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They met again for the fifth time this season. This one went to the team from Newark, who backed up home turf with a thorough performance. David Clarkson scored as did Ilya Kovalchuk in the Devils' 4-1 win over the Rangers at Prudential Center tonight.
It was a game New Jersey needed to give themselves more cushion in a tight playoff race with Ottawa and Winnipeg. Only their second win in six, the Devils came out flying against their Hudson rival. Kovalchuk scored 49 seconds in as the Devs never trailed in this one. Playing with more urgency, they fired pucks at Henrik Lundqvist from everywhere and had success. Four went in on 28 shots. A much better night than last Monday's 2-0 blanking in which they could only muster 13 on the Vezina frontrunner.
More than that, the Devils threw the kitchen sink at the league's best and were rewarded. Kovalchuk got things started early when he cashed in on a Marian Gaborik turnover and then beat a falling Ryan McDonagh before launching his 26th past Lundqvist. It snapped a nine-game drought for the Russian sniper, who dominated with his blazing speed and accuracy. He matched a season high with eight shots. All missiles. If not for some splendid stops from Lundqvist, Kovalchuk easily could've had a hat trick. He caught the Ranger D flatfooted.
Aside from the sloppiness that's crept into the Blueshirts, who've allowed three-or-more goals for three consecutive games, they were a step behind most of the game. Though they did pick it up in the middle of the first with a better forecheck, for the most part the Devils were better at attacking. However, the Rangers came out with a strong second, outshooting the Jersey hosts and out-chancing them. Rookie Carl Hagelin set up Derek Stepan in the slot for his 15th, tying it 1-1 at 6:56 of the second. An effective pinch from Dan Girardi allowed Hagelin to recover the puck and find Stepan unchecked. He quickly deposited it past Martin Brodeur. It was the only one that got by Brodeur, who made most of his 25 saves in a busy second. That included a couple on Marc Staal and one denial on a Ryan Callahan mini-break.
If the Rangers were fortunate to get out of the first trailing by one thanks to some large stops by Lundqvist on Kovalchuk, the Devils were equally as lucky after two. They played a great third, taking it to the Eastern leader. A week ago, Clarkson lost his mind taking 19 penalty minutes in the second, hurting his team. Tonight was a different story with the Devil antagonist wisely ignoring Mike Rupp and hurting the Rangers early in the third on a bit of a break. Off a three-on-two rush that saw Mike Del Zotto and Steve Eminger screen their own goalie, a routine Petr Sykora shot deflected off Clarkson past Lundqvist for a 2-1 lead at 2:27 of the third. Call it being in the right spot at the right time as Clarkson got credit for his career best 27th with Sykora and Patrik Elias assisting.
Before the Blueshirts knew what hit them, it was 3-1 less than two minutes later when fourth liner Ryan Carter beat Lundqvist thanks to a sweet dish from Jacob Josefson. Once again, the play was made possible due to a Ranger mistake. A theme on a night that saw them take not one but two bench minors. With the puck in the neutral zone, Girardi passed it right to Kovalchuk, who then fed Josefson who found Carter all alone for a gimme. It was his third of the season. Considering that a grinder more known for his penalty killing work and fists had already eliminated Brandon Dubinsky during a first period scrap, he probably has never had a better game. Why Dubinsky decided to drop the gloves and get pounded still boggles the mind. Making it worse, he stopped throwing and never returned with the injury in all likelihood, a fracture which could sideline him indefinitely. He took only two shifts (42 seconds).
With John Tortorella scratching John Mitchell in favor of pugilist John Scott and also reinserting Steve Eminger for Anton Stralman, the Rangers had no depth. It showed in the final stanza when they suddenly were down two. You'll have to ask Tortorella why on earth Scott and Rupp were out following Clarkson's goal. They just fell behind and the Devs had all the momentum and he somehow puts two guys who can't skate or contribute outside of their fists. A bad decision by the coach, who's done such a good job.
If not for Lundqvist, the game easily could've been 8 or 9-1. He continuously bailed out teammates following dreadful turnovers. Lundqvist robbed Kovalchuk at least four times, stoned Adam Henrique shorthanded and denied Clarkson off another miscue. The Devils were persistent, getting inspired efforts from their D who pinched effectively. The Rangers best chance to go ahead was when Adam Larsson got caught by Marian Gaborik, who head manned Callahan. But the puck never settled, allowing Brodeur to shut it down.
The Rangers had one power play with less than 12 minutes left, nearly cutting the deficit to one. But the backdoor to Stepan went off the right post before Brodeur calmly tucked it away. Brad Richards again was too predictable, never looking to shoot. If he doesn't regain his confidence by the Spring, the Blueshirts will be hard pressed to go anywhere.
With Lundqvist off for an extra attacker, Elias salted it away with 1:53 left, finishing off a deserved win for the Devils.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Ryan Carter, NJD (3rd of season, decision over Dubinsky)
2nd Star-Ilya Kovalchuk, NJD (26th of season, assist, game best 8 SOG, dominant)
1st Star-David Clarkson, NJD (GW w/17:33 remaining, 26th, 5 SOG, +1 in 18:42)
Notes: Scott renewed acquaintances with Cam Janssen in a second period draw with the smaller Janssen hanging in there despite an eight inch difference. They fought twice last year when Scott played for Chicago and Janssen for St. Louis. ... In another surprise, Rangers had only 12 hits while the Devils finished with 18 paced by Marek Zidlicky (4) of all people. ... Total shots: NYR-26 NJD-29 Teams totaled 55 which was 27 more than the paltry 28 eight days ago. Faceoffs were nearly even with the Devs holding a 30-29 edge led by Elias (10-of-19) and Josefson (8 and 4). Brian Boyle lost 12-of-22 and Richards was .500 (8 and 8). ... Despite finishing minus-two due to teammates, Staal had his best game making several good defensive plays and pinching effectively. He took 24 shifts (21:25) with two blocked shots and two takeaways.
... Somewhat astonishingly, Zach Parise was invisible with only one shot. ... Devils honored Sykora and Elias before faceoff due to milestones with each reaching 1,000 games. With a goal and assist, Elias surpassed his '10-11 total of 62 with 63 points (22-41-63). In 1,026 career games, the Devil all-time leading scorer is 357-522-879. ... Rangers (42-16-7, 91) lead Bruins and Pens by 10 points with 17 games left. They play Ottawa Thursday. Devils (37-24-5, 79) are sixth in East, trailing Flyers by two with 16 to go. They host the Islanders in two days and then visit Nassau Coliseum Saturday concluding NHL oddity in which the Isles play the Devs three consecutive times.