NEWARK, N.J. – For one game, at least, in the Eastern Conference finals, the New Jersey Devils found a way to beat Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers.
After losing out in the Rangers’ block party in Game 1, the Devils found a solution in Game 2. They forechecked, moved the puck, didn’t give the New York defence time to set up, shot quickly and got traffic in front of the Rangers’ goaltender.
It wasn’t anything novel. It was Hockey 101, and a better effort than in the opener of the best-of-7 series.
Now it’s the Rangers’ turn to respond as the series shifts to New Jersey for Game 3 at the Prudential Center on Saturday.
“We know the Rangers are going to push,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. “We know they’re going to come out and play a great hockey game tomorrow. It’s on us to do the same thing. So I expect it to be the best game of the series tomorrow from both ends.”
Both teams returned to the ice on Friday and, of course, continued to tweak their games.
“I think both teams,” DeBoer said, “are going to take their game to another level.”
At the least, the Devils need to prevent the Rangers from blocking shots again. New York blocked 26 in its 3-0 win in Game 1, but New Jersey did a much better job in getting rubber at Lundqvist in evening the series on Wednesday.
“They do a great job of blocking shots, but the reality of it is that we have to get two or three guys in front and then somehow get the puck through,” said Devils defenceman Bryce Salvador, who had assists on New Jersey’s final two goals, including the primary one on Ryan Carter’s tying goal late in the second period Wednesday.
“They do it more than anyone. We have to maintain some sort of presence in front of the net. It doesn’t have to be a great shot, but it has to get there. I tried to get it to the side of the goal and Carter got to it. If we don’t try, then nothing goes in. We have to get the pucks to the net to create second shots.”
Devils centre Travis Zajac, who was reunited with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk as his wings in Game 2, said New Jersey was able to apply more pressure the second time around.
“The focus will continue to be to get as many pucks to the net as possible,” he said. “If we move the puck quickly, we don’t give them a chance to set up, so that helps. I think we also won battles earlier in the shift to get to the point where they couldn’t block shots.”
Losing the battles didn’t sit well with Rangers coach John Tortorella. New York posted the best record in the conference by winning the little wars all season, and wouldn’t have survived two seven-game series vs. Ottawa and Washington to get to this point, had it not showed that kind of grit.
“I think that’s a big part of how we play,” Tortorella said Friday. “Big, small or medium build, we play hard along the boards. Obviously, that was void the other night. So no matter who it is, when you’re at this point in the season, you’re playing against teams that we’re playing against, Jersey, and the other two teams playing in the West, that’s a big part of playoff hockey. That’s a big part of who we are, and we certainly have to be more consistent with that part.”
For the most part, the Devils have dumped the puck into the Rangers’ end instead of trying to skate it into the zone, and the Rangers defence has been quick to the puck. The Game 2 board battles, though, went in the Devils’ favour and that allowed them to shoot more.
Plus, the increased traffic appears to have helped. But Lundqvist isn’t so sure. He felt the Senators and Capitals got more players in front of him in the first two rounds. The Devils are just better with their sticks, perhaps.
“Jersey has always been good at knocking pucks down,” Lundqvist said. “So you have to respect that. We just have to play them hard. I don’t think they played more in front than the other teams we’ve played. But, again, they’re a good team, a skilled team that always, like I said, is knocking pucks down.
“Especially in the middle of the ice. If you try to go across or something like that, they’re very good at going the other way. So we’ve talked about a few things, and we’re going to correct it and be better.”
They’ll need to be. The Devils, after all, have won four consecutive home playoff games.
NOTES: Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky, who was hurt in the opening series against Ottawa, skated Friday, but Tortorella had no update on his condition. … DeBoer said there is a chance that defenceman Henrik Tallinder (blood clot) and C Jacob Josefson (broken wrist) might be ready to return sometime during this series. … This is the only game in the East Finals with two days off leading up to it. From Game 4 on, the series will resume every other day.