Devils Take 3-2 Series Lead

AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Devils turned a stellar first nine minutes
and an opportunistic final five into a stirring victory over the
Rangers that moved New Jersey within one win of a trip to the
Stanley Cup finals.
Suddenly, No. 1 seed New York is on the brink _ again.
No one would have guessed when Travis Zajac scored 9:49 in to
give the Devils a three-goal lead that they would be desperately
looking for one more late in the third to hold off the Rangers, who
had fought back to tie and appeared to have every bit of the
But the game, and perhaps the entire Eastern Conference finals,
changed in the blink of an eye when Ryan Carter put the Devils in
front to stay.
Carter snapped a tie with 4:24 left, and New Jersey survived en
route to a 5-3 victory over New York after blowing a three-goal
lead in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
The rugged fourth-line forward, who had only four goals and four
assists in 72 games with Florida and New Jersey, already has three
goals in the playoffs, including two in the East finals.
The Devils, who led 3-0 before the first period was half over,
have a 3-2 edge in the series and can advance to face the Los
Angeles Kings in the finals with a win at home on Friday night. If
the Rangers can stay alive, Game 7 would be back in Madison Square
Garden Sunday.
“It’s a good feeling,” goalie Martin Brodeur said of the
Devils’ status. “We worked really hard to get in that position.
(There’s been) a lot of unsung heroes and guys producing at
different times. Players are playing well. We’ve just got to keep
“Nothing is done yet.”
The Devils seemed primed for an easy win when Stephen Gionta and
Patrik Elias scored within the first 4:13. Travis Zajac made it 3-0
before the Rangers woke up and began chipping away.
Brandon Prust brought New York within 3-1 before the first
period was over, and Ryan Callahan made it a one-goal game in the
first minute of the second. The Garden really rocked when Marian
Gaborik tied it at 3 just 17 seconds into the third.
But the comeback was for naught. Carter put the Devils back in
front, and Zach Parise sealed it with an empty-net goal.
“I thought,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said, “we probably
played our best game of the series.”
Once Gaborik tied it with an unassisted goal that ricocheted in
off the skate of Brodeur, it appeared the Rangers would ride the
comeback all the way to one of the most stirring wins in team
history _ one that would rival victories over New Jersey in the
classic 1994 East finals when the Rangers erased a 3-2 series hole
behind Mark Messier’s guarantee.
Carter made sure it wouldn’t happen.
“You have to (keep it together) this time of year,” Gionta
said. “You have to have a short memory. Fortunately we did and
came out with the victory.”
Ilya Kovalchuk knocked Michael Del Zotto off the puck in the
right corner, and Gionta sent a pass in front to Carter _ who had
just charged in front from the bench _ for a quick shot that beat
Henrik Lundqvist.
“A great play by Kovy to separate their (defensemen) from the
puck,” Carter said. “Gio scooped the puck up, took a look and
made a fantastic pass to me. All I had to was redirect it.”
New Jersey was outshot 28-17 overall and had only six shots in
the third period, but two of them went in. Now the Devils are on
the verge of their first Cup finals appearance since they won their
third title in 2003.
Brodeur, the backbone of every New Jersey title, kept his focus
throughout the third when he was loudly taunted with chants of
“Mar-ty, Mar-ty” after New York got even.
“It was a mistake,” Brodeur said of Gaborik’s goal. “I’m
pretty happy that the boys bounced back and made this a win for us.
It would have been tough and people would have blamed that
The Rangers were ultimately done in by another terrible start.
For the 13th straight game in these playoffs, the team that scored
first in New York’s contests has gone on to win. The Rangers had
been on a pattern of win-one, lose-one, but now they are on the
verge of elimination with their second two-game losing streak in a
series this year.
The only time the Rangers have won two straight in a playoff
series is when they overcame a 3-2 hole in the first round and
knocked out Ottawa. They have faced elimination three times already
this postseason.
“We have to. There is no other way around it,” Lundqvist said
of the Rangers’ comeback chances. “We have to bring all the good
things we did and keep doing them in the next game. We played
really well in the second and third period.”
