Resilient Devils comfortable coming back
NEWARK, N.J. -- So the New Jersey Devils find themselves down in a playoff series. What else is new?
For the third straight time this spring, the Devils will be forced to rally from behind in a playoff matchup in order to earn the right to advance to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2003. A 3-0 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday assured that scenario.
"I think we still feel pretty good about the way we played for 40 minutes and we know that game could have gone either way," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "We just didn't play well enough for a long enough period of time, and that was a big difference, but we're comfortable with the way we played.
"But [the Rangers] make you work ... it's not an easy game playing against them. You have to be prepared to be hit, to create scoring chances the hard way because nothing comes easy."
Not much has come easy for the Devils in reaching this point in the playoffs.
Against the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the team was forced to rally from 2-1 and 3-2 series deficits, winning a pair of elimination games in overtime to advance. They then spotted the Philadelphia Flyers a 1-0 series lead in the conference semifinals before storming back to win four straight and close out that matchup in five games.
"I think we just need to do more of the same things we did in Game 1 in Game 2 because I thought we played good and had our chances, " goalie Martin Brodeur said. "We hadn't played in [five days] and we were a little hesitant in plays in our system, and you won't see that [Wednesday]."
The Devils have always responded with one of their better playoff games after falling behind in a series this spring. In Game 4 against the Panthers, Brodeur made 26 saves in a 4-0 victory and, in Game 6, the Devils outshot the Panthers, 42-16, en route to a 3-2 overtime decision.
Without the services of Ilya Kovalchuk in Game 2 against the Flyers, the Devils dominated in a 4-1 victory by outhitting (32-24) and outshooting (34-20) their opponent.
The Devils talked about not staying with their game in the third period against the Rangers, when the home team did all their offensive damage. They also committed careless breakdowns in their coverage that led to prime opportunities on Brodeur.
"You're down one game and they have home ice, and we've been in this spot before and we know we can play better," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "A credit to them, they got the job done and found a way to win, but it was a closer game than the score indicated. Now it's on us to respond the right way."
The other issue the team must resolve is finding a way to get their initial shots through on Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers blocked 26 shots on Monday -- their highest total in 15 playoff games -- in support of their 2012 Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist in net. New York also limited the Devils to a playoff-low 21 shots on goal.
"We know their system, and we just need to get shots off quicker and to the net," defenseman Andy Greene said. "We need to get them there somehow. Maybe we can use the end boards since they pack it in tight, down low. One way is to bank it off the end boards and use that as advantage. Get some high tips and get guys in for second and third chances."
While blocking shots has become a major talking point in this series, DeBoer doesn't believe it is the only story.
"They are a good shot-blocking team," DeBoer said. "Every team you play has strengths in certain areas, and that's one of the Rangers' strengths. One of our strengths is the penalty kill. It's something you have to deal with, but it's not the story. When I look back at the game [Monday] night, it was as much our execution or lack of execution, and we have to do a better job with that."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale