Yes, Scott Gomez earned three primary assists and played extremely well in the last two periods and Ryan Callahan caught Martin Brodeur napping with the game-winning goal, but last night’s 4-1 Rangers victory at the Prudential Center was mostly about Henrik Lundqvist and how he keeps out-dueling his first round Hall of Fame counterpart every time they face each other this season. With 26 saves, Lundqvist dazzled at “the Rock” and was clearly the reason the Blueshirts stole Game One of this quarterfinal series.
After a scoreless first period in which the Blueshirts were erratic and careless with their passing, Brendan Shanahan got the first goal of the game at 1:45 of the second on a very ordinary shot from the right side that Brodeur didn’t react well to at all. He must have been screened somewhat by Gomez, but that’s no excuse; the puck should have been stopped. Usually, the first goal of the game between these two combatants is most critical, but in this game, it was the Rangers’ second goal that was the defining moment.
Patrik Elias had evened the score with a power-play tally at 14:14 of the middle frame, so both teams went into the locker room all square. While the Devils were on the power-play past the seven minute mark of the third, though, Gomez got control of the puck and skated down the ice with Callahan. His pass to Callahan resulted in a simple shot on net from a sharp angle (the Rangers first shot of the period) that Brodeur easily stopped. But Marty took his eyes off Callahan and played the puck very nonchalantly. Instead of quickly clearing the puck away from the crease, he watched Gomez and let the puck lay there for an instant. Callahan swooped in from behind and caught Brodeur off guard and swiped at the puck. Remarkably, it went in and the shorthanded tally restored the Rangers one goal lead. It was a backbreaking blunder for New Jersey and gave the Rangers all the momentum they needed.
Sean Avery’s easy goal from short range into a wide open net late in the period put the game away and Nigel Dawes made the score look even worse with an empty-netter with just five seconds remaining. In reality, the Devils outplayed the Rangers, but the statistics didn’t bear that out. Shots on goal for the game were almost dead even and obviously, the final score belied how the game played out.
The difference was Lundqvist; and although he benefited by the Devils hitting iron three times, he came up with the big saves time and time again. The Rangers hit the post once, so it wasn’t like the Devils got all the bad breaks. Game 2 is Friday night and it would be foolish to expect to see Brodeur make similar gaffes again.