I'm going to start this off by saying that I'm enjoying a piece of pie while writing this. What does it taste like? VICTORY.
Unlike the last game between the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers, the Devils rose above in the third period to re-take the lead. The Devils eventually iced the game and sealed the win to leave MSG with a 4-2 win. For the Devils, it is their fourth straight road victory, their fifth of the season, their first game where the Devils got 4 goals on the board, and their first win over Our Hated Rivals in 2009-10.
Read on for my recap of tonight's game, giving thoughts about the Devils' uneven yet successful performance and the game in general. Jim at Blueshirt Banter has a quick recap already up, discussing the game from the Rangers' perspective. Many Rangers fans can't be happy about tonight; as it wasn't just their second straight loss, but a loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Overall, the performance by the Devils was uneven. Initially, it was great. Here were the problems in the first period: The Devils may have only outshot the Rangers 8-7, the one Devils power play they got was ineffective, and there were two giveaways by the Devils in their own zone. So one was happenstance, the other was unfortunate, and the last one was scary but ultimately harmless. Everything else was coming up New Jersey. They owned the Rangers at the faceoff dot with the team going 12 for 16. They consistently put pressure on the Rangers' defense and Henrik Lundqvist. The Devils defense or backchecking forwards constantly snuffed out Rangers' attacks with a well placed block or a steal or just by winning the puck back from the opposition. Even when the Devils made a mistake, they recovered quickly.
Oh, and the Devils scored two goals. Zach Parise was sprung - one of the many offensive chances the Devils had where a forward had a ton of space going forward - on this sweet breakaway. The completion of a magnificent breakout with a sublime finish from Parise. This is what I imagine Lemaire wanted to see from the breakout and, frankly, I am on-board with this. I think it's worth a video from NHL.com:
Misery for the Rangers continued later on as Niclas Bergfors, after 24 previous shots, finally scored his first of the season. Travis Zajac was centering Bergfors and David Clarkson and the trio worked hard on this one. Zajac, who was solid on the puck all night long, got it to Clarkson, who put an effort forward and Bergfors re-directed it past Lundqvist. You know what, here's a video from NHL.com for that goal too - it deserves one:
That has to have the rookie's confidence skyrocket. And so forth for the rest of the team.
It was the best period of hockey I've seen the Devils play. On the road, in their rivals' house, the Devils were in control and up by 2. Unfortunately, there was a second period.
I've noticed that John Tortorella's stamp of aggression is clearly on this year's Rangers team. In the first period, the aggressiveness the Rangers displayed got them nowhere. Thanks to a quick power play goal, momentum swung to the Rangers' side, the Blueshirts played with more confidence, and the aggression became a big, big threat to the Devils. The Rangers put 13 on Brodeur, with 2 of those beating him. The game may have opened up, but it was the Rangers who controlled the puck more often in the offensive zone. The Devils couldn't connect too often on the counter attack.
With respect to the goals against, the first one was very quick. Mike Mottau got caught with a high stick near a Ranger and so he sat for 2 minutes. About 7 seconds later, the Rangers scored. In that time frame, the Rangers won the faceoff, made one pass to the point, one pass to Marian Gaborik at the top of the circle, and one killer shot through a Ryan Callahan screen to beat Brodeur. Yikes. The PK wasn't miserable, it was just a perfect set-up and a well-placed shot. The PK did do much better later in the period. The second goal was a real gut puncher. The Devils finally got an offensive rush going and Dainius Zubrus put a hard shot on net. Lundqvist made the stop, but the rebound bounced right to Dan Girardi. Girardi gambled, threw a long pass up to Ales Kotalik, and Kotalik scored on the ensuing breakaway. A great highlight, no doubt; yet it had a feeling of inevitability. With the way the Rangers were playing in the second period, I look back at it and I can't say I was surprised they did it on a great chance.
15 minutes of Rangers play in the second undid the lead and the effort of the Devils' first period. The only bright light was that the Devils started to show some fight at the end and actually set themselves up on offense. Yet, the Devils clearly lost some focus, lost some intensity, and were already shortened to three lines after the fourth line botched a rush with a nearly-costly giveaway.
The third period came and things got weird. Bizarre. One shift by the Devils saw them making mistakes and scrambling to prevent an easy goal by the Rangers. Followed by the Devils rushing up madly to get an odd-man rush or to catch the Rangers unaware. The next shift would then be evenly played with neither team getting much going. Because of the uncertainty, both goalies had to be big and for the most part they were. Both team's defenses had to make heads-up plays within a second's notice.
Naturally, this was the game's breakthrough goal. Again, the video comes from NHL.com.
Notice how Zubrus forces the defender to clear the puck along the boards upwards. This is routine, only Parise jumps up and beats the Ranger to get to the puck first. Parise fires it forward and Zubrus - who worked pretty hard and pretty well all game long - redirects it in. A result of hardwork and a fortunate deflection. It really came out of nowhere within the context of the game and therefore fits perfectly with how the third period went on up until the goal. It made the game 3-2 NJ, the Rangers are crushed (initially), and momentum swung back to the Devils.
Even when the Rangers pulled Lundqvist for an extra attacker, the Devils showed no signs of being burned for an equalizer. Brodeur played it safe; the defense in general stepped up big, most notably on a Ryan Callahan breakaway broken up from behind with a Colin White stickcheck; and the forwards pressed the Rangers in backchecking. For example, during that empty net situation, David Clarkson stickchecked the puck away from the Rangers to not only clear the puck but get it into open space for Parise. Naturally, Parise put it in the empty net for his brace and to seal the game.
So there's a lot to be happy about. OK, seeing the fourth line getting less than 5 minutes of ice time meant a lot of additional minutes for the top 3 lines; but I don't think any forward played particularly awful. Zubrus skated well with Parise and Langenbrunner; and Clarkson and Bergfors benefited from Zajac's play in my opinion. On defense, I felt they were caught a few times by the Rangers' aggressive style of forechecking and offense; and they made some real head-scratching decisions that nearly burned them. But they did recover well and they played with a lot of guts against the Rangers. Johnny Oduya had a better night and must be sore after 5 blocked shots. Bryce Salvador didn't look too out of place with Paul Martin. Most importantly, not one of them backed off in that crucial third period.
Incidentally, I noticed Mike Mottau, a good example of someone who may be overlooked but had a solid effort tonight, left the game during the third period. I hope he is all right, it was unfortunate to see his night end early.
The Rangers, as a rival, are usually a difficult opponent because the intensity is so much higher - especially now that they are listening to a coach who believes in intense, aggressive hockey. As much as I say it, I can't say the 2009-10 Rangers suck in terms of how they play. Of course, that's what makes this victory sweeter than most. Was it ideal? Not at all. I would have liked to have seen a more consistent performance from the Devils. I would have loved to have seen a better second period. And I definitely want to see the defensive gaffes cut down.
But can I honestly complain about tonight's result? Absolutely not. No matter how you slice it, the Devils earned their 4-2 win at Madison Square Garden in front of the normally quiet Rangers faithful. They kept Sean Avery, Vinny Prospal, and Marian Gaborik in check for much of the game (that first Rangers PP excepted) and they cracked Henrik Lundqvist. When the Rangers tied it up in the second, the Devils didn't roll over in the third. They fought, they hustled, and they were hard working in the third period to retake the lead. I'd think the team's confidence should be somewhere in the sky right about now.
Four straight road wins, four goals scored, and the first over a rival this season. I tell you what, victory has a longer-lasting taste than your average pie. Thanks for reading and please leave all your thoughts about tonight's win in the comments.