Rangers’ rookie Marc Staal has experienced a lot in his brief NHL playoff career. One game after going through the agony of having the Devils shoot the game-winning goal off his skate in overtime, Staal found redemption in Game Four by beating Martin Brodeur for the winning goal with just 3:13 left in the third period in the 5-3 Rangers victory. The Rangers now lead the best-of-seven series three games to one.
“You couldn’t get much lower than last game,” Staal said. “To silence 20,000 people is not a good feeling. This is unbelievable to get them back on their feet.”
The game-winner came on a play started by Jaromir Jagr, who skated down the left side alone while the Rangers were on a change. “I had two choices, go behind the net or try to shoot it on the net,” Jagr said. “I decided to shoot because I had a little more time than I thought.”
The Devils grabbed the rebound of Jagr’s shot but Colin White and Patrik Elias couldn’t get on the same page and the clearing attempt was intercepted by Martin Straka just inside the New Jersey blue line. “I don’t know what happened,” Elias said. “I had time, I had the puck on my stick. It’s the second time that’s happened in the series, a bad mistake at a bad time.”
Straka quickly passed the puck to Staal at the left point and his slap shot beat Martin Brodeur to the far side.
“I just came into the zone,” Staal explained. “Marty had it up top and he slid it over to me when I came in. I was thinking ‘shoot’ right away but I kind of hesitated when a guy dived at me. I just tried to shoot for the far post and it just went in.”
Staal had plenty of support from his teammates. His brothers (two of whom play in the NHL, Eric of the Carolina Hurricanes and Jordan of the Penguins) also sent him supportive text messages after the difficult ending to Game Three. “They said don’t worry about it,” Staal said. “All the guys were understanding about what happened and what kind of goal it was.”
The Rangers were impressed with the way Staal bounced back and didn’t let the tough loss get to him. “He’s got the kind of attitude, he probably doesn’t even know he scored,” joked Jagr after the game. “He’s pretty cool about it. He doesn’t lose confidence and that’s good for us.”
Rangers’ coach Tom Renney also praised Staal’s resiliency. “The big thing with him is just that he’s so good at just taking whatever goes on in his game, good or bad. You know he’s always ready for the next contest.”
The Rangers dominated the first period, outshooting the visitors 12-6 but Brodeur played well and held New York to just one goal. Scott Gomez scored when he tipped home a pass from Dan Girardi at the right point which was set up by a cross-ice pass from Chris Drury.
The Devils came out flying in the second period and tied the game just 31 seconds in when Patrik Elias beat Henrik Lundqvist on a rebound from the right side of the crease. The Rangers regained the lead 2:22 later on a goal by Straka off a three-on-one breakaway. Elias scored on the power play to even the score at 2-2 at the 6:58 mark of the fast moving second stanza. The Rangers regained the lead when Drury tipped home a shot by Fedor Tyutin with 7:21 left in the period and the Rangers took a 3-2 edge entering the final period.
New Jersey took control early in the third in an all-out effort to even the score. They succeeded on a shot by Mike Mottau from the right point which came shortly after Zach Parise knocked the stick out of Lundqvist’s hands.
“Tying the game on a goal like that is really frustrating,” Lundqvist said. “I thought we should have had a power play instead.”
The Devils had more chances midway through the third to take the lead but Lundqvist shut the door until Staal’s game-winner. Gomez added an empty net goal in the final seconds to clinch the win for New York.
“It was important we kept our cool after that [game tying goal],” Lundqvist added. “They still had a few chances but I think the last seven or eight minutes, we took over again and started creating a lot of chances. I think we got back a good feeling. Finding a way to win this game is huge.”
The Rangers are now just one game away from eliminating the Devils. The series resumes in New Jersey Friday night. The Devils know what’s at stake. “We have to play better. It’s do or die for us,” Brodeur said. “Today was an important game and we came out flat, everybody. It’s been done before [coming back from a 3-1 series deficit]. It will be really hard.”
Although he’s only a rookie, Staal knows how quickly the NHL playoffs can go from agony to glory. His teammates are confident this is just the start of better things for the 21-year-old defenseman. “It’s just so great to see him get that big goal,” Lundqvist said. “It’s the most important goal of his career, so far. Hopefully, he’ll have a lot more.”