For two weeks during what's been a poor stretch that saw his struggling team drop seven of eight entering tonight, Henrik Lundqvist had also been substandard, bringing a six-game losing streak into the latest installment of the Battle Of Hudson. However, with his favorite opponent staring across in the other goal, he transformed from Queen Henry to King Henrik in backstopping the Rangers past the Devils 3-1 at what was a chaotic MSG atmosphere.
If it's true I didn't have any confidence headed into this game due to the Devs' big addition
“I just tried to battle the last two weeks,” explained the winning netminder who improved to 17-6-5 all-time versus the Devils. “I have been working hard. It was an intense game, fun to play in and big relief to get a win at home. It is a big one for us to get, in a lot of ways.”
“Their goalie was great,” Devil coach Jacques Lemaire said after having no qualms with his club's effort even if they were a little exposed in a dreadful second period. “He was there at the right moments. When there were great chances, he made the save.”
Unlike Thursday's ugly line (6 GA on 32 shots) in which he couldn't make the big save against a scary Caps' team, Lundqvist found his 'A' game turning Devil after Devil away while his team settled down from a shaky start. It wasn't shocking to see the Devils come out quickly. Especially off such a miraculous comeback Friday victimizing Toronto. With Elias finally back from a concussion after missing 10 games, Lemaire loaded up his top two lines, reforming ZZ Popp while sandwiching Dainius Zubrus between Elias and Kovalchuk. They had the Rangers on their heels getting seven of the game's first nine shots. However, they couldn't beat Lundqvist. Shots wound up 10-7 with the Blueshirts coming on late, missing a few chances on a jittery Brodeur who left rebounds.
In between, it certainly didn't lack entertainment from the all too predictable brutal officiating on both sides (missed hi-stick, phantom call, 3 missed bench minors) to a couple of fun scraps between Devil heavy Andrew Peters and newly acquired Brandon Prust. Facing a mountain of a man, Prust did alright even throwing down Peters in the rematch. The ex-Sabre has come under criticism (from Hasan and plenty of Devil worshippers) for being a slug. Basically, he's their Donald Brashear. At least, he fought twice but still took an undisciplined misconduct during the second fight.
If there was a pivotal moment, Lundqvist's glove save on two bit Devil scrub Rob Niedermayer shorthanded in the final minute could be classified as that. Even if he stinks, it was a quality chance with the game still scoreless. Henrik was just getting warmed up, later flat out robbing
The Rangers got into early penalty trouble in the second with Jokinen (hook) and Tinman (delay of game which douche stood and cheered) handing the Devs a great opportunity to go ahead. With only 16 seconds of a five-on-three, Lemaire predictably took his timeout. However, it backfired when frequent Hasan target Brian Rolston failed to keep the puck in. Instead, the Ranger PK killed the remaining minor and swung the momentum. Before Niedermayer hooked one of our players, they finally started attacking with in particular, the Brandon Dubinsky-Jokinen-Ryan Callahan line wreaking havoc. In just their second game together, they dominated shifts utilizing their size and speed to generate opportunities.
After failing miserably on two power plays in which the shorthanded Devs forced Lundqvist to make a couple of tough stops, the Blueshirts finally struck thanks to a brilliant Mike Del Zotto seam pass which led directly to Marian Gaborik's team high 35th. In front of his net, he threaded the needle to Callahan, who cruised down the right wing before dishing back to the 19 year-old freshman at the right point. Instead of shooting, he passed down low for Callahan, who then dished across for an easy Gaborik tap-in. Tic-tac-toe. Ranger goal. It was the fifth PPG over two games.
Carrying momentum, they made it two straight only 56 ticks later thanks to a great individual effort from true captain Callahan, who stripped Mike Mottau of the puck and then fired past Brodeur unassisted for his 15th. With a crowd that featured plenty of Devil jerseys mixed in suddenly getting on favorite target, "Marrrrrrtttty, Marrrrrrtttty, Marrrrrtttty," Lemaire made a strange decision sending his fourth line out versus the Ranger one that still featured Chris Drury. He may be a shell of the player, but is still better than anyone the Devils had out. Perhaps, the vet coach outsmarted himself thinking Peters could have Round Three with Prust which would've gotten both tossed. Wouldn't you know it? It blew up with Drury making him pay by scoring his ninth from an effective Matt Gilroy- who played one of his better games- and Prust, who earned his first point as a Ranger.
“Obviously, everybody in the room gets pretty jacked up playing against the Devils,” Callahan noted. “I think Hank was. When you know he is on his game, we’re going to have a great chance to win. It was uplifting to see Hank play like that.”
