By Brian Monzo
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Just 48 hours ago the Rangers were celebrating a series victory over the Capitals. Today they are celebrating a 1-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Rangers find themselves three wins away now from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
After a relatively even first two periods, the Rangers came out in the third period of a scoreless tie and scored two goals on Martin Brodeur. They then added an empty netter to seal the 3-0 win. Henrik Lundqvist, continuing to be the best player perhaps throughout the playoffs, made 21 saves for his 5th career playoff shutout.
There were three things that stood out to me more than anything last night, and they were the play of Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin. Chris Kreider had a great game as well, but I think Rangers fans are becoming more accustomed to him being a key contributor right now.
Del Zotto, while his defensive play at times is still shaky, is skating as good as I have ever seen him skate. He is joining the play, rushing the puck out of the zone and looking more confident and comfortable with his role. It probably helps that the Rangers have an onslaught of defensive-minded players, but his ability to move the puck and join the play is something that Rangers fans have wanted to see for a few years now, and he is doing it on a regular basis.
McDonagh is the Rangers best defenseman. How the Canadiens traded him to the Rangers in the package for Scott Gomez is beyond anyone. His speed has accelerated by five times in the playoffs. He made plays last night to catch Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk on near breakaways that I am not sure anyone else on the team — or even the league — could have. He fearlessly blocks a million shots, and his confidence with the puck makes him the closest thing to Brian Leetch that the Rangers have had since the late ’90s.
Hagelin hasn’t been putting up a ton of points, but he is chasing down pucks and creating chances as well as anyone on the team. No one can match his speed and it never stops. He isn’t quite there yet with his offensive set of skills, but his speed is a factor every time he is on the ice.
For the Rangers to win this series, they need to utilize their speed and defensive mindset. They did that last night and it resulted in a series lead. They have yet to win a second game of a series, but if they play like they did in the third period last night, there is no reason to think that they cannot get it done.
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