Throughout most of his career, Henrik Lundqvist has owned the Devils. However, that certainly wasn't the case last night with a rejuvenated Devil club coming into MSG and chasing him in a satisfying 3-2 win before a sparse crowd. The Devils have been playing much better hockey and continued their hot trend with an eighth win in 10 (8-1-1) to pull out of the cellar and into a tie with the Islanders.
Believe it or not, they trail the eighth Thrashers by 18 points with still plenty of time left. Given that Atlanta's struggled lately and the Hurricanes also lost again, anything's possible. In the mean time, New Jersey is just focused on playing the kind of hockey that's produced the turnaround. Sticking to Jacques Lemaire's strict one-four neutral zone trap, the sharper Devs jumped on the Rangers from the outset with Ilya Kovalchuk wiring one top shelf past Lundqvist's glove only 64 seconds in. A lot went wrong on the play with three Rangers caught deep leading to a seamless transition with No.1 star Dainius Zubrus dropping the puck for Kovalchuk, who surprised Lundqvist from the right circle for his 15th.
Sloppy play would be a theme all night as the Blueshirts failed to get the puck deep, often throwing errant passes right to Devil sticks into the teeth of a stingy trap that forced a bakery dozen of turnovers. Unable to break the defense, a flat Ranger team struggled to generate anything for the first half. In fact, before Ryan Callahan surprised Martin Brodeur with a similar shot high glove answering Brian Rolston's goal which made it 3-zip late in the second, the Rangers had two total chances. Both of which were missed nets with Brandon Dubinsky hitting the post with Brodeur dead to rights and Artem Anisimov missing wildly. As fate would have it, it would foreshadow a cruel ending unless you drink Kool Aid.
For a second consecutive game since the All-Star break, it was evident that Lundqvist was fighting the puck, letting out some juicy rebounds like the one Mike Rupp deposited Tuesday. This time, it was a routine Zubrus shot that squeezed through for an awful second goal following a close call at the other end. Zubrus' ninth from Henrik Tallinder had the Devils in total control. Bottling up the neutral zone, they pounced on every Ranger mistake. Neither team really forechecked, which probably explains a grand total of 19 shots midway through. David Clarkson tried to liven a dead atmosphere by pounding Sean Avery in a anticlimatic fight if you could call it that which lasted 30 seconds. Avery fell down after one punch and it was over. Something tells us those two aren't done. Nothing was settled.
Continuing to have the better of the play, the Devils took full advantage of a lazy Mats Zuccarello pass into no-man's land. After the first-year Norwegian came hard on the backcheck, he simply threw the puck to a blind spot which Patrik Elias was only too glad to dish across for an open Rolston who buried his seventh past Lundqvist- effectively ending his night. The Devils had scored three on a guy they usually struggle just to get to one. Three goals on 12 shots and Martin Biron was in. Right away, he was tested and made an outstanding stop. Though he only faced six shots, at least half were clutch giving his team a chance at another comeback.
Following a timeout in which a furious John Tortorella peppered his team including during a TV break, Anisimov and Callahan hooked up on a nice play, getting one back 81 seconds later. A streaking Anisimov backed up the D before dropping to a cutting Callahan whose slapshot went inside the crossbar past Brodeur's glove. A similar goal to Kovalchuk's but from a sharper angle. Neither goalie could've been pleased on either even if they were rockets. Callahan's second goal in two games since returning gave his team life. They pressured the last few minutes but still trailed 3-1 after two.
The Devils ran into penalty trouble early in the final stanza with Zubrus (goalie interference) and Anton Volchenkov (delay of game) in the box 45 seconds apart. Eventually, even our putrid power play had to score. Thanks to returnee Vinny Prospal, they did with Mr.Suntan centering one off Tallinder's stick for his first of the season. Nice to see him get rewarded in his first game back. Prosp was better than expected taking a team high five shots in 16:33 while nearly setting up Marian Gaborik in the first and narrowly missing a goal earlier. His creativity down low was evident and can only boost our offense. Who knows? Maybe it will rub off on the PP.
Speaking of Gaborik who got a secondary helper on the goal with Zuccarello also assisting, he was invisible. When Kovalchuk who isn't exactly known for defense takes him off the puck and goes the other way, that's pathetic. Maybe it's time for Gabby to play with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. Find me one good reason why Zuccarello or Wojtek Wolski should play on the fourth line with Avery and Chris Drury. That's how down I am on Gabby. Start earning your paycheck.
So, with Prospal scoring early to make it one goal, I had to stay just to see our miserable power play fail twice. I needed to catch the local 1 train back to South Ferry for the 10 PM boat. So, when our late man-advantage was about to go empty, I took off for Penn Station hoping I'd make it. As fate had it, I ran into a Devil fan who told me we hit the post with a second left before the train came. Of course, it got to the Ferry terminal with a minute to spare. By the time I and a few others raced upstairs, it was too late. So, I had to settle for the 10:30 boat and didn't get back till after 11. :P
Yeah, I was mad. LOL...but the ferry ride back was nice and there were several fans also on it. If only there'd been some actual noise in the building. I've never seen such a late arriving crowd for a Battle Of Hudson. I don't know if it's the icy weather and all the snow, but it wasn't close to a sellout. There was no energy in the place. It looks like I'm going to go to my first Rangers-Devils game at The Rock when the rematch takes place two weeks from now on February 18. I have a Devil buddy going, another friend who hates hockey but just wants to torment me and two other Ranger fans. So, it should be quite interesting. If anyone else wants to meet up from the njdevs, let me know.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Patrik Elias, NJD (assist, +3 with great overall play)
2nd Star-Brian Rolston, NJD (GWG-7th of season)
1st Star-Dainius Zubrus, NJD (9th of season, assist)