NEWARK, N.J. – The Eastern Conference Finals between the New Jersey Devils and rival New York Rangers are turning out to be exactly what everyone thought.
Hard hitting. Tight checking. Low scoring.
Indeed, as it’s played under the microscope of the New York metropolitan area media, this has been hockey with an edge … but not so edgy as to cross the line.
The two games at Madison Square Garden were similar. They were tied after two periods, and decided in the third. The Rangers won the first with three goals in the last period and the Devils took the second, 3-2, on Wednesday night on a great deflection by David Clarkson.
The best-of-7 series for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Finals now moves to the Prudential Center in New Jersey for games on Saturday afternoon and Monday night.
“I think it’s everything that we were anticipating really from the hockey standpoint,” Devils captain Zach Parise said Thursday. “We expected tight games. We expected not a lot of room out there from either team, and games down to the wire. I guess from everything else surrounding it, it’s definitely more media coverage than we’ve ever seen.
“So that part is a little different than the attention that it’s getting, that the series is getting. That’s a little different. But I think that’s what you kind of have to expect when you’re still playing at this time of the year.”
With two days off before Game 3, both teams elected to rest on Thursday.
“Yeah, I said before, I don’t think you can get too much rest this time of year,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said in a conference call. “I think both teams are in the same boat. We start going every other day again next week through the end of the series. So I think the break comes at the right time. Everyone can regroup, and we can get ready for a home game.”
Rangers coach John Tortorella was a little more talkative on Thursday after saying very little in the wake of Game 2. In that defeat, his team allowed a game-tying goal late in the second period and then lost on Clarkson’s tally in the third.
When asked if there were any positives to carry into Game 3, he said there weren’t many.
“I thought we played some minutes in the second period, found a way to score some power-play goals; but other than that, we didn’t play enough minutes,” said Tortorella, who refused to say much about his decision to bench leading scorer Marian Gaborik for almost 12 minutes in a span covering the end of the second period and the start of the third.
Gaborik was on the ice when Ryan Carter scored to tie the game at 2-all. After the game, he said he didn’t clear the puck out of his own end.
“You guys like calling them benchings and all that stuff, but as coaches we’re trying to find a way to win a hockey game,” Tortorella said, “and we make decisions accordingly.”
Tortorella probably won’t be upset with Gaborik long. He knows that he is one of his best players and he just needs to play better. Gaborik has four goals and 10 points this post-season.
“You have a short-term memory come playoff time,” Tortorella said. “Playoffs are a whole different animal. We don’t spend too much time talking about streaks. We just spend time trying to make corrections in our game, trying to be better in the things we think we need to be better for our next game, and go about our business.”
What the Devils did very well in Game 2 was forecheck. A key cog in their Round 2 win over Philadelphia, the forecheck created some chances and also opened lanes for the defencemen to shoot at Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. All along, New Jersey forwards were able to get in front of Lundqvist.
It paid off, as Carter and Clarkson scored on deflections.
“When we’re playing well, that’s what we’re doing,” Parise said. “It’s a challenge against the Rangers because that’s what they’ve been known for this year is outworking their opponents and kind of owning the pucks down low and along the boards.
“We have to do a really good job of doing that if we want to beat these guys this series. Because that’s the part that they’re really good at.”
NOTES: All four previous series these two teams played this post-season were also tied, 1-1. … The Devils have won four in a row at home, dating back to the first round against Florida. … New York centre Brad Richards, the team’s leading playoff scorer, has just one point and three shots on goal this series.