Thursday, May 17, 2012

Devils win battles to square series

One of the keys to the Devils Game Two win was their continued effort to make life difficult on the Rangers. They won many battles, including at even strength where the East's sixth seed had the upper hand, outscoring the top seed 2-0. Most evident was their relentless forecheck pressure that forced their opponent into mistakes.

Two such instances allowed them to rally from a 2-1 deficit, pulling out a 3-2 win at The Garden to square the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Final. Still trailing late in the second, coach Pete DeBoer sent out his fourth line against the Rangers' top unit. They got the better of them. When Marian Gaborik didn't get the puck out thanks to Bryce Salvador, the Devs capitalized when the physical defenseman's shot was redirected by Ryan Carter. The goal came with under two minutes left, swinging the momentum.

The Devils quickly steered in front 2:31 into the final stanza when David Clarkson slipped away from Mike Del Zotto to deflect home his third of the postseason past Henrik Lundqvist. He started the play with physicality and then got loose in front for a neat redirect of a Adam Henrique shot. Salvador again kept it alive and found an open Henrique for the game decider. Speaking of the rookie, he also was a factor in the faceoff circle, winning 10-of-17 including some critical ones with Lundqvist off for an extra attacker.

For the night, New Jersey won the faceoff battle by taking 32-of-59. A reverse from Game One when the New York dominated by winning 59 percent (36-25). Travis Zajac also went 11-and-7. Both centers combined to win 21 of the club's 32. On one crucial sequence back in the first, the Rangers best Brian Boyle was in the box while Ilya Kovalchuk scored on the power play. For the game, Boyle was 6-and-3 while his teammates struggled. Brad Richards couldn't duplicate a strong first game, losing 11-of-20 while getting kicked out on a few. Derek Stepan is the Blueshirts' weakest and finished 8-and-12. 

Another area the Devils improved on was in the hitting department. Only credited with 21 to their blood rival's 35 Wednesday, they turned it up by matching the Rangers trademark. The Hudson rivals combined for 63 checks with the Blueshirts holding a much closer 39-34 edge. Four Devils including captain Zach Parise and franchise leading scorer Patrik Elias had four apiece, along with Salvador and Dainius Zubrus. The Rangers were paced by captain Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh, who each led the game with five.

Block Party: Following the ridiculous criticism from media outlets, the Rangers blocked 10 fewer shots. They still repelled 16 while the Devils got in the path of seven, including a big one in the final minute with Dan Girardi looking to force overtime. The 23 combined blocks were a sharp contrast from Game One.

               NJD        NYR       Total 
Game 1   16           26            42
Game 2    7            16            23

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