They couldn’t say the same about the first.
“It’s different when you go down 3-0. You don’t have a whole
lot to lose,” Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. “It was good
nonetheless. Now it’s 3-2. Now we have to win two. That’s the
bottom line.”
The Rangers burned their timeout early, and Devils coach Peter
DeBoer spent his with 10:17 left. Parise implored his teammates on
the bench to, `Come on boys.’ and the messages from the coach and
the captain did the trick.
New Jersey surely never thought it would be in this kind of
fight after storming in front early.
“It wasn’t pretty by any means, what we did tonight,” Parise
said. “But we’re going home with a 3-2 lead.”
Not only didn’t the Rangers have the strong start they craved
and insisted they needed, they were practically run out of their
building less than 10 minutes in.
The same problems that plagued New York in its 4-1 loss in Game
4, when the Devils jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period,
cropped up again in front of the home fans that grew frustrated and
angry early.
Gionta got the Devils going 2:43 in when he gathered a rebound
of Mark Fayne’s shot right in front of Lundqvist, steadied himself
without any pressure from the defense, and slipped in his third
goal of the playoffs to start the barrage.
Elias made it 2-0 just 1:30 later on New Jersey’s fourth shot of
the night.
After Kovalchuk fumbled the puck just inside the blue line, he
dived to keep it from leaving the Rangers’ zone. The puck
eventually came to Adam Henrique at the right point for a shot that
was stopped by Lundqvist. Elias got it in front and scored his
Tortorella used his timeout then, but it made little difference.
He appeared to be calm as he moved back and forth behind the bench
while talking to his players. Whatever the message was didn’t sink
The Devils shrugged off a few scoring chances by the Rangers,
and padded their lead again.
Just 5:26 after Elias’ goal, Zajac made it 3-0 with his seventh
of the playoffs. Bryce Salvador wiped out Rangers defenseman Ryan
McDonagh in the New Jersey end and started the play going the other
way. Zajac got a clean shot from just inside the right circle that
sailed past Lundqvist and beat him inside the left post at 9:49.
The tide began to turn the Rangers’ way the rest of the period
as they allowed only one shot the rest of the period and began
cutting into the deficit.
Prust, making his return following a one-game suspension for an
elbow he delivered to the head of Devils defenseman Anton
Volchenkov in Game 3, showed off a bit of scoring touch when he
converted on a breakaway with 4:19 left in the first.
The Rangers outshot the Devils 9-6 in the lopsided first period,
but continued their sudden defensive dominance well into the
second. Then they cut the Devils’ lead down to a goal just 32
seconds into the second.
Brandon Dubinsky, back from a foot injury, fired a shot from the
left point that was deflected in front and caromed toward the left
corner. Artem Anisimov flung the puck back toward the crease and it
struck the left skate of the driving Callahan and got past Brodeur.
The goal stood up after a brief video review.
New Jersey didn’t record its first shot of the period, and its
second since its third goal, until Henrique put a puck in on
Lundqvist at 6:23.
Lundqvist, who had stopped 94 percent of the shots he faced in
the playoffs before Wednesday, made just 12 saves. The Rangers
allowed five goals one game after allowing four for the first time
in this postseason.
To make the finals now, New York will have to win a third
consecutive seven-game series. The Rangers have already played 19
postseason games.
“We have to have a short memory,” McDonagh said. “We’ve been
in this position before in this playoffs and we found a way to get
it done. We don’t want to look ahead. We have to win two games, but
we just have to focus on winning one.”
Notes: Dubinsky had been sidelined since he was injured in the
Rangers’ victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the first round. He sat
out all seven games of the second round against Washington and the
first four against New Jersey. John Mitchell was scratched to make
room in the lineup. Prust’s return forced D Steve Eminger to sit
out after he played the two previous games. … Kovalchuk has 10
assists in the postseason. … Prust scored his first career NHL
playoff goal in his 23rd game. … The game was played on the
18-year anniversary of Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference
finals, in which the Devils won, 4-1, took a 3-2 series lead, and
prompted the Messier guarantee the following day.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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