NEW YORK – The Rangers played like they didn’t need to win Game 2 of their Eastern Conference final as badly as the Devils did.
And so, as it usually is when the effort is lacking, they got beat. New Jersey tied the series at one win apiece thanks to their 3-2 win in Game 2 at the Garden.
Game 3 of this Hudson River rivalry conference final is Saturday in Newark.
Despite only trailing 1-0 after one period, the Rangers pointed to the opening period as the main culprit to an underwhelming performance. They weren’t nearly strong enough in any areas of the ice, and got beat to pucks by the hungrier Devils.
“That first period wasn’t what we wanted,” said Rangers defenseman Marc Staal. “Their forecheck and their battles in the corners; they were coming out with more of those than we were. That’s something we can fix, and we’re going to.”
“They were really good along the boards,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after making 24 saves in the loss. “That kind of set the tone for the whole game; winning battles around the ice, on the wall, and like I said, the first period they had us. Then we came out, we started skating a little more, winning more battles, but I just think overall we have to do better.”
The Rangers didn’t only lose because their play in the so-called dirty areas of the ice was poor, they lost because their top players were poor. Marian Gaborik, who was on the ice for Ryan Carter’s deflection goal at 18:09 of the second period, was benched for about half of the third period.
Gaborik was held responsible for that game-tying goal when he failed to clear the puck out of the zone and then didn’t get down to block the shot by Bryce Salvador that was deflected by Carter, and past Lundqvist.
“The second goal, I didn’t get the puck out, I guess, so you’ll have to ask [Rangers coach John Tortorella]. It would have been big (to go into the third period up 2-1),” Gaborik said. “I just have to do a better job there on the second goal. We had some momentum and they took over. I have to do a better job on the wall.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella declined to discuss the benching with reporters during a brief post-game press conference.
Regardless of their mistakes, the Rangers learned a valuable lesson in losing their third straight Game 2 of these playoffs. They will need to match the effort of their opponent every night if they wish to advance past the Devils and into the Stanley Cup Finals.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. “We just have to go into Jersey and try to get that next game. We can’t get down. Like I said, we’ve been in this situation before, and we’ve come through. We’ll get a day off tomorrow and be ready to work on [Saturday].”
“In that first period, they were just winning more battles than us in the corners and able to get more pressure on us that way,” Staal said. “We came back better in the second, just didn’t finish the job in the third.”
“I just felt like, the first period they were the better team,” said Lundqvist. “Second period, we came back, made a little push. Overall, we just need to be better. I felt like they wanted it a little more.”
Staal scored the first Rangers goal when his shot from the point took a strange bounce off the boards and wound up getting kicked into the net by Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur (23 saves).
“It’s a tough place to play,” said Brodeur. “There’s so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere.”
Chris Kreider tied the game in the second period when he deflected a shot by Anton Stralman 12:19 into the second. His fourth goal of these playoffs ties an NHL record for most goals by a player in the playoffs before playing in a regular season game. His six points also ties the same record.