Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rangers Draw First Blood: Girardi bounces back, Lundqvist shuts door

The drop of the puck signaled another clash between blood rivals. This one for the Eastern Conference with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final up for grabs. As Hasan previously noted, it is Armageddon with our teams meeting in the latest installment of the Battle Of Hudson. The sixth series between the Devils and Rangers kicked off last night. The Blueshirts used a dominant third period, outscoring the Devils 3-0 to draw first blood before a raucous atmosphere at Madison Square Garden.

Dan Girardi's second goal of the playoffs less than a minute in broke a scoreless tie. Rookie Chris Kreider who set up the first, added a power play goal and Artem Anisimov put the finishing touches on a 3-0 Ranger victory- allowing the top seed to take a 1-0 series lead. For starters, the Rangers are three-for-three in Game One's thus far. It'll be interesting to see if they can follow it up unlike the previous two rounds against a higher quality opponent who forechecked them to death for large portions.

Following a pretty even first in which the two rivals felt each other out, it was all Devils in the second. From about the 15-minute mark, they controlled the tempo by owning the play with their aggressive cycle. Even during a Ranger power play, it was the always dangerous bitter rival who generated shorthanded chances only to be stopped in their tracks by a razor sharp Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, who unlike series grinch John Tortorella, talked about how special it is to face legend Martin Brodeur with such high stakes- was at his absolute best denying New Jersey captain Zach Parise three consecutive times from in tight. He aggressively challenged Parise, who also was stifled on a breakaway in the first by an outstanding defensive play from Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh wasn't done, forcing Ilya Kovalchuk to a tough angle backhand on another early opportunity.

Thanks to a yeoman effort from his teammates, Lundqvist only faced 21 shots en route to his second shutout of this postseason. He still came up with some gems including a glove save on Devil freshman Adam Henrique and a sliding stop to deny Kovalchuk with the Rangers nursing a one-goal lead. When Lundqvist wasn't shutting the door, his team was frustrating the Devils by blocking 26 shots with many coming during the middle stanza.

As fate would have it, I sat down at ice level in my Dad's seat over in 111 for the Devil onslaught. Time and again, their bigger and faster forwards pinned us in by taking time and space away. That included a scary sequence where Girardi nearly banked in the puck off Lundqvist, who thankfully was alert. It led to the Devils firing shot after shot without success. Between the diving blocks that have become a Ranger trademark and Lundqvist's heroics (11 saves), it got the crowd back into it. Even downstairs, you could feel the electricity. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a fan from Montreal who made the trek. Coincidentally, he was originally from Brooklyn. Made for entertaining convo.

They couldn't have played any worse yet were still tied. I decided to go back to 411. Hockey superstitions :P. Whatever Tortorella said worked. The Rangers were a different team, finally taking the play to the Devils. If there is one area you can attack, it's their D. The Flyers were never able to forecheck consistently. If we're gonna win this series, they'll need to play the way they did in the third. Kreider recovered a Mike Del Zotto dump and then patiently waited for a streaking Girardi who came off the bench for a wide open one-timer that went through a Derek Stepan screen past Brodeur. To think Chico Resch actually thought he bumped him. There are no words. Glad Brodeur put that to rest even if his blocked shots commentary was a bit perplexing.

The Devils did get a power play with a chance to tie after a marginal call on Brandon Prust. But Lundqvist slid across to deny Kovalchuk, who was a bit off. He failed to keep two pucks in later. Eventually, after the kill Dainius Zubrus boarded Girardi leading to Kreider's of the playoffs. Of course, after our useless top unit did nothing, the Rangers came in three-on-two with Anisimov threading the needle to Kreider who released it so quick I don't think Brodeur could've had it. It was similar to Marian Gaborik.

With the crowd in a frenzy taunting Marty, they nearly made it three but an unbelievable diving Brodeur made a backhand reflex glove save with a gaping net to stone Marc Staal. Wow. Say what you will about him being 40 but he still can make the ridiculous stop when his team needs it. That's one reason this won't be a picnic. Any of our fans who think that better realize the Devils aren't going away. With Pete DeBoer liking his team's effort but also saying they got a little cute, tomorrow should be tougher. Remember what they did to the Flyers following a loss.

The Rangers outshot the Devils 10-4 and outchanced them by a ton in the third. But that was the only period we won. So, our team can also be better. It'll have to be if they want to take a 2-0 lead.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Derek Stepan, NYR (great all around, screened Brodeur on Girardi winner)
2nd Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (game changing plays, +2)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (21 saves incl. 11/11 in busy 2nd)

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