It's just never easy.
For the third consecutive playoff round, the New York Rangers failed to win tonight's second game after winning Game 1, 3-0, over the Devils at Madison Square Garden on Monday night. Their lacking work ethic and inability to convert on scoring chances wiped away any momentum they may have earned in that series opening win, and now they will head over to New Jersey tied at a game apiece going into Game 3 on Saturday afternoon, just as they did against the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals in previous match-ups.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella said it right when interviewed by NBC Sports' Pierre McGuire during the first period, stating that his team was "too slow" in the opening twenty minutes. That they were, and the Devils quickly took control of all three areas of the ice by beating the Blueshirts to loose pucks and outworking them along the boards. The Rangers survived the early New Jersey surge for quite a while, but would eventually forfeit the game's first goal before the buzzer sounded for the intermission.
The goal scorer was Ilya Kovalchuk while on the powerplay, walking into the slot and perfectly wristing a shot top corner over the shoulder and glove of Henrik Lundqvist. The critics will say what they may in regard to Lundqvist's glove, but Hank was not the problem on this goal by any means. First off, the Rangers had several chances to clear the zone before the puck eventually fell to Kovalchuk along the boards, but they failed to do so in a scrambly effort. Secondly, Kovalchuk, of all people, should not have been allowed to easily walk in on Lundqvist to set up and pick a spot. This is penalty-killing 101 and Rangers veered away from their basic strategies that normally make them so successful when down a man.
After a disappointing opening frame, the Ranges turned things around early in the second period and gained some sustained offensive pressure of their own. Their extensive time with the puck put the Devils in a position of desperation, which meant penalties. The first came just 48 seconds into the second when Alexei Ponikarovsky was whistled for interference on what was a rather lazy play on his part.
Defenseman Marc Staal would score on the powerplay that followed, although that may not have been his original intent. Staal purposely fired wide hoping for the puck to bounce off the backboards and into the slot where Derek Stepan was positioned. Instead, the puck ricocheted off the boards, off Marty Brodeur's pad and into the back of the net for the 1-1 tie.
Less than ten minutes later, again on the powerplay, the Rangers would strike for a second time, as this time it was Anton Stralman's shot from outside deflecting off the stick of rookie Chris Kreider and past Brodeur for a 2-1 New York lead. These two goals were textbook powerplay tallies; throw the puck to the net, get traffic in front and hope for the best. It worked twice for the Rangers tonight.
But, unfortunately, it would end there and the Devils began to push back. The Rangers made the mistake of partially sitting back after gaining the lead, thinking they would ride it out until the second intermission. The Devils had other plans, though, and just 2:51 before the buzzer went off, Ryan Carter tipped-in Bryce Salvador's shot perfectly to bring the game to a 2-2 tie headed into the intermission. New Jersey responded well after allowing the second Ranger goal, and you could just feel that they were close to converting on one of their many chances.
So with each club basically taking a period, the tilt was completely up for grabs in the third stanza for whichever team was willing to win 20 minutes of hockey. That team would be the Devils, who never lost their momentum after tying the game late in the second period. It was 2:31 into the third when David Clarkson redirected a pass from Adam Henrique to the top corner of the net to give the Devils a 3-2 lead.
Both Stu Bickel and Michael Del Zotto are to blame on this goal. It all started before the drop of the puck in the Rangers' end, when Clarkson clearly was trying to get under the skin of Bickel with some chirps that resulted in the two being separated. Well, it worked, because Bickel then found himself running around the defensive zone chasing after Clarkson, which created disarray. He finally would pick up a man, though, leaving Del Zotto to cover Clarkson in the slot. Del Zotto, instead, stood motionless at the side of the net and left Clarkson alone in front for the redirection.
This pairing, by the way, was out on the ice for two of the Devils’ three goals.
The Rangers were unable to find the tying point, despite generating some chances late, and would fail to win their third consecutive Game 2 of the 2012 playoffs.
The outstanding problem for New York tonight was that they were obviously a step behind their opponent for most of the contest. Only one offensive line was consistent tonight (Kreider-Stepan-Callahan), and the rest were streaky in what they provided. Still, though, the Rangers had plenty of chances to score goals in this game that they did not capitalize on, which is really the frustrating aspect of it all.
For example, in the second period, you have Marian Gaborik essentially breaking in 1-on-1 against Brodeur, and Broduer pulled an aggressive move, slid out of his crease and stacked his pads. Here is where Gabby must make the strong move and cut into the slot, bring the puck around Brodeur and easily slide a goal into the unattended cage. Instead, he makes a soft decision to attempt to flip the puck over Marty and in, which backfired as Brodeur got a skate on the shot if you could even call it that.
A play like that happens so quickly and seems to have little significance at the time, but it ends up having a major impact on the outcome of the game, or lack thereof depending on how you look at it. Notice Gaborik only had a handful of shifts after that play?
Now obviously Gabby's missed opportunity wasn't the only one and he shouldn't be singled out here. You have Brandon Prust just miss on a wraparound in the second, Chris Kreider struck iron a shift later, Ryan McDonagh hit the post on a wraparound in the first period - the missed chances were abundant tonight and bit the Rangers in the rear.
And in addition to that, the battle level was just not where it needed to be tonight. Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan were the only offensive line that made a difference each time they took the ice, similarly to Game 1, but they had little support. And on defense, I thought the top two pairings played very well, while that third duo was a complete disaster.
The Rangers were outworked in this game, plain and simple, but luckily for them they now have two days to rest up and regroup here before Saturday's Game 3 - a game in which they will want to rebound as they have twice before in these playoffs.