So close, yet so far.
The New Jersey Devils didn't play a poor game against the New York Rangers. The New York Rangers didn't play a great game against the New Jersey Devils. Both teams had their moments of strength. Both teams scored three excellent, hard-to-stop goals in regulation. Both Martin Brodeur and Henrik Lundqvist were excellent all game long. What doomed both teams to overtime was that neither team took full control of the game. The Devils were dominant in the first period and for parts of the next two periods. The Rangers were surging in the first 10 minutes of the second period and very late in the game with the extra skater.
Alas, with 17 seconds left in the game, Chris Drury scored an equalizer to force overtime. I don't know who you want to blame there. That it was an iced puck before the faceoff? Patrik Elias, lost the crucial faceoff allowing the 6-skater Rangers to set up? Mike Mottau, who was stuck between a rock in a hard place? Jacques Lemaire, for not telling all three forwards to clog the slot? Martin Brodeur, because you may think he apparently can stop point-blank one-timers from the slot? I originally was going to say the faceoff, but thinking about it, it was the perfect storm for the Rangers.
A standstill there led to the shootout where only Erik Christensen became the hero of the day as his shot off the post just went inside the net enough to count. His was the only goal in the shootout and the Rangers get a vital two points for their still-bleak playoff hopes. The Devils did come out of the game with something and honestly, that's fair because the Devils did play a fairly good game. Am I unhappy that the Devils lost to the Rangers? Of course. Especially because of how close they were to finishing the game at 3-2. But will we lament this loss, say, a week from now? I doubt it.
I'll go into short, brief details into what I liked and didn't like after the jump. NHL.com has their recap up with the official stats. Check out Blueshirt Banter for a Rangers' perspective on their win.
First, here are the highlights to tonight's game; featuring gorgeous goals and pretty saves from both teams.
A few bullet points on tonight's game:
- The Ilya Kovalchuk-Travis Zajac-Brian Rolston was unreal tonight. They combined for 17 shots on net! Brian Rolston played one of his best games of his tenure as a Devil; he was taking shots, he was seemingly in open spaces when that line rushed up, and he set up the first goal of the game as Kovalchuk pounded his rebound in the slot. Kovalchuk was fierce and challenging Rangers defenseman over and over - he was a force. Zajac ended up with no points, but he was strong on faceoffs (10-for-16) and was just as effective on that line when it came to possession, especially down low. I know I said in my preview that I didn't want Rolston on this unit, but if they're going to play more like they did tonight, then I'm happy to eat my words.
- Patrik Elias had an amazing night with 6 shots on net as well, a shorthanded breakaway, and a fantastic one-timer in the slot. His only downfall? His weakness, faceoffs. He had his lunch eaten there, going 8 for 20, including the fateful one down in his own zone late in the third period.
- Jamie Langenbrunner's goal was great, the set-up was slick, and it was all helped because the Rangers (I think) were nearly caught with too many men and so Lundqvist had to deal with an uncontested shot. He actually ended up with 4 shots on net and just missed the net 3 times on other great scoring chances.
- Actually, overall, the Devils offense had a fine game with 38 shots, 3 excellent goals, and many chances where Lundqvist was forced to be great - and he was. No shame in that (other than that Andrew Peters got a roster spot and winded up playing less than 2 minutes so he can have his one night and leave a top-six forward double shifting for most of the night).
- I have to emphasize how well the goaltenders did tonight. Martin Brodeur was big when the Rangers surged at different points in the game; and Lundqvist had to be massive when the Devils kept slicing through the neutral zone for great chances. Were Lundqvist just even a little bit off his game tonight, then the Devils would have won this easily. The Rangers were set up in a 1-2-2 early. 38 shots on net alone showed that the trap didn't catch the Devils in anything.
- Special teams were mostly good. The power play put 6 shots on net in their 3 chances, putting on some good pressure on their last one. Yes, the PK unit conceded a goal - Brandon Dubinsky's shot went through a huge screen, not much you can do there - but they also generated some offense of their own on later chances.
- I felt the defense was OK in the big picture but they were bent too much in the first half of the second period and the last minute or so of the third. On some of those shifts then, even the normally calm Paul Martin seemed overwhelmed at points. The Rangers were surging then and managed to pick up two important goals for them in the process. Also, now that I think about it, where was anyone in red in the slot when Artem Anisimov scored his goal? If there was a big gaffe that cost the Devils, then that was it - though Langenbrunner bailed that out with his goal.
Marian Gaborik played tonight. Really. To be fair, Zach Parise had a quiet night with only 2 shots on net, though he had one goal disallowed as he apparently knocked a puck in with his arm. But Gaborik only had one shot on net. If anything, a big plus for the Rangers for scoring three goals without leaning on Gaborik.
- In contrast, Brandon Dubinsky was the big shooter for New York: 8 on net, including the one through the screen for the Rangers' first goal. He also played 26:48 tonight. Yikes.
- Hey, Ranger fans, Michel Roszival didn't crap the bed while playing 30:24 tonight! Enjoy seeing him in the top 4 for another season! I know you will!
- So what did Sean Avery do tonight again? Other than get trucked by Kovalchuk and once out-muscled by the mighty Andy Greene
- If anything, I'm still a bit stunned that the Rangers got that last goal. Sure, it was great that the Devils didn't fall flat in overtime. Perhaps they did when shooting in the shootout. But I can't help but think that it never should have gone to that. It was one of those situations where you don't want the players to dwell on it because they'll lose their focus. But I'm not a player, so I'll dwell a bit. Why didn't Elias defer on the faceoff? Why didn't they try taking a penalty to at least get some different guys out there? Maybe it was just a good play by the Rangers with little to be done about it after the faceoff? Etc. Etc.
- The atmosphere was great tonight - a sellout crowd and the Devils fans continually out-chanting and out-cheering the Rangers fans over and over. The only time Devils fans were silent were after Ranger goals, shortly before a ton of booing.
Above all, I can't say the Devils played a bad game or only parts of the game. I can say it was disappointing that the game was tied up so late and that the Rangers ended up taking the extra point in the shootout. Can I honestly suggest anything different given the circumstances? No. Do I think we'll even consider this game by April 11? Not at all. Still, losing to a rival sucks. The season series with Our Hated Rivals ends with 3 wins (one in the shootout) and 3 losses (one in the shootout).
Going back to the bigger picture, even if the Devils held on to win or won in overtime/shootout, I think it's this weekend's games that are more important going forward. They are road games, a type of game in which the Devils have only won once in this month, against potential playoff opponents: Montreal and Philadelphia. Back to back. Both will be seen as possible playoff previews - and both will be difficult games. We can dwell and grouse about the loss, but the Devils have to get back on the proverbial horse and do better next time. They need to win at least one of those games - if only to break the road losing streak, much less clinch a playoff berth.
As always, thanks to Steve for the GameThread and thank you for reading. Please leave your thoughts, concerns, complaints, complements, corrections, and other feelings in the comments.