Devils reap rewards for staying the course
NEW YORK -- Despite giving up three third-period goals and getting shut out by the New York Rangers in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, the New Jersey Devils didn't feel there was an awful lot they needed to change entering Game 2 in order to gain a split heading back home.
Maintaining for 60 minutes the tenacious forecheck that was a hallmark of their five-game series win against the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinals was one item on the agenda, and along the way, the Devils broke through the biggest roadblock standing between them and a win at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday -- how to beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Ryan Carter and David Clarkson tipped in point shots to beat the Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist and turn a 2-1 deficit late in the second period into a 3-2 win that has the Devils all even and feeling confident returning to the Prudential Center for Game 3 on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
"I think we did a lot better job for the full 60 minutes tonight -- keep our forecheck and wear down their defense, and that paid off in the end," said center Adam Henrique, who was covering the right point when defenseman Marek Zidlicky pinched down low and took the shot Clarkson deflected past Lundqvist for the go-ahead goal 2:31 into the third. "A couple turnovers, get the pucks to the net and a couple tip-in goals, that's big for us."
Henrique's shot came in high, and as Lundqvist squared himself to make the save Clarkson kept his stick below the crossbar and deflected it down and past him into the net.
"I don't think the positioning was a tough one," Lundqvist said. "When it's such a high tip, that's a tough play. I saw the puck, but after he touched it, it was just too tough to recover."
Carter's goal with 1:51 left in the second ensured the Devils wouldn't enter the final 20 minutes trailing against a Rangers team that hasn't lost this postseason when leading after two periods. Steve Bernier had his shot blocked by Michael Del Zotto, but Bryce Salvador got to the puck as it deflected out toward the blue line and fired a shot that Carter tipped from between the circles past Lundqvist.
"We need to get traffic in front of him. If he's going to see it, he's going to save it. There's a reason why he's a Vezina candidate," said Salvador, who also assisted on Clarkson's goal. "We were able to get some traffic in front of him and some of the tips went in. If we're able to keep that traffic up and keep getting shots on net, we just feel we're going to get some deflections in that we worked for."
The two tips, along with a 23-save effort by Martin Brodeur, allowed the Devils to salvage a game that seemed like it might be slipping away after the Rangers answered Ilya Kovalchuk's first-period power-play goal with man-advantage tallies of their own in the second by Marc Staal and Chris Kreider.
And unlike Game 1, when the Devils followed up a solid 40 minutes by giving up Dan Girardi's goal 53 seconds into the third, this time they took the initiative off the drop of the puck, outshooting the Rangers 10-8 in the final 20 minutes while establishing that, although they may not always be pretty, there are in fact ways of beating Lundqvist.
"In the playoffs you're not going to see too many tic-tac-toe plays," Salvador said. "Most of the goals that you're seeing are rebounds, crash the net, going off a leg, bounces and stuff like that. So you just have to keep sticking to it and not get frustrated."
While a little frustration would have been understandable after the Rangers blocked 26 shots in the opener and Lundqvist stopped the 21 that made it through to him, forward Dainius Zubrus didn't feel the Devils needed to do much different heading into Game 2 -- or when they started the third period deadlocked again.
"Nothing changed, honestly," Zubrus said. "Nothing changed. We want to be five-on-five. We don't want to give them too many power plays again. But I don't think anything changed. I think we try to play the same way. Once we get five-on-five, we try to do the same as we did.
"First game, too. First 40 minutes, I thought we were the better team and easily could have been up a couple goals, but that didn't happen. Today we got rewarded for things that we did, a couple of tips, traffic goals and a power-play goal. It's nice."