Suddenly, they led 3-zip striking for all three in 2:39. New Jersey had played the night before and looked a little lagged, losing battles. A little shell shocked, they then allowed a clean Dubinsky breakaway. With the place ready to explode, he couldn't beat Brodeur, who just got a piece of it. Look. They scored five the other night and already had three in un-Rangeresque fashion. You didn't expect to really run away from the Devils. These games are never over. So, when they couldn't reach four, I knew the third would be like a Chinese fire drill.
Sure enough, New Jersey controlled most of it outshooting the Rangers by a dozen (20-8). Yes. John Tortorella sat back a little too much. But when opportunities arose, they still forechecked with the aforementioned Dubi-Jokester-Cally line putting together a whale of a shift that lasted almost 90 seconds to cheers. When they weren't out, the ice was tilted with our Hostess Twinkie D finally remembering who they were. Well, it was a combo. The Devils kept firing on Lundqvist from every angle but he kept turning them away, making a few more large saves including a gem on Mottau, who had one labeled. Just amazing stuff. Of course, I didn't play him figuring Marty and the Devs would prevail. When he wasn't robbing unlikely targets, Henrik was plenty good enough to deny Kovalchuk (8 SOG), Elias, Langenbrunner and Zach Parise. The dangerous quartet combined for nearly half (20 of 41) their total.
In a game where he deserved his third shutout, it wasn't to be as Zubrus ended the bid when he took an Elias feed in the slot and beat Lundqvist at 11:11, cutting it to 3-1 with lots of hockey left. As normally happens, the pesky Devils swarmed his crease trying everything to pull off another miracle. But our goalie ain't Jonas Gustavsson. Oddly enough, with Jiggy getting a second consecutive shutout in a Leaf 5-0 pasting of the Sens, you wonder why Ron Wilson didn't start him Friday. The Leafs' win in fitting tribute to Brendan Burke has them and the Candy Canes only 10 out. Could that extra two prove costly? Speaking of Burke, why didn't the Rangers have a moment of silence? No class.
Still up two, the Rangers were pretty disciplined. While they continued to lead, the douche in our section wearing a second rate blank Devil jersey continued to talk smack, using the lame "3 Cups" and "9th/10th seed" crap. If we hadn't made the postseason the past four years, fine. We know our team sucks. I don't know about other fans but our section has some of the most knowledgable/passionate fans who get it. This is a very flawed roster which needs fixing. Aside from the penalties, Jokinen has looked good. In the four years this team's seen the Spring, they've advanced to the second round twice with the only shot blown by Tom Renney at the end of Game Five versus Buffalo. Anyone with a clue realizes that making the playoffs is counterproductive because it allows Dolan to believe it's a success. The East blows! Plus if they get in, it lets Slats off the hook for the upteenth time. So, talking redundant crap doesn't bother us because unlike Kool Aid drinkers like Joe Micheletti (fyi that 'Shuddup Micheletti chant in 409 was epic), we're thinking Big Picture. I only want to make it if we can seriously compete for the hardware. Hopefully, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh and Evgeny Grachev continue to develop. A word of advice for Spicoli who probably couldn't name half the '03 Devil roster. Next time, find better material. When you don't even know 'your team' has won the same amount of series post-lockout, you're a fraud.
Now, to the Avery/Kovalchuk shenanigans. It's already been discussed at length on Twitter and I had a friendly debate with @stevelepore over the matter. Apparently, @seanaverydotcom talked smack to the former Hotlanta star who lost his cool shoving his stick into him. A repeat offence also done during a first round sweep in 2007. Both received matching double minors (roughing) with 2:16 left, meaning Avery did his job. Look. We know he tries to goad opponents. Unlike Brodeur in the 1-0 epic last time out, Kovalchuk admittedly lost discipline then throwing punches. When your team's trailing late, you can't do that. His selfish play which was cheap and should merit a fine or suspension (oh it won't bc of double standard) hurt his team. They eventually got a late six-on-four thanks to waste of space Wade Redden's second minor but the Rangers did a great job blocking shots with usual suspects Callahan and Drury killing off the clock.
As for Lemaire's gripe that trash talk be penalized, ha. How much fun should be taken out? At the end of the day, they're just words. Actions speak louder. If Kovalchuk wants to win in the playoffs, he has to show better composure.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Brandon Prust, NYR (assist for 1st Ranger Pt, 10 PIM in six shifts-4:18)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (PPG decider, assist, 5 SOG, 6 hits, 2 blocked shots in 22:22)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (41 saves incl.19/20 in 3rd to snap personal 6-gm losing streak)