In each of the first two rounds of these playoffs, the easiest of the four Rangers victories was the first of them. And, so, keep that in mind after tonight’s 3-0 Rangers win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals — one of the few Rangers victories in these playoffs that seemed pretty safe as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The Rangers are off to a good start in this series, but there’s a long way to go.
During the second intermission, this game hardly looked like it would end with a 3-0 Rangers final, as the Devils’ forecheck was as good as advertised in the first and second periods: They won battles and got some opportunities off of Rangers mistakes, though they had no goals to show for it. (In fact, they had fewer shots than the Rangers when the teams went to the dressing rooms after 40 scoreless minutes.)
But at 53 seconds of the third period, the Rangers would get on the board: Chris Kreider used his speed to get to a puck in the New Jersey zone and passed it to an open area at the point that would soon be occupied by Dan Girardi, who’d just jumped off the bench. Girardi’s one-timer found the back of the net, and from that point on, the Rangers found another gear. (It was especially swell that Girardi — who’d struggled a bit to that point in the game — got the goal.)
The Rangers seemed to really find their groove in the third — this is encouraging considering how there were fears that fatigue could be an issue for this team — and they’d score their second goal of the night at the twelve-minute mark of the period. This time, it would be Kreider who got the goal, off a feed from Artem Anisimov. (Kreider, by the way, was about 11 months old when Martin Brodeur made his NHL debut.) And, so, with eight minutes remaining, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead, and the crowd had yet another opportunity to serenade Martin Brodeur with the singsongy “Maaaaarty, Maaaaarty” chant he’s surely become accustomed to by now. (Artem Anisimov would score an empty-netter after Brodeur was pulled to complete the scoring.)
Brodeur will make highlight reels for his stop on Marc Staal in the third period. But the first star in this game was his counterpart on the Rangers, and Henrik Lundqvist will make those same highlight reels for coming across his crease to make a save off Ilya Kovalchuk when the score was still 1-0. He’d make 21 saves in this game en route to his fifth career playoff shutout, though he’d only face four shots in a third period that was dominated by the Rangers. Lundqvist got some help in this one, as well: The Devils had more shots blocked by Rangers skaters than they got on goal, and Ryan McDonagh’s skating ability was on display tonight, especially when he caught up to Zach Parise in the first period when the Devils’ captain was on a breakaway.
To repeat something that came up on a few occasions during the Washington series: The Rangers are yet to win a game in these playoffs at a point at which they have a series lead. But after kicking off the Eastern Conference Finals with a win tonight, they’ll get another chance to do so in Game 2 on Wednesday.