NEW YORK, N.Y. – If the New Jersey Devils are going to have any chance against the New York Rangers, they need to do more than find a way to beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Pete DeBoer’s team has to get shots past the five guys in front of the Rangers’ goaltender.
Lundqvist stopped 21 shots in his fifth career playoff shutout and his teammates prevented another 26 attempts from even reaching him in a 3-0 victory on Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
“That’s the way they play,” said Devils captain Zach Parise after New Jersey’s four-game post-season winning streak was snapped. “They play very defensive, They block a lot of shots. We expect that for the rest of the series.”
If the Devils had any doubts about the Rangers’ willingness to block shots, New York forward Derek Stepan put them to rest in the opening period when he went down to block a blast from the point by Ilya Kovalchuk.
Stepan limped to the bench and bent over in pain, but the tone was set. The Rangers time after time threw their bodies in front of Devils shots.
“They were blocking a lot of shots, but we know that’s the way they play,” Kovalchuk said. “We have to find the lanes. We’ll see what we didn’t do right tomorrow morning and we’ll be better next game.”
Kovalchuk said blocking shots is nothing new for the Rangers. They did it all season in posting the best record in the conference.
“We had a couple of great chances in the second period and he (Lundqvist) kept them in the game. That’s not a big deal. We’ll see what we did wrong and we’ll do better.”
One thing Kovalchuk said the Devils can do is fake some shots, skate a little and find the opening so the puck reaches the goaltender.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur joked about the wall that seemingly was in front of Lundqvist.
“From my view I saw him about 10 minutes because there were so many Rangers players in front of him,” Brodeur deadpanned.
After a split second, he finished the thought.
“He played pretty well,” said Brodeur, who gave up two goals on 27 shots, with his best save being a head-first diving stop on Marc Staal on a rebound attempt with the Devils down 1-0 in the third period by Dan Girardi.
Girardi goal was set up when a dump-in by Michael Del Zotto jumped over the stick of Bryce Salvador and rookie Chris Kreider beat Marek Zidlicky to the puck. He found Girardi at the point for a bomb that Brodeur never saw.
“I thought both goalies played well,” DeBoer said. “Like I said, I think whoever was going to score first tonight was going to win. And they threw a point shot at the net that found a way through. We threw a lot of those at the net, too, and didn’t find one through.”
Kreider stretched the lead to 2-0 with 8 minutes to play, and Artem Anisimov added an empty-net goal.
Parise said the Girardi goal took the wind out of the Devils, who were playing their first game in almost a week.
“It did more so than it had in the other series,” Parise said. “We had that breakdown and it just felt like we kind of—I don’t want to say stopped playing—but didn’t play as well after that first goal.”