By Steve Silverman
New York, NY (WFAN) – It seemed like it was just a matter of time before the New Jersey Devils would break through and put a good size dent on the scoreboard.
Through the first 20 minutes of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was all Devils. The Rangers simply did not have the puck and if it wasn’t for the sensational work of Henrik Lundqvist in the Rangers’ net and the defense’s ability to block shots, the Devils might have had two or three goals right off the bat. Ilya Kovalchuk had a couple of big opportunities and the Devils seemed to manufacture odd-man breaks whenever they wanted them.
But there was no early New Jersey goal and when the Devils continued to get the better of play in the second period, John Tortorella had seen enough. He called his team together to wake them up and get them to start to play more of an all-around game. Prior to the timeout, the goaltending and shotblocking were there, but forechecking was non-existent. Tortorella, as is his won’t, gave them a very gentle reminder.
After that speech, the Rangers responded immediately. They would not take over the game, but there were foot races that were won, puck battles that were won and opportunities that were gained. In the second period, Derek Stepan got the puck at the right point and sent it toward the net. The puck took a fortuitous Rangers bounce and ended up at the feet of Ryan Callahan on the left side of the net. Callahan gathered the puck and then let go of a quick wrister that appeared destined to go in. But Martin Brodeur flashed his glove and the game remained scoreless.
But what that shot did was get the Rangers into the battle. Prior to that shot, all the best chances belonged to the Devils and now the Rangers had reason to believe. Their mojo was rising through the rest of the second period and by the third period started they were ready to seize control of the game.
That’s just what happened. Early in the third Carl Hagelin used his speed to get to a loose puck behind the goalline and then used his body to win the battle. He controlled the puck and put a perfect pass on Brad Richards’ stick. The ensuing shot beat Brodeur but it glanced off the crossbar. Marion Gaborik followed with another quick shot that Brodeur knocked it away with a kick of his foot.
The Rangers had their relentless checking game going and when Bryce Salvador of the Devils took a hooking penalty at the 2:11 mark, the Rangers were ready to take advantage. Richards won a faceoff back towards the right point. Dan Girardi, ready to make something happen as he did in the first game of the series when he scored the game’s opening goal, came skating in and took control of the puck at the top of the faceoff circle. His wicked wrister punished Brodeur by finding the back of the net.
With the scoreless tie broken, the Rangers kept the pressure on the Devils. Callahan had the puck and it eventually made its way to Ryan McDonagh at the left point. He quickly fired it toward the far post. Just as Brodeur appeared ready to swallow it up, rookie Chris Kreider found himself in the right place at the right moment and tipped it by Brodeur for his fifth goal of the playoffs. A 2-0 lead with less than 15 minutes to play meant the Rangers were firmly in control.
The Devils turned up the intensity after that, but it was an exercise in futility. They had to know that with Lundqvist squaring up nearly every shot and Callahan blocking everything else, nothing short of a miracle that would allow them to score two goals and tie it up. When Callahan scored into an empty net with 2:13 remaining, the Rangers had their second win of the series. In both 3-0 victories, the Rangers scored all of their goals in the third period.
Lundqvist was once again the architect of the win. When his teammates were struggling through the first half of the game, he was not about to give anything to the Devils. He knew that if he could do his part, his teammates would eventually find a way. “I have confidence in this team,” Lundqvist said. “I always do because we find ways to make plays. I’m feeling sharp and I’m seeing the puck well. I’m going to give my team a chance.”
That’s all that really matters. The Devils are sharp, quick and powerful. But none of it matters if you can’t take charge on the scoreboard. Throughout the playoffs, the Rangers have played with jump and confidence when they get the first goal.
That first goal may not come until the final 20 minutes, but it’s still a winning formula for a team that seems destined to get to the Stanley Cup Finals.