NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New Jersey Devils quickly changed the game plan: instead of letting the New York Rangers block their shots, they decided to deflect some themselves.
It worked twice, and the Eastern Conference finals are all even, as a result.
David Clarkson scored a tip-in goal off Adam Henrique’s shot 2:31 into the third period to break a tie and lift the Devils to a 3-2 victory over the Rangers that squared the series at one game apiece on Wednesday night.
“It’s a very hard building to play in, and 1-1 sounds much better than down 2-0,” Devils captain Zach Parise said. “We’re happy. We would have liked to have snuck out of here with two wins, but it didn’t happen.
“We’ll take 1-1.”
For the third straight series, the Rangers are wondering what went wrong in Game 2 after they took the opener. They stressed how important it would be to grab a 2-0 lead, which would have been their first two-game edge in this post-season, but didn’t provide the necessary effort to get it done.
New York was riding high after its 3-0 series-opening win on Monday night, but now has relinquished home-ice advantage again.
“You need to improve as a hockey team every game,” said succinct and disappointed coach John Tortorella, who declined to say what areas were deficient.
Game 3 will be Saturday in New Jersey.
Clarkson built off the momentum created by Ryan Carter’s deflected goal late in the second that tied the game, 2-2. Ilya Kovalchuk had given the Devils a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal in the first. Defenceman Bryce Salvador added two assists, and Martin Brodeur stopped 23 saves for his 108th playoff win.
Clarkson has three goals in this post-season, and every one has been a winner, including the clincher against Philadelphia in Game 5 of the second round.
“Mr. Clutch? I don’t know about that,” Clarkson said. “I’m going to skate up and down and finish the checks and just bounce off people. It’s just a great feeling to be able to contribute. To get a tip on that felt pretty good.”
New Jersey had 26 attempted shots blocked in Game 1, five more than they got through to goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Devils cut the blocks to 16 on Wednesday and managed to get 27 on goal—two more than New York.
“That team blocks so many shots,” Clarkson said. “It’s unbelievable how many. I think we found a way to shoot it and get sticks on it, and definitely that was big for us.”
Marc Staal and Chris Kreider scored power-play goals in the second for the top-seeded Rangers, who received 24 saves by Lundqvist.
New Jersey got even at 2 when Salvador wound up for a shot at the blue line and fired a drive that Carter—with his back to the net—brilliantly deflected past Lundqvist with 1:51 left in the second. Marian Gaborik stood up straight in front of Salvador, but didn’t drop down as many of his teammates have to try to block the shot. For that, he was pinned to the bench by Tortorella, even through New York’s power play in the third.
Gaborik returned to the ice with 8:40 remaining as the Rangers pressed to tie.
The Devils kept the pressure on the Rangers at the start of the third and wiped out the good work the Rangers displayed in the second.
“It was a much different reaction when we went down by a goal than it was in the first game,” Parise said. “We didn’t change the way we played, and I think that was a big difference. We were comfortable with how we were playing.
“All I think they got was really on their power play.”
After spending much of the first trapped in their own end, the Rangers rebounded to erase their early deficit and briefly take the lead thanks to the previously inept power play.
With Alexei Ponikarovsky off for interference, Staal fired a shot that sailed wide of the net and struck the back boards before popping back in front and pinballing into the net off Salvador and Brodeur at 2:23. The goal was originally credited to Derek Stepan, who was in front, but the puck managed to miss him both on the way toward the net and on the bounce back.
“I saw most of the pucks, but the Rangers came out hard,” Brodeur said. “They were around me a lot, and there were some bad bounces. It’s such a tough place to play sometimes here. There are bad bounces, and the boards are terrible.”
Staal nearly netted another moments later when he ripped a drive that Brodeur had to lunge fully to his left to snare with his glove.
Kreider, the rookie from Boston College, scored for the second straight game to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead at 12:19. Anton Stralman let go a shot from above the right circle that ticked Kreider’s stick and fluttered past Brodeur for the rookie’s fourth goal. He had to wait to get it because it was first given to Stralman before being changed during a commercial break.
But that was hardly the longest delay of the night. Before Kreider’s power-play goal, the action was stopped for about eight minutes as arena workers struggled to get the door to the Devils’ penalty box opened. Travis Zajac stood patiently as he waited to have a seat in the box. He even managed to laugh as did New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer and the usually stoic and agitated Tortorella.
Zajac, who first was sent to the Rangers’ box, stayed in New Jersey’s sin bin for only 1:47 before Kreider scored the Rangers’ second power-play goal of the night.
New York registered the first six shots of the period before New Jersey had its first about eight minutes in, but the teams were even at 17 through 40 minutes.
Lundqvist had a bit of glove magic of his own midway through the second when a shot by Anton Volchenkov was deflected by Kovalchuk but tracked and grabbed by Lundqvist.
The Devils got their elusive first goal of the series, and the all-important lead in the game, when Kovalchuk connected on the power play late in the first period.
After Brian Boyle was sent off for slashing Parise, the Devils continued their puck-possession prowess in the Rangers’ end. New Jersey moved the puck all around the zone in search of a clean shot that could get past the diving New York defence and perhaps challenge Lundqvist, who made 21 saves in the series-opening win.
Marek Zidlicky curled with the puck to the centre of the blue line and slid a pass down to the left circle to Kovalchuk, who calmly and patiently drifted in and snapped a shot up and under the crossbar in the upper corner of the net for his sixth goal of the playoffs and fourth on the power play.
“We had to keep going to the net, and I think we were doing some good things,” Clarkson said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey and we’ve got to continue to do it. That is a big win for us.”
The Devils didn’t record a shot on goal until 6:01 in when Patrik Elias put a wrist shot in on Lundqvist, but New Jersey finished the first period with an 8-5 edge in shots—despite having six more blocked by the Rangers.
Whether Brodeur was kidding or not about wanting Rangers to be injured by blocking shots, the home team wasn’t deterred from getting in front of drives. New York forward Brandon Prust was doing a bit of a dance in front of the dangerous Kovalchuk, trying to deny any potential drive, even though he was defending without a stick.
“We have to try to get in lanes,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “Try to limit their time with the puck. If we do that, they are not going to have time to shoot.”
When Kovalchuk finally scored later in the period, he let out a big yell—part celebration and an exclamation of relief—as he skated in front of the glass behind the net.
“We have built some momentum,” Brodeur said. “And now, we have to try to take that into our building, and make our building a tough place to play.”
NOTES: The Rangers were 10 for 61 (16.4 per cent) on the power play in the post-season before Wednesday. This marked the second time they netted a man-advantage goal in consecutive games, but the fourth time they scored two in a game. … The Devils returned defenceman Peter Harrold to the lineup and sat rookie Adam Larsson. Harrold replaced Larsson in the lineup late in the season and started the first nine post-season games. Larsson played in the previous five games.