Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Anatomy of a wild Devils shootout win
Generally as fans you tend to get more emotional with each save, each goal (and goal against) and each hit when your team is facing its biggest rival. All the more so when you have to deal with busloads of their fans in your building. With that in mind, I guess it's understandable tonight was the most emotional I've been at a game all year. To do this game justice by a cold recap is impossible, you had to be there to experience all the twists and turns of a great novel.
Truth be told, I wasn't too confident in this game...until I heard that Henrik Lundqvist was sitting this one out. It's not so much that Martin Biron is terrible, although we've always done well against him - it's that our team and our Marty (Martin Brodeur) seems to shrink in the presence of Lundqvist. Still, this game was always going to be a tough one with the Rangers coming in completely healthy and the Devils still missing two of their top centerman and one of their top defensemen in Henrik Tallinder, but at least the lineup would be helped by the return of Andy Greene from his own injury issues, and the signing of Steve Bernier to an NHL contract to further shore up our back two lines.
Walking around before the game, I saw the usual infestation of blue including a Ranger shirt on one of my good friends who recently got engaged and was with her fiance (of course a Rangers fan) at her first hockey game. If nothing else it certainly would prove to be a memorable night for all involved. I was less enthused to see all the blue in my section 120, including many seats in my row. I mean really, it's not good enough that we get $22 season seats, but you guys also have to flip the Ranger games for profit? Come on now, few of these people including one I know personally in my row need the money that bad...that's one reason why I will not sell Ranger tickets on the secondary market to make a profit, because more often than not they go to Ranger fans who are all too happy to pay prices that are still below or comparable to MSG level gouging.
Fortunately the Ranger fans in my section were only semi-annoying, and not as much so after the first period when I really felt I was either going to fling myself or someone else off the balcony...particularly after a wild last few minutes where Brodeur made several spectacular saves but finally the Devils' defense had one too many breakdowns and Anton Stralman of all people (a Devils camp castoff) scored to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the final minute of the period. For the first and not the last time tonight, I just threw up my hands and said 'I give up'. Considering my 2-10-2 record in the last five years at Devils-Rangers games, I was starting to get a little tired of the whole same script, different day nonsense.
Especially when ex-Devil Mike Rupp took a run at David Clarkson and upended him minutes earlier. Rupp's replaced the sideshow (Sean Avery) as my most loathed Ranger, partly because of his arrogant atitude about how he was treated here - he really believes that we stunted his career and that he would have been more than a fourth-liner if we 'gave him a chance'...all this despite the fact we saved his career after the lockout when nobody wanted him. Since leaving the Devils, he's seemed to take out his bitterness on his ex-mates, almost obliterating Jay Pandolfo with a cheap shot when he was a Penguin and now this. Once his contract is up with the Rangers, I'm sure he'll sign with the Flyers - both because he fits in there and because I'm sure he'll want to play with every one of the Devils' rivals before his career is over.
My anger at Rupp and the fact that it was Stralman of all people who scored only exacerbated my disgust over being behind and having to hear nonsense from the crowd (including one guy behind me who just could not stop chattering the entire game), especially the 'Devils Suck' chants during the National Anthem. There's chanting and making noise, and then there's nonsense you say just to be noticed. Fortunately the second period proved to be better than the first, and the Devils even managed to tie the game on a rebound goal from Zach Parise, who beat Biron shortside over the shoulder with a wrister that probably doesn't get past Lundqvist...but whatever.
As it turned out, the first two periods were merely a prelude to the madness in the third. Moments after Biron stopped Ilya Kovalchuk on a shorthanded breakaway, Brian Boyle took advantage of a Devils' breakdown and a fortuitous bounce of a blocked shot onto his stick to roof one over a prone Brodeur, giving the Rangers back the lead at 2:43. The game would stay at 2-1 for the longest time, as the clock ran down like sand in an hourglass, especially with the lack of stoppages in a third period with a lot of flow, but little action until late. Finally, the Devils managed to get one more power play chance. After bombing on their first two, the third time proved to be the charm, with Patrik Elias finding Kovalchuk open in the shot, and his wrister beat Biron to tie the game again at 15:25, and Kovy shared his excitement with the crowd throwing his arms into the air.
His - and our - euphoria proved short-lived however. Thirty-six seconds long, to be exact...just long enough for another breakdown, and another questionable Brodeur goal allowed to Michael Del Zotto after he'd made some brilliant saves throughout the match. One more time I was mad at the world and mad at everyone, including Brodeur who gave up the same type of back-breaking goal he usually gives up mano-a-mano with Lundqvist. That probably should have been enough to decide this one too...but with just forty-eight seconds left, a fortuitous bounce of a Greene dump in hopped right onto the stick of David Clarkson in front, and he wristed one past Biron in front to tie the game yet again.
By this time, overtime seemed like a cooldown period although both teams had their chances to win it before the shootout. Finally it went to the skills competition again, for the eleventh time in forty-nine games for the Devils...but not without some added suspense as the officials couldn't get one of the net pegs off the ice and the Zamboni driver had to hang around for several minutes - hours it seemed to me - before finally being able to freshen up the last patch of ice around Brodeur's net. When the shootout began, it began on a familiar note with Kovy scoring. Once, he was terrible in the skills competition but now this year he's been money, scoring on eight of nine chances. Conversely, Parise used to be money but lately he's been shut down and Biron stopped him again near post. Patrik Elias couldn't do much with his chance either as the puck hopped off his stick.
Needing to hold the fort at all costs, Brodeur did - watching Derek Stepan miss the net and stopping Brad Richards, setting up match point against Marian Gaborik. In a similar spot against Jason Pominville last week, Brodeur couldn't hold the lead but received instant redemption when he stopped Gaborik and sealed the win. After being emotional most of the game, I was just relieved by this point and did a simple two finger point to the sky - the Pedro Martinez salute (anyone who's a baseball fan knows what I'm talking about). Ironic that our final game before the All-Star break saw a bad bounce go against us for a critical goal and Brodeur not doing the job needing one save to win a shootout, whereas this week the bad bounce went in our favor and Brodeur did make the biggest shootout save...upping our skills competition record to 9-2 and pulling the Devils to within three points of Ottawa for the sixth seed.