Game 73 Recap: Devils Turnover a Win to the Rangers

(headline by @radametz)

Three stars of the game:

3rd star: Mats Zuccarello (Rangers – 1 goal)

2nd star: Brandon Dubinsky (Rangers – 1 goal, 1 assist)

1st star: Ryan Callahan (Rangers – 2 assists)

Playing the Rangers has brought out the best of the Devils (the three wins, 4-3, 1-0 and 4-1) and the worst of the Devils this season (third period collapse in the 4-1 loss, 2-0 shutout loss).  Still, only the Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins had beaten the Rangers three times this season entering Monday’s game at Madison Square Garden, and the Devils had a chance to clinch the season series, four games to two.  They had a chance to put the Rangers’ lead in their division in jeopardy and continue their slump, as well as propel themselves up and inch closer to Philadelphia.  They didn’t do any of that, and now, fans are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Devils.  We know they can play better and smarter, but they’re not right now.  The Devils are in quite a significant slump, and it got worse on Monday.

First period:

The box score says that it took three seconds for all hell to break lose.  0.3 seconds sounds more like it.  The intensity, the controversy and the flat-out goonery (I doubt that’s a word, but who cares) exhibited by the two teams will likely be the talk of the NHL this week.  There have been fights in the opening seconds of Devils-Rangers games this season before, but not like tonight.  Devils coach Pete DeBoer decided to start his team’s fourth line to start the game: Eric Boulton, Ryan Carter and Cam Janssen.  Rangers coach John Tortorella became angered by this, and matched DeBoer’s decision by putting his fourth line on the ice, as the home team gets the final line change and mathcup dictation.  But Tortorella took it one step further: he removed Brandon Dubinsky from the initial lineup and started tough guy/defenseman Stu Bickel in Dubinsky’s spot as the fourth line’s center.  When the puck dropped, nobody went for it.  Instead, all six “forwards” dropped their gloves and picked a fighting partner.

Cam Janssen dueled with Brandon Prust, Eric Boulton fought with Mike Rupp and the lopsided fight of the three was Stu Bickel all over Ryan Carter.  The result of this was absolute chaos for several seconds, perhaps minutes, and lots of blood on the MSG ice.  I guess the casual sports fan at the Garden misread the hockey game scheduled as a WWE match.  Eventually, Bickel landed the most significant punches at Ryan Carter, who shed more blood than anyone, as his face was cut.  Bickel, who had Carter down on the ice, continued to fire away at Carter, as the referees didn’t know what to do at this point, so Bryce Salvador stepped in to try to separate Bickel and Carter.  That was the “good person” thing to do, but not the smart hockey thing to do.  Salvador got a third man in penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.  Everyone else received fighting majors.

So, Pete DeBoer and John Tortorella got their way.  They got to see an absolute mess.  I don’t mind fighting personally, and you’re entitled to your own opinion on the matter, but what occured at the beginning of that game was absolutely ridiculous.  Both coaches are to blame, although DeBoer doesn’t see it that way.  Here’s what he said after the game to the media:

I guess in John [Tortorella]’s world you can come into our building and start your tough guys, but we can’t do the same in here.  He’s either got short term memory loss or he’s a hypocrite.

Unfortunately for DeBoer and his team, John Tortorella, who was screaming over at the Devils’ bench before the game even started upon seeing the lineup the Devils started with, fired up his team and the Rangers absolutely dominated the Devils when the two teams stopped fighting physically and resorted to playing hockey.  At 1:11 of the first period, Derek Stepan fanned on a pass intended for Brandon Dubinsky, but luckily for the Rangers, the puck found its way to the slot, and Dubinsky fired it past Martin Brodeur anyway.  The home team took the lead, and never looked back.  Brodeur’s stellar play in net prevented the Rangers from completely running away with the game.  Shots favored New York in the period, 13-6, which meant that the Devils had been outshot 14-6, 12-4, 18-4 and 13-6 (57-20) over their past four periods, dating back to Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh.  The Devils essentially had one chance in the period: a shot by Ilya Kovalchuk that rebounded to Zach Parise, who hit the post to the right of Henrik Lundqvist.  That was it.

There was almost nothing positive to take out of the period from a Devils’ standpoint, so naturally, you’d expect Twitter to be buzzing with disgust:

@RyanQueler: Sloppy period.  Must come out stronger in the second and match the Rangers’ physicality.  Gotta get in front of Henrik too.

@kmart890: They’re playing physical. That’s fine. But can’t sacrifice possession to do that!

