Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Devils shut out Rangers 1-0 after contreversial finish

If people (including me) wanted to put a slight asterisk on the Devils' home win against the Rangers last week, saying it didn't come against Henrik Lundqvist, you can't say that about the Devils' 1-0 win last night. Lundqvist showed up and was brilliant, allowing only a first-period power play goal to David Clarkson...but for one of the few times in this rivalry Marty was indeed better. Martin Brodeur turned back the clock and was at his best last night, making thirty saves including fifteen in a frantic third period, all while dealing with a sprained ankle after a collision with Ryan Callahan. That moment may have been key to what happened in the final five seconds - but more on that later.

Unfortunately, I had to go out after the first period and though I listened to much of the second period on the radio I missed the third entirely. Actually I only turned it on at 7:10, two seconds after the puck drop. Turned out not one, but two fights were already underway - Eric Boulton vs. Brandon Prust and Cam Janssen vs. Mike Rupp (a rematch of a fight several weeks ago). While the Devils won both bouts, everyone watching and in the stands understood this was going to be a man's game. Every inch and puck would be contested, and so it was...despite a dubious count of fifty-two Ranger hits compared to twenty-four for the Devils that even Janssen scoffed at in the postgame.

With both goalies looking in form early and often, it was going to take something special to move the scoreboard. And after Clarkson drew a penalty on Stu Bickel, he cashed in his twenty-first goal of the season after some quick passing by Patrik Elias and Zach Parise - who found a wide open Clarkson in the slot for a quick wrister that got the Devils the all-important first goal. As good as both goalies looked early though, I never dreamed that would be the only goal of the match, especially since for the first time in his career Marty was still barren of a shutout going into February and his record against rival Lundqvist was poor.

Lundqvist made the saves early as the Devils outshot the Rangers in the first two periods, but Brodeur was needed late as the Devils' familiar third-period problems seemed to crop up again. While I didn't see or hear the third, and by most accounts a lot of the shots were from the outside, the fact is the Rangers outshot the Devils 15-1. Just days after the Flyers outshot us 24-1 in the third. For once however, there was no soft goal, no fatal mistake although there very nearly was one in the final, frantic ten seconds.

Ironically, it was Parise of all people who could have ended the game with a simple dump-in but he chose to shoot at the empty net, and the puck was blocked and went the other way with rapid speed. Callahan seemingly took advantage by scoring with just seconds remaining but the goal was quickly and decisively waved off after Marian Gaborik plowed into Brodeur. When I first heard the call of this play on the radio and what had happened (I already knew the score from checking my phone) I was bemused, but didn't realize that play was actually in the final seconds until reading about it online after I got home. I was like whoa, I really have to see this play now.

To me it was a no-brainer that it was the right call. Gaborik was going full speed and already in the crease when he made contact. Saying he tried to stop is like saying I tried to stop going fifty miles per hour with a yellow light already up for a couple of seconds. It just isn't going to happen, you're running the red light. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov did not throw Gaborik into Brodeur, as the Rangers contended. If anything, he tried to push him away from Marty after he was already well on his way to contact and was battling him with his stick, which should have slowed him down if anything.

Of course, the Rangers went nuts with Lundqvist complaining about getting hit earlier and told he was diving, while accusing Marty of the same thing at the other end. Take a number, guys have been running Marty for five years and finally paid for it, though we might wind up paying a price too as Brodeur was still noticeably limping on his sprained ankle after the game. Did Callahan sliding into Marty earlier in the period and injuring him influence the later call on Gaborik? Probably, I still haven't seen that one though.

Either way, the win was still the Devils' fifth in a row after the All-Star break and was another step towards proving they could play with the top teams in the league. Not to mention another step towards solidifying a playoff berth.

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