NEWARK, N.J. – The New Jersey Devils’ worst enemy right now is not the New York Rangers.
It’s themselves. The Devils outplayed their longtime rivals and had more quality scoring chances in the series-opener on Wednesday, but they still find themselves down 1-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series heading into Game 2 on Friday night.
The difference in Game 1 was the Devils made the big mistakes late and the Rangers capitalized for a 4-1 victory. It’s been that way all year against the Rangers, who won 7 of 8 regular-season games.
“This is what has happened every time we played these guys, unfortunately,” veteran forward Sergei Brylin said Thursday after the Devils practised at the Prudential Center. “We played pretty well, then the second goal changed the game.”
The Rangers’ game-winning goal was the Devils’ biggest mistake, and surprisingly it was made by goaltender Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur made a bad decision not playing a rolling puck in the crease in a 1-all tie, and it ended up in the net when Ryan Callahan skated behind the net and caught an unsuspecting goaltender off guard and poked it home.
The Rangers third goal was a gift – a pass bounced off Brylin’s skate and left Sean Avery with an open net – and the last goal was scored by Nigel Dawes into an empty net.
Brylin, who has played on all three of the Devils’ Stanley Cup championship teams, isn’t taking solace knowing the Devils played well again, and lost again.
“Playing well is not good enough in the playoffs, and not good enough against this team,” Brylin said. “We have to bring it to another level and be more desperate and score on our chances when we create them. Those guys are putting the puck in the net.”
Scoring continues to be the big issue for New Jersey. It now has 10 goals in nine games against Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
“We created enough chances to score in the first and second periods and even the start of the third,” centre John Madden said. “We played the game we wanted to play. We just have to continue to play the same way, and sooner or later they are going to go in.”
While the Rangers now have the home-ice advantage, they can’t be totally happy with the way they played. Lundqvist bailed them out several times with outstanding saves, and the Devils had three other shots either hit the crossbar or the goalpost.
“The result, I would say was unfair to New Jersey,” Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said Thursday after the team practised at its Greenburgh, N.Y. facility. “They played really well, they had more scoring chances, they forechecked very hard and gave us a tough time in our zone. They fight for the puck very well, and we have to get better there and maybe create more offence.”
New York’s defence also has to improve. A turnover by defenceman Fedor Tyutin led to a short-handed chance by Brylin early in the game that hit off the crossbar.
Brian Gionta also had a great chance late in the second period with the score tied 1-all and missed the net.
Gionta hurt “his side” late in the second period, and coach Brent Sutter sat him in the third period.
Gionta, whose 22 goals was second highest on the team, expects to play in Game 2.
“We know they’re going to be fired up, and we’ve got to come out and be fired up, as well,” Rangers centre Brendan Dubinsky said. “I don’t think it matters if we’re playing there or at home. Both teams are going to be putting forth everything.”
Devils defenceman Mike Mottau said it wouldn’t hurt if New Jersey got a lucky goal or two.
“The good thing is we are getting chances,” he said. “It would be frustrating if we weren’t. We have to capitalize and continue to play good D. I don’t think we are beating ourselves. We just have to stick with our game play. It’s easy to say but difficult to do, especially when you want to push to make things happen.”