@radametz: Vintage Marty giving us a chance again.  The offense has to start clicking though.  Stop being fancy and shoot.

Second period:

As if the Devils got off to a bad start in the first period, allowing a goal 1:11 in, they found a way to start the second period even worse.  It took just 33 seconds for the Rangers to tally another goal.  Dan Girardi beat Brodeur for the 2-0 goal.  To the Devils’ credit, though, they didn’t completely melt down even further after it was 2-0.  They battled, and slowly but surely, they started to play their puck possession style.  They started to win board battles, get people in front of the net and more importantly, get shots to the net.  It was also not a particularly strong night in goal for Henrik Lundqvist, who struggled in his start against the Devils, a 4-1 loss for his Rangers.  Lundqvist’s first blemish of the night came just over five minutes into the second period.  After Patrik Elias’ line, with Dainius Zubrus and Petr Sykora, had a strong shift in the offensive zone, the Rangers failed to clear the zone, and Sykora found Elias, who lifted the puck over Lundqvist’s blocker from the left side, and that cut the Devils’ deficit to 2-1.

But the Devils’ comeback effort was stalled minutes later after a very ill-advised boarding penalty by Eric Boulton.  The Rangers cashed in on the following power play.  Brodeur stopped Ryan Callahan’s shot from the left side, but Brodeur couldn’t find the puck.  He continued to hug the goal post to his right, but the puck rolled around in front of the open net, and Mats Zuccarello broke free from the Devils’ defense and popped in an easy goal to make it 3-1.  A few minutes later, now 11:08 into the second period, the Devils struck again.  Ilya Kovalchuk led a rush up the ice, and Marek Zidlicky sent the puck past Elias to Sykora, and Sykora beat Lundqvist cleanly, also blocker-side high, and the Devils were within one goal again.  The Devils outplayed the Rangers in general during the middle period, and outshot them, 10-7, but at-times miserable passing and horrible turnovers destroyed the momentum they built.  Nobody else scored during the second period, but the Devils wasted an opportunity to truly take the game over during the second period, and headed to the third period down by a goal.

Here’s some second period reaction from Twitter:

@kmart890: Much better 2nd!  Gotta tighten up at a few parts, but confident the team can do this!

@JGSportsTalk: Devils finally looked like a real team.  Attacked more on O, buckled down on D.  Marty was Marty again.

The Devils started the third period much better than the first two, in the sense that they didn’t allow a goal early on.  The problem is that once the Rangers get a lead, especially in the third period in a game that they needed to win to hold onto their division lead, their defensive trap is very difficult to beat.  More than six minutes into the period, the Rangers had one shot on goal and the Devils had none.  The two teams would each add six shots to that total, but the Devils couldn’t score on any of them.  They had limited chances to truly threaten Lundqvist in the final period.  They struggled to generate constant pressure and get to rebounds, with the exception of occasional shifts from Elias’ line and the Ponikarovsky-Josefson-Clarkson line.  Just prior to the halfway point of the third period, they were given a power play, as Ryan McDonagh went off for tripping, but the Devils failed to take advantage of the opportunity to tie the game.  Their power play failed in each of their three chances on the night.

Then, with just over three minutes to play in the third period, the Devils’ comeback attempt was cut short.  Jacob Josefson took a hi-sticking penalty, and although the Devils pressed for a shorthanded goal, the Rangers managed to hold off the Devils, and shortly after their power play expired, they scored the nail in the coffin goal, as Derek Stepan deflected Dubinsky’s shot, and it was 4-2.  The Devils did pull Brodeur, and they managed to put together some good chances in the crease, but it was far too little, far too late, and they fell, 4-2.  Each team finished the season with three wins each in the regular season, and they just might meet again in the playoffs.

As the headline suggests, the Devils were simply too sloppy to win on Monday night.  They struggled with turnovers and sloppy passing all night long, and they failed to take advantage of the improvements they made in the second period, after a downright terrible first period.  Brodeur was sharp for most of the game, but three of the Rangers’ four goals were on first chances, so he’d probably like to have at least one or two of them back.  The Devils, who were 17-for-34 in the face-off circle at one point in the second period, won just six of the last 23 draws in the game.  The Devils were also credited with ten giveaways in the game.  To sum it up: they just didn’t play well enough to win the game, despite staying in it until the final minutes.

It’s a quick turnaround with a big game in Ottawa on Tuesday for the Devils.

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Posted on March 19, 2012, in New Jersey Devils. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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