Hartnett: Devils Beating Rangers At Their Own Game
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‘Devils In The Details’
By Sean Hartnett
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If you’re an ardent hockey devotee like myself, you’ve probably watched the 2004 film ‘Miracle’ to the point that you’re practically able to quote the movie word-for-word.
There’s a scene where Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) assembles his Team USA into the film room and briefs them on how to beat the Russians.
“There is a way to stay with this team. You take their game and you shove it right back in their face,” Brooks demanded.
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Devils did exactly that. Their entire lineup outperformed the Rangers from top-to-bottom and surpassed the Blueshirts in several key areas.
New Jersey was more aggressive, stronger on the forecheck and won important battles along the boards. As a result, the Rangers struggled for puck possession and failed to score any goals in 5-on-5 situations.
“I thought we established our forecheck right off the bat in the first period and we’re creating zone time and chances. We felt if we could play 5-on-5 and stick with it, we were going to get rewarded, and that’s what happened,” Devils’ head coach Peter DeBoer said post-game.
Dogged determination on the forecheck, an emphasis on backchecking and a consistent start-to-finish effort. These are characteristics that the Rangers have prided themselves upon all season, but the Devils were the livelier bunch for the entire 60 minutes in Game 2.
Defenseman Andy Greene hustled back late in the third period to earn an crucial icing which forced the Rangers back into their defensive zone and delayed Henrik Lundqvist leaving the ice for an extra skater. Once Lundqvist was able to leave his crease, the Devils frustrated the Rangers by repeatedly clearing pucks down ice as they beat the Rangers in the face-off circle.
I asked Devils’ captain Zach Parise about the importance of Greene’s late efforts that helped kill the clock in the dying minutes of Game 2.
“Little plays like that go a long way right now. You never know if they’re able to get that forecheck going. We can the puck all the way back to their zone, kill the clock a little more as opposed to them getting a cycle going,” Parise replied.
Parise believes Greene has been an ‘unsung hero’ for the Devils these playoffs. “(Andy) has had an unbelievable postseason for us. He’s kinda gone under the radar but he’s been huge. He’s making a lot of little plays like that have gone a long way for us,” he explained.
Bryce Salvador echoed a similar belief when I spoke with him post-game.
“It’s a big play. It’s the difference between an icing and them having some time in our zone. So, it was one of those plays that not to many people notice but it was a huge play,” Salvador stated.
Outside of Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal that was forcefully blasted past Lundqvist, the Devils tend to score high-effort goals that are product of hard labor around the ‘low-slot.’ David Clarkson thrives in this area and scored the game-winning goal in Game 2.
Each of his three playoff goals have been game-winners. Martin Brodeur spoke about Clarkson’s physical attributes during his post-game press conference.
“Clarkie is a guy who is hard to play against when he’s strong on the puck and when he gets himself positioned well in front of net and be able to make some plays around the net. I thought it was a pretty dominant player inside the offensive zone,” Brodeur explained.
Listen to Brodeur’s entire press conference below:
Where Parise grew up in Minnesota, they have a saying for these kind of goals. They call them ‘bloody nose goals.’ I asked Zach is this is a kind of trademark that the Devils embody.
“We want to be known for it and I think that’s how you gotta score against these guys. It’s not pretty against these guys. You’re not going to get a lot of tick-tack-toe opportunities, you gotta work,” Parise replied.
The Devils are just going to keep working and it’s up to the Rangers to find their legs and match New Jersey’s intensity level as the series shifts from Madison Square Garden to the Prudential Center.
Have the Devils seized the momentum going into Game 3? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.