Rangers-Devils: Is This a Playoff Preview? For New York, Yes; New Jersey, Hmmm!
Thursday, February 23, 2017
By Stan Fischler
Having spent three-quarters of the National Hockey League season building a playoffs-enabling cushion, the Rangers are now tooling along toward the regular season finish line while re-tooling in the process. Making the playoffs no longer is an issue. Precisely where the lads will ultimately wind up is another story.
While their followers may believe otherwise, where the Blueshirts finish next month is less relevant than many think, as long as they do not land below fourth; and that is about as likely as the sun rising in the West.
The Devils are another story -- sometimes the chapters are heartening and The Garden Staters look like a serious post-season contender -- and on other nights Coach Peter DeBoer's club resembles an outfit that would be quite tickled to just back in to eighth place and hope for the best after that.
When the rivals collided on Monday night at The Garden they had two common traits; each had been spanked by Sidney Crosby's Penguins and each was looking for a fight. But who expected three simultaneous bouts right off the opening face-off? Yikes!
As for the two points, the deuce went to the Rangers, 4-2. John Tortorella's troops were paced by Brandon Dubinsky's early first period left alley thrust that cleanly beat Martin Brodeur. If it didn't exactly set the stage for New York's victory it did set a tone for the home club which owned the first period and, essentially, the second and third as well.
Meanwhile, the Devils committed just about every first period mistake in the textbook with a few others added for good measure. New York dissolved New Jersey' power play with consummate ease while negating the Zach Parise-Ilya Kovalchuk-Adam Henrique top line. Not one of the big three factored into the scoring.
The Devils awakend in the second thanks to goals by Petr Sykora and Patrik Elias but the Rangers were undaunted, responding with a pair of their own thereby maintaining a one-goal lead that seemed to Devils shooters more like two or three.
Really, what it all amounted to in the final twenty minutes was whether or not Henrik Lundqvist would relinquish a goal to a goal-suffering opponent. Henny would have none of that philanthropy.
"It was a physical game and nobody gave an inch," said Brian Boyle who was an exceptional asset in the Rangers shot-blocking department as well as face-offs.
As for Lundqvist, The King's game slipped somewhat before and after a bout with the flu but he was as sharp as necessary in a third period dominated by the Blueshirts. Any chance the Devils had for a comeback was nullified by a late high sticking penalty to Jacob Josefson.
Whatever energy had been stored by the visitors was gone just after the penalty expired. Derek Stepan's deflection wrote finis for the match while the Devils exited to their jet for their next encounter in Ottawa.
If the Blueshirts play the Red Wings on Wednesday at The Garden with the same style as they employed to contain New Jersey, they should prevail.
With a Tuesday night match in Canada's capital, the Devils have issues that must be solved if they expect to A. Secure a playoff berth; and B. Do some damage if they get to the post-season.
Primarily, scoring is the issue and the solution just may be just around the calendar.
Travis Zajac, the club's number one center -- out almost all season with a recuperating Achilles issue -- has been practicing with the team and could return once he feels comfortable enough for major action.
Based on what The Maven saw on Saturday afternoon (vs. Pittsburgh) and Monday night at MSG, a healthy Zajac could be the scoring prescription that DeBoer so sorely needs.
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