NEWARK, N.J. – In lieu of bringing Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Stevens out of retirement, New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur knows another way to keep the New York Rangers out of his crease.
The Devils have to start playing defence, immediately. The freewheeling Rangers can wrap their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final against the Devils on Friday night with a victory in Game 5 at the Prudential Center.
While the games have been relatively close, the Rangers have dictated the tempo in the series between the longtime rivals and they have made Brodeur pay physically.
The future Hall of Fame goaltender has been harassed by Sean Avery all four games and been run over a couple of times, with Jaromir Jagr knocking him down on a power move out of the corner in the Rangers’ 5-3 win in Game 4.
“Right now they are creating their things,” Brodeur said Thursday after the Devils held a short practice and a team meeting at the Prudential Center. “We allowed them to go to the net and they are taking full advantage of me. The referees are not calling anything that isn’t 100 per cent interference. If it’s in the 90s, they are going to think about it and let it play. It’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with it. They are definitely pushing.”
Most of Brodeur’s teammates are not happy with either the Rangers’ running of Brodeur or the officials lack of calls to protect him.
“You want to protect him but you don’t want to put your team down either,” defenceman Mike Mottau said. “If someone does something outside the rules, you have to take exception, but going to the net to score goals, there is going to be some incidental contact. But it seems to be happening a lot.”
Brodeur fondly remembered the old times when Stevens and Ken Daneyko used to patrol the crease area before the NHL went to a more wide-open style.
If someone messed with the goalie, they would pay a price for it.
“It was a lot different when I had different players that were allowed to do different things out there,” Brodeur said. It’s a new game now.”
Rangers coach Tom Renney insisted on Thursday that his team has not targeted Brodeur.
“Let’s not make too much out of this,” Renney said. “Both teams play hard. The net is the end point. What are we supposed to do? Stand off to the side and throw pucks at him? It’s not the way the game is played. Both teams and 16 teams are doing the same thing, and the end point is the goal line. We’re conscious of the blue paint, we’re conscious of goaltender interference and anything like that. We completely are.”
New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has barely been touched compared to Brodeur.
However, the Devils did seem to go to the net more on Wednesday night.
Mottau’s game-tying goal early in the third period came shortly after Zach Parise skated through the crease and knocked Lundqvist’s stick out of his hands.
“You just try to be big and strong and not back in too much,” Lundqvist said. “I play deeper than Marty, so maybe I don’t have as many guys bump into me. When you’re more aggressive in your style, you’re going to have more guys bump into you.”
Bumps aside, the Devils also have to play smarter hockey. The Rangers first four goals on Wednesday were the result of mistakes. The last goal was scored into an empty net.
“We know we have given up chances that we have not wanted to,” Devils forward Brian Gionta said. “Defence is how we win and that’s what we have to get to.”
While they have lost 10 of 12 games with the Rangers this season, the Devils still seemed confident. They have been competitive in every game in this series, usually crumbling in the third period.
All three game-winning goals by New York have been scored in the third period.
There have been 18 teams that have rallied to win series after trailing 3-1. New Jersey did it to Philadelphia in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals.
“You have to be patient and play your game, not worry about it,” Brodeur said. “You have to play to live another day and that’s what we are doing. We are hanging on to our season, to our playoff chances. We have to push the envelope as far as we can.”
Notes: Rangers D Marc Staal, who scored the game winner in Game 4, did not practice Thursday because of a sore ankle. Gionta, who has been bothered by a sore side, did not skate for New Jersey. Both plan to play Friday.