.
Friday night, there was a glimmer of hope that the Devils could take Game 5 when Brian Gionta netted the first goal at 4:40 in the first period. But that hope was sliced under the blade of a Ranger’s skate when Michal Rozsival notched the Rangers’ first goal just eighteen seconds later at 4:58. Jagr followed it up with a power play goal at 6:38, and Gomez finished off the first period scoring at 18:01.
As the game entered into the middle stanza, the Devils’ hope would dwindle even further when Chris Drury tallied the Rangers’ fourth goal at 5:35. But there was something about the videos they showed in Prudential Center on the big Jumbotron. The players sat on the bench watching a series of Devils clips of some of their finest moments of the season with fans celebrating, and the soundtrack of “(Let’s See) How Far We’ve Come” by Matchbox Twenty playing in the foreground.
After that video, the Devils started to come back from their 4-1 deficit with an uncanny goal from Bryce Salvador at the blueline that found the five-hole of Henrik Lundqvist at 9:26. With Brandon Dubinsky and Marc Staal in the penalty box, Patrik Elias brought the Devils one goal closer to tying the game up at 13:50.
But that wasn’t enough to win the game. Even with the Devils’ Jumbotron pleading, “Don’t Stop Believin’” with another video montage, it wasn’t enough to spark enough passion into a team that already looked defeated. Dubinsky found the empty net with one minute left in regulation, ending the game, 5-3.
Even though the Rangers won the series against their division rivals, they were very sympathetic in the Devils’ loss. “I know what those guys are going through,” Scott Gomez said of the Devils loss. “It’s hard losing a round. When you lose, it’s the worst feeling in the world. When it’s over, it’s over.”
Gomez’s linemate, Avery, had a different take on the situation. “The difference was,” Avery said of winning the series. “We came and got the job done.”
Going forward, the Rangers are taking it one game at a time. Tom Renney spoke about the team’s focus over the next week, “We’ll reflect on the series…and tidy up.”
“It keeps getting harder,” Gomez said about the upcoming rounds. “It gets ten times harder now.”
The Avery-Brodeur Rivalry
Since the moment that Avery became a Blueshirt, he has been a fierce agitator towards Martin Brodeur. This series was no exception as Avery made the national press for his un-classy attempts to distract Brodeur. He has purposely slapped the blade of his stick across Brodeur’s face when the officials weren’t looking; he has stood in front of the crease, poking fun at Brodeur’s divorce from five years ago; and even went as far as standing in front of Brodeur, waving his arms about in front of him to distract him from the game.
Avery’s antics to get under Brodeur’s skin were enough to warrant a snub by Brodeur after the teams lined up to shake hands after the Rangers win Friday night. “I guess he forgot to shake my hand,” Avery told the press. Feeling like he would have been the bigger person, he said if the opportunity would have presented itself, “I would have.”
I happened to have caught that moment on camera. It was a mutual snub. Both men were purposely ignoring each other.