Maybe it's just as simple as what Devils' ultimate warrior John Madden stated:
"They're the better hockey club."
That was very evident in the latest Ranger victory over Madden's Devils- spoiling future Hall of Fame netminder Martin Brodeur's second attempt at becoming the second goalie to win 500 for a career in front of a packed house at The Rock in downtown Newark.
In the first couple of games across the subway Path, the Rangers prevailed 2-0 and 2-1 (shootout) holding New Jersey to only one goal. This time, a sharp Jamie Langenbrunner who made his season debut after missing the first 17 contests due to shoulder surgery matched that output just 35 seconds in potting a Johnny Oduya rebound to give his team a lead.
However, instead of getting a spark from such a lift from their valuable top six forward, the Devils allowed the Blueshirts to come right back 50 seconds later when rookie Nigel Dawes converted a two-on-one by outwaiting Brodeur before going five-hole for his fourth tally of the season. It was the 22 year-old Manitoban's third in three games against the legendary Devil, quickly making the miniscule former 2003 fifth round selection a new thorn in the Devils' side.
The timely goal helped turn the tide as the Blueshirts would score four straight including goals from a couple of other first-year players in Brandon Dubinsky (rebound) and Marc Staal (wrist shot for first career NHL goal) sandwiched around a Jaromir Jagr power play goal off a misplay by Brodeur in which he wasn't able to recover as a dominant No.68 tucked home a backhand wraparound through his right leg.
By the time Langenbrunner backhanded home his second of the night on a rebound of a Karel Rachunek shot redirected by Zach Parise to slice it to two with 12:31 remaining, the damage had already been done as New York would get a huge stop by Henrik Lundqvist of a Brian Gionta shorthanded bid on a break with five and a half to go as they rolled to their third consecutive win over their Lincoln Tunnel rivals.
It was the Rangers' third win in a row and seventh in their last eight which has seen the team rebound from a sluggish 3-6-1 start improving to 10-7-1, just a point behind first place Philadelphia as they get set to battle at Wachovia Center later tonight.
Most impressive about Tom Renney's club last night was how composed their rookies continue to look. While Dawes seems to step up in these big games, Dubinsky has continued a progression centering an unlikely top line with Marcel "Stonehands" Hossa flanking the team's most talented forward Jagr.
The trio has continued to click because they all work well down low and are becoming more familiar with each other as last night showed where the Devils struggled all night to get the puck from them.
The end result was Dubinsky potting his second on a backhand rebound after Jagr powered through the tandem of Madden and Jay Pandolfo to fire a point blank shot in the slot which a sliding Brodeur denied before the Alaskan converted at the doorstep.
They easily could've had more but Brodeur made an unbelievable stop on a Jagr rebound stretching out to get his glove on a puck which replays confirmed never entirely went over the goal line. A great call by the officials and Toronto.
All night, Jagr was flying. He and Dubinsky nearly teamed up on another shift to setup a goal but Brodeur slid across to deny Fedor Tyutin.
"I like to work with him; he has potential," Jagr noted afterwards. "I mean, he's good now, and I like playing with him, but maybe in 20 games I'm going to love it.
"It's good for us together and it gives us three lines. It makes us a better team."
There's little doubt that Jagr's assessment was right on the money because while he failed to find chemistry with acquisitions Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, by working well with Dubinsky, it's allowed Renney to put together three solid scoring lines.
Combined with the improved play of a fourth line which now is consistently seeing more ice-time, the Rangers suddenly look very formidable up front. And as fellow blogger Lenny already noted, just wait until Martin Straka and Ryan Callahan return. It's a very good problem for the coach to have.
Did we also mention that Marek Malik continues to remain out with a groin injury? It doesn't look like the D misses Big Bird much, especially with Staal showing why he was highly touted and taken by the Rangers 12th overall a couple of years ago.
With Gomez getting more and more acclimated while teaming with pest Sean Avery and Brendan Shanahan to form line 1 B, things are looking up for New York. The ex-Devil who got the Bronx cheers from Devil fans wasn't fazed much helping setup two Ranger goals extending his point streak to seven (2-7-9).
Drury meanwhile continues to work with Dawes and the slumping Petr Prucha (9:37 TOI), who really needs a goal for his confidence and also just to not become the odd man out when Callahan and Straka return.
It would also be nice if Blair Betts, Ryan Hollweg and Colton Orr were rewarded for their improved work. Maybe a bounce will finally go their way tonight.
As for Lundqvist, what else can be said that hasn't already. After getting a rare night off in Toronto, King Henrik was razor sharp in making 22 saves to improve to 8-2-3 against New Jersey.
With his teammates continuing to kill penalties well going five-for-five last night to make it 36 of 38 in their last 10 games, Lundqvist knows he has help. His workload hasn't been as bad because the Rangers underrated D doesn't allow many shots. They might bend but never seem to break.
It should be interesting to see how the team fares in a back-to-back against a rested opponent looking for a little revenge for being shutdown a couple of weeks ago.
We're ready! Are you?