NEW YORK, N.Y. – The New York Rangers don’t like being all even after two games, but they sure are used to it.
For the third straight series, the Eastern Conference’s top-seeded team has failed to build on an opening-game win, and now they have yielded home-ice advantage yet again. The Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals couldn’t make the most of it. The New Jersey Devils have other plans.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said after New York’s 3-2 loss on Wednesday night. “We just have to go into Jersey and try to get that next game. We can’t get down.”
The Rangers bounced back with Game 3 wins in both previous rounds. They will get their next chance Saturday in Newark.
Two things New York can probably count on are a close game and another series that goes the distance. The Rangers outlasted the Senators and Capitals in seven games to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1997. Of the Rangers’ 16 post-season games, 12 have been decided by one goal.
After posting the best regular-season record in the East, New York is only 9-7 in the playoffs.
“Overall, we just have to be better,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said.
With a two-day break between games, both teams will skip practice on Thursday before getting back on the ice Friday.
The Devils quickly changed the game plan from the opener. Instead of letting the Rangers block their shots, they decided to deflect some themselves. It worked twice. David Clarkson scored a tip-in goal off Adam Henrique’s shot 2:31 into the third period as New Jersey rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win.
“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.”
Before the game, the Rangers 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 then didn’t provide the necessary effort to get it done.
“You need to improve as hockey team every game,” said succinct and disappointed coach John Tortorella, who declined to say what areas were deficient.
Clarkson built off the momentum created by Ryan Carter’s deflected goal late in the second period 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 this post-season, and every one has been a game-winner, including the series-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, 5 more than they got through to 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 period for the Rangers, who had 24 saves by Lundqvist.
New Jersey got even 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.
“On the second goal, I didn’t get the puck out, I guess. I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him,” said Gaborik, who 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 New York 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. “
After spending much of the first penned in their own end, the Rangers rebounded to erase their early deficit and briefly take the lead thanks to their 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 8 minutes in, but the teams were even at 17 through 40 minutes.
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.
“We have to try to get in lanes,” Callahan said. “Try to limit their time with the puck. If we do that, they are not going to have time to shoot.”
NOTES: The Rangers were 10 for 61 (16.4 per cent) on the power play in the post-season before Wednesday. … The Devils returned defenceman Peter Harrold to the lineup and sat rookie Adam Larsson.