Make it six times in this postseason that the Rangers have taken a lead in a series but failed to extend that lead in the following game. Just like they did in the first round against Ottawa and the second round against Washington, the Rangers won Game 1 against the Devils before losing Game 2 two nights later. (They even lost all three Game 2s by the same 3-2 score.) The Rangers were sloppy at times tonight, and they were flat for too much of the game, especially against a team with a forecheck as relentless as New Jersey’s. And so, now the Devils have home-ice advantage as the series shifts to Newark on Saturday afternoon. Nothing comes easy for this Rangers team, does it?
Ilya Kovalchuk opened the scoring with a power-play goal 13:39 into the first period — New Jersey’s first goal of the series. The Devils were the better team in that first period, but led by just a goal after twenty minutes. In the second period, the Rangers would twice score on the power play: Marc Staal was credited with a fluky goal at 2:23, while Chris Kreider scored his fourth of the playoffs at 12:19 on a deflection of an Anton Stralman shot.
But deflections were key for the Devils, too, and whatever momentum the Rangers might have gained in the second period went away when Ryan Carter scored on one at 18:09. On the play that led to the goal, Marian Gaborik failed to clear the puck along the boards after it was sent towards the blue line by Ryan McDonagh and then stood straight up in front of Bryce Salvador when the Devils defenseman took his slapper from the point that would be deflected by Carter past Henrik Lundqvist. Gaborik wouldn’t see the ice again until more than mid-way through the third period, and while Tortorella unsurprisingly wouldn’t talk about the winger’s ice time after the game, one imagines it was punishment for at least one of those sins.
Still, though, the game was tied through two periods, but David Clarkson would score on yet another deflection just 2:31 into the third, giving the Devils a 3-2 lead they’d protect for the remainder of the game. All told, the Devils should be pretty pleased with the way they’ve played in the first two games: The Rangers have had trouble in their own end when New Jersey applies pressure, and though they only scored once tonight with the man advantage (in three tries), it’s awfully scary when Kovalchuk has the puck on his stick on the power play. The Rangers, of course, have been in this position before, and they’ve won both of their Game 3s in these playoffs. That’s the thing about the Rangers: A subpar performance one night hasn’t necessarily meant another in the following game.
We’ve seen flashes of dominance from the Rangers — the third period of Game 1 — but they’ll need a much more consistent effort to take down these Devils. The Rangers landed the first blow in this series, and, tonight, the Devils punched back. It’s what Rangers fans feared, but it’s also what they’ve been trained to expect. Game 3 is this weekend in Newark. We suspect that despite a campaign by the Devils to keep Rangers fans from getting tickets — something that’s since been pulled from the team’s website — plenty of folks at the Prudential Center will be wearing blue when the puck is dropped at 1 p.m. on Saturday.