Rangers-Devils: Is This the Ping-Pong Series or What?
Monday, May 21, 2012
By Stan Fischler
There are lots of walls in Newark’s Prudential Center and many Devils’ backs were to those walls on Monday night.
After all, had they fallen to the occasionally rampaging Rangers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final, it would have placed Peter DeBoer’s club in the highly discomforting position of winning three straight games to oust New York.
But on one tense night in New Jersey’s largest city, the Devils displayed the same ping-pong-on-ice that has featured the Blueshirts’ laudable trait. Lose one and then come right back and win the next.
“Our guys responded with a big effort,” explained DeBoer.
The Devils followed up their Game 3 loss with a decisive 4-1 victory in Game Four to tie the series at two apiece. Captain Zach Parise spearheaded New Jersey’s romp with a pair of goals.
“The puck happened to go in tonight,” Parise said. “These games are so tight. It’s a fine line. But the pucks went in for us.”
And it was Parise’s linemate, Travis Zajac, who delivered the winning counter off a perfect feed from Zach in the first period -- a frame in which the Devils outworked and outscored the Blueshirts, 2-0.
“The biggest thing is to get a good start,” Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said. “Give them credit, they came out hard.”
New York’s captain Ryan Callahan put it more bluntly. “The way we came out is not acceptable," he said.
Other Devils heroes included Bryce Salvador, who scored the opening goal and had an assist, and Martin Brodeur, who outdueled Henrik Lundqvist with a 28-save effort.
“It was a very important game for us because we couldn’t lose two in a row,” said Ilya Kovalchuk, “and especially at home, we were desperate and had a lot of energy.”
So, it’s on to Manhattan for Game Five at The Garden on Wednesday night in a series that has exceeded the red-hot level and is speedily moving into the realm of white heat.
As some anticipated, the verbal war between DeBoer and John Tortorella exploded with some big-time nastiness on the ice as well as a yelling match between the coaches from their respective benches.
One reason for the Devils’ fury was their reaction to Mike Rupp’s decision to deliver a blow to Brodeur’s head in the third period.
“I was just minding my own business,” Brodeur said. “I’ve never been punched like that in my career. I’m just happy I didn’t get hurt … Now I know I can take a punch.”
New Jersey struck first in the opening period thanks to Salvador’s third goal of the playoffs.
Alexei Ponikarovsky won the puck along the left boards and passed to Salvador at the left point. Salvador wristed a shot through a trio of screens -- provided by Ponikarovsky, Jacob Josefson and David Clarkson -- and the rubber snaked between Lundqvist’s legs. The time was 8:10.
“It’s just throwing pucks at the net,” said Salvador, who now has one more point in the playoffs (10) than he had all through the regular season. “Guys are doing a good job of getting bodies in front of the net and screening Lundqvist.”
“The first one was a big one and it lifted some weight off of us," DeBoer said. "We played a little bit looser from then on.”
Despite the intensity on and off the ice throughout this series, there had yet to be a fight. That changed soon after Salvador’s tally as Adam Henrique and Ryan McDonagh dropped the gloves for a quick bout.
Salvador nearly gave the 1-0 lead away when he turned the puck over to Rangers forward Carl Hagelin in the high slot. But Hagelin’s shot rang harmlessly off the right post.
After that warning sign from the visitors, Parise sparked his team’s next scoring play.
The captain launched the play by tapping the puck around Michael Del Zotto along the right boards at the New York blue line. Zach created a two-on-one with Zajac and the captain fed the rubber over Girardi’s stick to his linemate at the left circle.
Zajac one-timed the biscuit past Lundqvist’s right arm at 11:59.
After the Devils failed to produce on their first power play, the Blueshirts went on the man-advantage when Anton Volchenkov was called for tripping at 18:20.
New York created several scoring chances as the period wound down, but the home club escaped with the two-goal advantage. Still, the Rangers entered the middle frame with 20 seconds of carry-over power-play time.
The Devils killed off the remaining time shorthanded with ease, but the Rangers made a push to cut into the deficit at the midway point of the second frame.
Brodeur made several grade-A stops with the Rangers pressuring the Devils’ zone. Arguably his best came against Marian Gaborik, whose shot from the left side was snagged by Marty’s left glove.
Callahan and Kovalchuk had a heated exchange in front of the New York cage that resulted in both serving time in the sin bin -- where the pair continued to have words.
The post-whistle skirmishes continued as the second period expired and the Devils entered period three with their two-goal lead intact.
Derek Stepan was called for high-sticking 2:37 into the final frame, putting the previously inept Devils power play on the ice. But the Devils picked a critical time to end their power play dry spell and in doing so, built a three-goal lead.
Henrique won a faceoff at the left circle cleanly from Brian Boyle and sent the puck back to Kovalchuk at the left point. Kovy instantly blasted the rubber on net.
The puck hit off Lundqvist and fell to the waiting stick of Parise, who jammed the puck through Henny at 2:31.
“Any time you can get a three-goal lead in the playoffs is a great start,” said Zajac. “You could see we were doing something right because there was a little frustration on their part at the end.”
The nasty stuff was precipitated by Rupp, who skated up to Brodeur and threw his left hand into the netminder’s mask. The Devils immediately pounced on Rupp, who was ejected after receiving a four-minute double minor for roughing and a ten-minute game-misconduct.
“We don’t need to parade to the penalty box, but you still need to play,” Torts said. “I’m truly confident we’ll answer this one the proper way in our next game.”
Ruslan Fedotenko ended Brodeur’s shutout bid at the 14:55 mark, snapping a shot past Marty’s right arm from the right circle.
Lundqvist was pulled with over two minutes to go and the Rangers forced a few more high-quality stops from Brodeur. But Parise’s open-net tally from his own zone at 18:31 sealed the win.
Two of the game’s other stalwarts -- Marty and Salvador -- were fittingly credited with the assists.
“The intensity is only going to rise from here,” Parise concluded. “There is a lot at stake but we are up for the challenge.”
The Trans-Hudson War, which most certainly will extend into The Garden on Wednesday, should be a dilly.
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