The Rangers took a 2-1 series lead following their 3-0 win over the Devils on Saturday.
“We’re not the first team [Henrik] Lundqvist has done this to,” coach Peter DeBoer said of the Rangers’ shutout win. “So you have to battle through. It’s a little frustrating. We created chances…We did a lot of good things. We’re going to stick with it.”
“I think their goalie was the difference. When your goalie is on like that…I think your goaltender is your best penalty killer and I think that was the case tonight.”
“I think there’s a lot of things we can fix, but that’s the difference.”
Since the second round, there has been a common theme with the way the Devils have approached their game…total puck domination. It was their amazing forecheck, puck control and ability to keep the puck in the opposite zone that gave them the edge over the Flyers.
In this series, they’ve dominated the first two periods, and then fallen apart in the final period, giving the Rangers a chance to score and then win the game in the final 20 minutes. Oddly enough, that is exactly what the Rangers have been banking on.
“There’s no way that Jersey is going to be able to play like that for 60 minutes,” Lundqvist said.
If the Rangers have to sit back and wait until the final period to score, then that’s what they’ll do. It’s a dangerous chance to take, but if Lundqvist can hold off the Devils through 26 shots in the first two periods, then the Rangers can come back and score in the final period. That’s exactly what they did.
With the Rangers putting up only 14 shots in the first two periods, and not being able to score once on Martin Brodeur, their eyes have been set on Ilya Kovalchuk and making sure that the Russian winger doesn’t score. He is their biggest threat.
All throughout the presser following the game, Lundqvist was asked about Kovalchuk repeatedly and no other Devil skater. That should be a warning to the Devils to try and generate offense on other lines, or bounce Kovalchuk from one line to the next, keeping him off of the top line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac.
For now, the Rangers have found their opportunities in that third period.
“It will be important every game,” Dainius Zubrus said of the third period. “It’s just how the game’s been. The second game was important, too. We got a goal at the end of the game.”
“I think we were pretty good [through] the first two periods of the first three games,” Kovalchuk said. “We’ve got to score goals. You cannot win games without a goal.”
“We strung together six or seven great shifts,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We didn’t capitalize on it. That’s the story of the game. We had opportunities. If we find a way to score in the first two periods, it would be a different game. But we didn’t. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to move on.”
Zubrus blamed himself for the Rangers’ first goal of the game that changed the momentum of the game. Dan Girardi scored on the power play at 3:19 in the final period.
“I was the guy in the middle,” Zubrus said of the play at the faceoff. “I made a mistake…I thought it was Richards taking it. He’s a leftie. I thought if he went, he’s probably going to go to the boards…I thought maybe I could get a jump. But the way the puck jumped, it was right to the middle to Girardi. He’s a rightie, so it kind of makes it kind of a longer angle for me to get to him. I was way out of position on that.”
Young Rangers rookie and the wonder kid of the playoffs, Chris Kreider, got the second goal of the game from a deflection off of a sniper shot from Ryan McDonagh at 5:16. This marked Kreider’s fifth goal of the playoffs…and he is still just a month fresh out of the NCAA championships.
“He’s here because he can play here,” Lundqvist said of Kreider and how big of an asset he has been for the Rangers.
The Devils though, saw a similarity in how this series is playing out following Kreider’s goal.
“It seems like whoever gets the first goal,” Patrik Elias said. “It’s obviously enough to get the game back. It’s not like we gave up at all…we got scored on right away again. Enough can happen. It happens to us quite a bit. We get scored on. We get scored on in twos there. We’ve got to stay focused until the end.”
Lundqvist wasn’t able to sigh with relief until 17:47 when Ryan Callahan scored the insurance goal on the Devils’ empty net to give the Rangers a 3-0 win.
Even though Prudential Center was filled with Rangers and Devils fans alike, the house that sits upon The Rock was deafly silent through most of the game. Considering this is the Eastern Conference Finals, that silence is inexcusable.
“Obviously when the crowd is great, then they push you forward and they’re right behind you,” Elias said. “Then you can get some energy off of that. Still…you try to stay focus on your game and your job there.”
“We’re trying. It’s not like we’re not getting the pucks to the net.”
There are a lot of Devils’ players putting the blame upon themselves following the loss. From Zubrus blaming himself for the Rangers’ first goal to Parise refusing to speak to the media following the game…the frustration that they have been unable to score is definitely settling in.
“We didn’t get any goals,” Kovalchuk said of the loss. “Their power play was better than ours. That was the difference in the game…the special teams.”
“I got a good chance, I just didn’t lift the puck. I beat him. He just put his arm there. I should have put it up. He made a great save. The goalie played well, but we’ve got to score on our chances.”
As far as drama goes…one moment that will be reviewed by the NHL’s disciplinarian was Brandon Prust’s elbow to Anton Volchenkov’s head. The Russian defenseman went down and slowly got back up, seeming to struggle to right himself after the hit.
No penalty was called on the hit and Volchenkov returned to the bench. He then went back out again on the next shift.
After the game he said he was a little dizzy after the hit.
“It’s pretty dirty, actually,” Volchenkov said of the hit. “Got an elbow hit in the head.”
When asked if he thought the hit was intentional since he called it dirty, he said, “His emotion might be. His game…and tried to hit me, but missed. He hit my head…it’s something actually.”
Most hits to the head like the one that Volchenkov received, usually requires some extra testing to make sure that the player did not suffer from a concussion.
“There was no test,” Volchenkov replied when asked if he received a concussion test after the hit. “I play almost next shift. I won’t say concussion. It was just pretty hard hit to head…that’s it.”
The only thing is, he still felt something after the game from the hit. Usually with head injuries, the issues come later. Hopefully for Volchenkov’s sake, that is not the case.
“Headhunting,” DeBoer said of the hit. “Plain and simple.”
Will that hit be punishable by the league disciplinarian? Based on the circumstances that followed after the hit (with Volchenkov skating on his next shift), any punishment could be as simple as a fine (if any punishment is warranted).
The best call here would have been the official calling Prust for elbowing. Or he could have called Prust for high-sticking Elias earlier. But as always, the officials seemed to have missed these vital calls where players are being dangerously injured. How can they miss a player down, struggling to right himself, or a player dropping everything and skating off the ice and heading to the locker room? Someone must have seen something.
Game Four will take place on Monday night at Prudential Center.