The word "epic" is overused on the Internet in recent years, but it is entirely appropriate to describe the performances of the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur and the New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist. Both goaltenders faced shots, more shots, and then even more shots after that. The scoring chances flowed as fast as the game's tempo and up-and-down nature. Brodeur stopped 51, Lundqvist turned aside 45, and then each went four rounds in a shootout. Regulation wasn't enough. Overtime wasn't enough. Even the regulation shootout wasn't enough. Patrik Elias ended it all by being the only man to score at MSG tonight by going, where else, high glove side on Lundqvist. That sealed the win in an otherwise sloppy game from both teams.
A big contributor to why the game was so sloppy both defenses were quite obviously porous. Each team put over 40 shots on the opposition's goaltender. The defense on both sides could not consistently stop the other team from getting into the zone and getting a few good shots away. I will say both were adept after the shots took place, cleaning up pucks around their respective creases and challenging the attackers soon after.
Yet, team defense was not played at MSG tonight and along with the high tempo of the game, there were giveaways, missed passes, and all kinds of missed opportunities. If it weren't for Brodeur and Lundqvist being so good, either this would have been a blowout or an incredibly high-scoring affair. Instead, fans saw the incredibly rare 0-0 finish with both goalies getting deserved shutouts (Brodeur's 107th). They were truly the stars tonight regardless of result, I laud them for their excellent play.
NHL.com has their recap up with the boxscore and additional stats available. Check out Blueshirt Banter
later here for a recap from a Rangers' perspective; read on after the jump for my additional thoughts and an embedded video of all the highlights (I hope you like saves).
First, here's the highlights, thanks to this video from NHL.com. There are 19 for saves. I repeat, this was an epic goaltender's duel:
Honestly, I felt the Rangers looked better more often from even strength play. They were dominant on faceoffs, winning 64% of faceoffs and their worst faceoff taker was only 7 for 15 (Erik Christensen). In contrast, the Devils were bad at the faceoff dot, and Rob Niedermayer especially had a bad night by winning only 1 out of 10. The Rangers were able to put up more shots because they were more successful in collecting the puck in the neutral zone and making those first few passes up ice. They looked as composed as you could get when the two teams were trading off offensive rushes at the net.
Yet, they could not sustain any of this action. That was why they couldn't control the game and just pin the Devils back after the first 10 minutes of the game. Eventually, the Devils would get a stop in their own zone, and start hitting back with scoring chances of their own. Eventually, the Devils adjusted on their breakouts and started hitting a few more of those passes. They would go to the net more often, shoot the puck in low, and poke a rebound, often smothered by Lundqvist. All four lines were able to put shots on net. Even the fourth line that saw less than 6 minutes of action got plenty of shots: Ilkka Pikkarainen put 5 on net and Rod Pelley had 3 as well, which is excellent considering how limited their ice time was (5:38 for Pikkarainen, 5:30 for Pelley). Even the third line of Jay Pandolfo, Niclas Bergfors, and Rob Niedermayer (in the first two periods)/Dean McAmmond (third period), were able to get some offensive pressure. This was a night where Zach Parise and Pandolfo tied for the Devils lead in shots on goal with 6, which speaks well to how the third line played. And it speaks to how the Rangers, while I felt looked better, weren't great tonight.
However, the Devils couldn't sustain that and many of their offensive attacks came inconsistently. I felt Martin Brodeur had to bail out the Devils a little more than Lundqvist did for the Rangers, which lies to the fault on how they played on defense. There were some stretches of time where the Rangers looked dominant, like in the first 10 minutes of the game, or for a few shifts in a row in the third and overtime periods. They were even unfortunate to miss a few chances: Michel Rozsival blew a great back-door shot on Brodeur's flank in the first, Ansem Anisimov got denied on a wraparound in the second, and Marian Gaborik had a chance at a rebound in overtime only to sail past just inches from the goal line. Again, it's chances like those that I think that the Rangers looked better overall. The Devils weren't robbed or denied in a similar fashion, I don't think.
Of course, by the time you would complain about the Rangers' offense putting the screws to the Devils' defense, the Devils would turn it around, get a few shots on net themselves, and so the game returned to "normal." (Why the quotes? Again, this was a game where 96 shots were on target and the only one to not have even attempted a shot on net was the Rangers' Donald Brashear, so excuse the quotes around the word.)
I'm sure both teams would have liked to have done better on their power play. Given that both Lundqvist and Brodeur were playing out of their minds, a man advantage is not an opportunity to waste. Yet, they were. The Rangers were denied multiple times by the Devils' PK units and even finished off one the first power play by two separate Rangers committing infractions. By the same toke, the Devils had a 1:38-long 5-on-3 and just couldn't find a way to solve Lundqvist. Travis Zajac nearly had it on the side of the crease, but Chris Higgins made an important intervening stick check to stop him from putting home a cross-crease pass. Instead, both teams just settled for shots saved by both goalies.
The game as a whole was very intense and I was surprised how clean it was. Sure, there were hits. Sure, the two teams hated each other. But the refs called very little and I think the only one they missed as Ryan Callahan checking Zach Parise from behind during that 5-on-3.
In any case, that the game went to a shootout was entirely deserved and now I'm really scratching my head at the selections for the shootout for the Rangers. Maybe Tortarella sees them much better in practice, but the first three for them were Christensen (0 SOG), Kotalik (3 SOG), and Gaborik (5 SOG). Christensen lost the puck after a deke, and Kotalik was easily stopped, and Gaborik tried five-hole to no avail. Given how hot Brodeur was tonight, why not throw out Gaborik first and followed by Dubinsky (instead of leaving him fourth) and Callahan? The Devils selections: their top line and then their most talented player behind them, Elias (despite only one SOG, 3 were blocked), made more sense. Not to mention, Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner, and Zajac all put shots of different sorts on Lundqvist.
Overall, the Devils didn't play all that great, the Rangers weren't great despite being better, and the two goaltenders were phenomenal. That the Devils won this - and especially over a hated rival - is a big win. The Devils have come from behind to win games, they have won intense games, they have won high-tempo games, they have won slow games, they have won low-scoring games (it can't get more low-scoring than 0-0), they have won high-scoring games, and they have won games decisively. Is there any kind of situation that would throw the Devils off? After tonight, is there any kind of game that the Devils can't win? At this point, I don't think so; and that's a reason to feel great. Along with Martin Brodeur's epic duel with Henrik Lundqvist for 65 minutes.
Thank you all for reading, thanks to Steve for the GameThread, and thank you to all commented in the GameThread. Please leave all your thoughts, questions, concerns, praise, and hate in the comments.