Friday, February 1, 2008

Ranger D, Lundqvist stifle Devils

I only saw one period of the latest game between the Hudson rivals because I was out scoring a couple of basketball games in Park Slope. Plus I had to stop for some pizza and also pickup a cold brew because one of the officials was being a total asshole. And besides, I wanted to sit back, relax and enjoy the final stanza of an entertaining game between the Rangers and Devils in Newark.

What better way to do that then with a Guinness and a couple of slices from a very good pizza place out in Park Slope?

So I didn't see any of the opening 40 minutes in which the Rangers on goals by Brandon Dubinsky and Chris Drury led the Devils 2-1 with Zach Parise tallying on a delayed penalty. Be that as it may, it sounded like New Jersey picked up their game in the second and continued to attack in the final 20. Problem for them was that the Ranger defense (forwards included) along with Devil killer Henrik Lundqvist weren't cooperating.

How many quality chances did Brent Sutter's club have? Not many. Despite being the more aggressive team, they only wound up with five shots mostly due to the great attention to detail the Rangers paid. Aside from a Parise sneaky backhand stuff opportunity very late with Martin Brodeur pulled for an extra attacker, that was it in terms of what Lundqvist had to do in backstopping his club to a fifth consecutive win over the Devils- clinching the season series by virtue of the five wins. When's the last time you could say that?

The Devs cycled the puck well and had some chances but their shots either were blocked, missed the net entirely or were repelled by a sharp Lundqvist who earned the game's First Star finishing with 33 saves. One such chance saw ex-Ranger Karel Rachunek with the puck during a four-on-four but his pass for an open Parise down low was deflected by a New York stick. If it connected, it essentially would've been a tap-in. That's the kind of calibre committed D the Blueshirts played.

New Jersey had another good chance down low but a centering pass for a trailer was broken up by fourth line enforcer Colton Orr. That's not a misprint as it actually happened. No.28 probably saved the tying goal with that defensive play.

This was the sort of frustrating period the Devils endured in front of a mixed bag at a soldout Prudential Center. They would work hard and setup opportunities but would be thwarted by hustling Rangers. I'm still wondering why Johnny Oduya didn't shoot the puck sooner.

After that, the Rangers settled down and played the kind of disciplined smart defensive hockey which their archrivals have been doing for years. Only when they played it, Scott Gomez wore the other jersey and was a big part of the team's success. The kid who was selected by the Devs in the first round back in 1998 and won a Calder helped defeat his former team recording his 500th career point on Drury's PP winner 2:06 into the second.

The affable pivot who's played solid two-way hockey all season thanked his parents for making it possible during a postgame interview with MSG's John Giannone. He also thanked all his coaches.

That Drury's PPG came from a sharp angle surprising Brodeur couldn't have made him nor the home supporters feel very good about things. They dropped their third game in a row- all on home ice where they had played so well before that third period debacle last week against Montreal. Very un-Devil like to see any Brodeur led team lose three straight all in regulation.

They now are just a point ahead of the Rangers in the standings but at least have three more games left which could be important. Of course, Tom Renney's resurgent club who won their fourth in five still have three more games to play against those Devs. You just know their eyes will be wide open at the prospect of taking two more points in each game down the stretch. The teams don't see each other again until March 19. A lot can happen between now and then.

Almost forgot an amazing shift by the top line of Gomez, Martin Straka and Jaromir Jagr. They pinned the Devs deep in their own end for about a minute killing valuable time off the clock. During that lengthy shift, a motivated Jagr dominated the play down low and even took the puck back in as the clock wound down close to a minute. That was just an amazing shift by the trio who really did the job.

Drury eventually sealed it with an empty netter during a five-on-five because the Devils lost their discipline taking a mistimed too many men on the ice penalty with 32 seconds left. So even if Parise had beaten Lundqvist late, it probably would've been wiped out.

That Renney opted to use Drury with defensive-minded center Blair Betts was a wise choice. Betts smartly didn't ice the puck. Eventually, the Devs pressed and were forced leading to a Betts pass to Drury who notched his third goal in two successful nights on the road against Atlantic rivals.

This was a good win for this team. Now we'll see if they can continue to sustain it when they visit another quality opponent in Montreal on Super Bowl Sunday- 2 ET on NBC before the big game between the Giants and Patriots.


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