OK, first the Quick Thoughts, but because I'm so keyed up after the game, I'll delve into it further after the jump. Here's the recap (w/ links to stats) at NHL.com.
First Period: OK, not bad. Big shorty from Jay Pandolfo, which completes his goal quota for the next 3 weeks or so. Rangers tie it up, hopefully the Devils come back. Oh, look at THAT power play goal from Zajac. That was the play Crosby should have scored on Wednesday. Sweet pass from Elias to make it happen.
The First 18 Minutes (or so) of the Second Period: To quote a legend, WHOOOO! THE DEVILS ARE MAKING IT RAIN! POOR HENRIK! Why aren't the Rangers pulling him? I guess if you can't pull an entire defense? Rangers look demoralized and the Devils are rolling. I am LOVING this.
The Last 2 Minutes of the Second Period: The Devils lost focus in their own end twice, and I am now worried.
The First 11 Minutes (or so) of the Third Period: This cannot be happening, this cannot be happening, this cannot be happening, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING.
11:18: THIS IS HAPPENING AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH
11:26: ELIAS SAYS NOT SO FAST.
The Following Minutes: Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of Gionta, BUT NOT THE PUCK WHAT A GOAL! Devils still need to hold on, what's this, that guy is wide open AND LANGENBRUNNER DROPS THE ANVIL ON THE RANGERS' CHANCES. Clearly the Devils have to hold on. Oh no, not more power plays. THEY HELD ON! WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Where's Zajac?
Alright, let's start with the criticism. And it comes in all capital letters and in bold: GIVING UP A FOUR GOAL LEAD IS UNACCEPTABLE. ALWAYS. It's just that simple. The Devils defense and Scott Clemmensen was having a good enough night. They stymied the Rangers' offense, they were a vaccum for the loose pucks in front of Clemmensen, and while the Rangers had a few chances, you could tell the frustration was getting to them. Point blank shots one-and-one with Clemmensen go wide. Chris Drury could have rushed up for a breakaway after some strong Devils' pressure, but he peeled off, turned around, and ultimately gave the puck back. The Rangers couldn't get going.
But then the Devils started losing focus at 5-1. The defense (ODUYA!) and Clemmensen (uh, CLEMMENSEN!) were caught napping right after a defensive zone faceoff and Nikolai Zherdev (who had a big night with 1 goal and 3 assists) stepped right in with a wrap around. It got worse as Scott Gomez managed to find a loose puck off a rebound and easily put it home. The 2 goals in the second gave the Rangers hope and it got to the Devils. In the first 11 minutes or so in the third, the Rangers piled on 10 shots, the Devils only got 1 and were pinned back, and they completed their comeback with a Paul Mara slapshot and Ryan Callahan beating Clemmensen cleanly. The Devils lost focus, let the Rangers back into a game that really should have been over at 5-1. The flurry of 4 goals against the Devils is a fantastic example that proves the cliche true: it's a 60 minute effort and the Devils didn't do that.
OK, that's my one gripe. Let's have a HUGE hand for the special teams play tonight. The refs were penalty happy with respect to the Devils, hitting them with 11 penalties. OK, here's a second gripe, I know the refs may have been making some iffy-at-best calls, but Devils, you got to adapt to that as the game goes on. 11 penalties is just asking for trouble. Back to the praise. The penalty killers were A-MAZ-ING. The Rangers had 9 5-on-4 situations for 14:04 and the Devils held them to ZERO goals. For a penalty kill that was ranked near the bottom of the league that's huge. But Sutter told them to be aggressive and the PK units went above and beyond the call of duty. Not just one, but TWO short handed goals. Jay Pandolfo scored a wonderful breakaway goal, thanks to John Madden's slick pass on the blueline to open up the game. And both were crucial in their own end with 7:31 and 8:23 of shorthanded ice time, respectively. Respect goes to Paul Martin and Bryce Salvador holding it down in their own end with 7 minutes each on the PK. John Oduya got not only just under 6 and a half minutes on the second PK unit, but he took a slapshot that Henrik Lundqvist thought he covered up - only for his defense to put it in! Two shorthanded goals and none against? Absolutely perfect.
And the Devils went one for five on the power play - the five forward unit found success as Travis Zajac got the lead back in the first period on an Elias feed. They had some good pressure beyond that. Given the Devils' standard power play, getting one is a good night for them.
Now let's talk about the offense. EIGHT GOALS. Sutter clearly told them to be aggressive with some of those passes. A lot of leading passes into the Rangers' zone sprung many Devils for great rushes into space, which led to some strong plays. Poor Henrik Lundqvist, he had to be in there for all of the torment he faced. 30 shots in the first 40 minutes; and then 3 goals against on 4 shots in the third! The Rangers let him down on defense, and Lundqvist let the Rangers down. In the second period, Travis Zajac put up a brace by putting in his own rebound to quickly make it 3-1. Then you had the second shorthanded one; followed by Dainius Zubrus going to the net to stick one through Lundqvist's five hole to make it 5-1.
But the most glorious aspect was how the offense saved the Devils in this one. It was 5-5 after Callahan's goal, and as a Devils fan, you are dreading this. But then in a few seconds - 11 after the equalizer, Patrik Elias hits back with an instant response. The most perfect response! No time for the Rangers to build on their equalizer and it gave the Devils a wake up call. Then you have Brian Gionta. BRIAN GIONTA. Taking an open pass, driving to the net hard, Lundqvist unwisely goes after Gionta allowing him to slide in the puck as he's falling. A highlight goal if there was one and it really made it New Jersey's game again. Jamie Langenbrunner was wide open in the right half of the slot, Zach Parise saw him and Jamie made sure that one went in. The offense didn't just respond, they screamed that the Devils weren't going to be defeated with a 4 goal comeback. The Devils put the Rangers to the sword early and they rose when they were needed. Eight goals, three from special teams, and three to decisively kill the Rangers' chances late in the game. A fantastic effort from the offense; especially from the Elias-Zubrus-Gionta. Only bad side was their disappearance in the first half of the third period; but I can forgive it for how they made the difference tonight. Only bad news on this end was that Travis Zajac was out for almost all of the third; but Gulitti has word that he will be checked and that Zajac think's he'll be OK for the next game. Anyway, if you want to understand how big the offense was, look at the NHL Event Summary and look at all those points. Big games from the top lines and they got the job done: stomping the Rangers right out!
Clemmensen and the defense were great going into the game, but as the Devils defense lost focus, so did he. So he got a lot of work tonight and ultimately didn't look good. I think Sutter should play Weekes tomorrow. Yeah, tomorrow. The Devils don't get to enjoy this win as they have to prepare for a Sabres team who aren't New Jersey left it all out there on the ice; so this could be a trap game with little time for rest and a preparation. But who knows. Getting one over your hated rivals in a stunning fashion has to be a big lift for morale, confidence, and momentum. Maybe that alone will carry NJ to a fourth straight victory. For now, let us relish this chipped diamond of a game. Sure, it had flaws, but the result was wonderful. The Devils didn't just beat the Rangers; they did what I wanted - they smacked them right in the mouth. And I love it.