Three times the Rangers took a one goal lead last night at MSG against the Devils in Game Four of their first round playoff series and three times the Devils answered to even the score. But when Marc Staal slapped a long range shot by Martin Brodeur with just over three minutes left in regulation, the Devils had no further response. In a short span, the 21-year-old rookie defenseman from Thunder Bay Ontario went from goat to hero.
Scott Gomez scored an empty-netter off a center ice face-off with 13 seconds left to ensure the Rangers 5-3 victory and give them a commanding three games to one lead in their best of seven series. They have never lost a playoff series with such a lead. Game Five is Friday night at the Prudential Center.
A first period power-play goal by Gomez (at 12:37) was matched by Patrik Elias’ first of the night at the 31 second mark of the second period. Martin Straka gave the Rangers their second lead at 2:53, but Elias evened the score again at 6:58 while on a power-play. Chris Drury reestablished the Blueshirts lead at 12:39 to end the scoring in the wild middle frame.
The Rangers couldn’t protect their lead for the third time when Devils defenseman Mike Mottau beat Henrik Lundqvist with a perfect high wrist shot at 4:37 of the final frame. The Devils out-skated the Rangers for most of the period as the Rangers came out flat and never got untracked; that is until Staal saved the night at 16:47.
While Staal was clearly the focus of the game and deservedly honored with the game’s first star, the underlying story of the contest is the continuing way the Rangers have gotten to Brodeur both on the score board and in his head. The usually unflappable all-world netminder just has not been his usual self this series as several of the Rangers, not just Sean Avery, have clearly annoyed him.
Last night, he was finally called for a diving infraction, something he has gotten away with numerous times in the past. And when Jaromir Jagr charged to the net and inadvertently kneed his helmet right off his head, he laid prostrate on the ice as if he had been hit by a howitzer.
And of course, Avery was always there for Brodeur to keep an eye on. He has surprising speed and once last night, he used it to crash the net, but Brodeur didn’t overly react for a change. If the Devils want to get back in the series, it will Brodeur who leads them and he must get back to what he does best and stop carrying on so.