ECF Game 5 Recap: Miracle in Midtown
(headline by @JerseyGuy276)
Three stars of the game (as voted on by Devils fans on Twitter):
3rd star: Ryan Callahan (1 goal)
2nd star: Ryan Carter (Game-winning goal)
1st star: Stephen Gionta (1 goal, 1 assist)
Something I try to do when writing recaps is to be neutral and not let emotions get in the way, but on some nights, emotion gets the best of you. Wednesday night’s thriller at Madison Square Garden could fall under that category. As NBC’s Jeremy Roenick commented, this was arguably the game of the playoffs so far, and it was far more enjoyable to fans of 28 NHL teams. For Devils and Rangers fans, it was a very stressful evening, but in the end, the Devils came away with an incredible 5-3 win over the Rangers and are one win away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Another factor in this series has been scoring the first goal. The team that has scored first entered Wednesday with a perfect 4-0 record in the series. That was a good sign for the Devils just 2:43 into the game, as Mark Fayne got a point shot on Henrik Lundqvist, and Stephen Gionta snuck around Michael Del Zotto and the Rangers defense to pop home a rebound. Ninety seconds later, the Devils beat Lundqvist again. Adam Henrique’s shot was re-directed in front by Patrik Elias, and the puck ricocheted off a Rangers defenseman and trickled past Lundqvist to make it 2-0. After that goal, Rangers coach John Tortorella called timeout and got his team to re-group. They did just that, as Ruslan Fedotenko and Derek Stepan got a couple chances in tight on Martin Brodeur, but the Devils seized an opportunity moments later. Bryce Salvador was able to get the Devils going on a rush, and eventually Travis Zajac entered the Rangers zone on a partial 3-on-2 rush, and he beat Lundqvist cleanly off the rush, blocker side to make it 3-0 Devils.
Zajac’s goal, his seventh of the playoffs, would become the final Devils shot on Lundqvist for quite an extended period of time. The Rangers got their forecheck going, and Brandon Dubinsky seemed to spark his line. The Rangers failed on a power play chance shortly after Zajac’s goal, but they did convert on a partial breakaway moments later. Back from his suspension, Brandon Prust skated in on Brodeur and just squeezed a backhander through Marty and cut the Rangers’ deficit to 3-1. That concluded scoring in the first period, but the Rangers showed signs of life after falling behind 3-0 early in the game.
The second period featured dominance in puck possession and scoring chances by the Rangers, which is something that hadn’t happened previously in the series. They got another goal 32 seconds into the period, as Artem Anisimov swung a puck towards the net from just above the goal line, and Ryan Callahan deflected it past Brodeur off his left skate. Many people, including several Ranger fans, believed it was kicked in, but after a brief review, the goal stood and the score was 3-2. The Rangers fed off the goal and continued to press for most of the period, but the Devils survived the attack, thanks to an early penalty kill and strong goaltending by Brodeur. Ryan Callahan nearly scored again, as he rang a shot off the post to the left of Brodeur on the power play, but it stayed out. In the final seconds of the third period, the Carter-Gionta-Bernier line established its forecheck and started to tip the momentum again in the Devils’ favor.
The third period opened with perhaps the craziest play of the postseason thus far, at least for the Devils. Brodeur tried to play a puck out of his net and shoot it around the boards, but the puck hopped over his stick and into the area outside the trapezoid where goalies can’t play the puck. Marian Gaborik raced in and threw the puck towards the net, and the puck beat Brodeur back to the net. It rolled off Brodeur and into the net 17 seconds into the period to tie the game, 3-3. The Devils got a tough break shortly after, as Dainius Zubrus was hi-sticked hard by Callahan, but no penalty call was made.
Slowly but surely, the Devils warmed up and started to take control of the game again. They nearly caught a break at the halfway point of the third period, as Brad Richards tried to send the puck around his net, but ended up shooting the puck right at Adam Henrique’s stick, and it deflected on Lundqvist, who saved a shot from his own teammate. The Devils then iced the puck, so Peter DeBoer used his timeout, and as the Rangers responded to Tortorella’s timeout earlier, the Devils responded to DeBoer. The Devils started skating better and got back to forechecking and controlling the puck. They still didn’t get many pucks to the net, so Lundqvist never faced much action, but the Devils made their shots count.
With under five minutes to go in regulation, the Devils had the puck deep in the Rangers’ zone and Ilya Kovalchuk sealed off a Rangers’ defenseman while Gionta took a hit, but got the puck to the front of the net and Ryan Carter finished the play by burying his third goal of the playoffs. The goal stunned the Rangers, and gave the Devils a lead that they would not surrender. The Devils made it difficult for the Rangers to enter their offensive zone, and they got the puck out quickly on most shifts. Zach Parise buried the empty netter, which comes as his fifth point in the last two games.
This borderline miraculous victory now has the Devils one win away from advancing to their first Stanley Cup Finals berth since 2003, when they beat Anaheim in seven games to win their third Stanley Cup. They’ll have a chance to close out the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night at Prudential Center for Game 6.
Game 5 was probably the Rangers’ best effort of the series and certainly not the best for the Devils, yet they found a way to win. The Devils showed a tremendous amount of resilience, as Gaborik’s fluky game-tying goal to open the third period never shook Martin Brodeur or the team’s confidence. They went back to work and bailed out their goaltender by scoring the winning goal late in regulation, because that’s what winning teams do. Statistically, Brodeur didn’t have a good night, but outside of the first goal by Prust, there’s not much he could have done to stop the other two goals. Callahan’s goal was off his skate, and kick or not, that’s difficult to get in position to stop. As for Gaborik’s goal, Brodeur came out to play the puck dozens of times throughout the game, both before and after the unlucky bounce. The puck just took an awful bounce over the goaltender’s stick and he couldn’t recover in time. He still made 25 saves, and definitely faced more difficult shots than in Game 4.
The offensive wizard that is Bryce Salvador continued to play an elite level of hockey on Wednesday. Salvador picked up another assist, his 11th point of the playoffs, but it was the 23:33 of ice time and physical shutdown defense that he provided that propelled the Devils in this game. Speaking of shutdown defense, Mark Fayne had another quietly solid night for the Devils. After picking up just one point in the playoffs entering Game 5, he notched two assists on Wednesday. Marek Zidlicky, whose play has faltered a bit of late, also picked up an assist. As mentioned early, Parise now has five points in his last two games. Ilya Kovalchuk may have gone shotless in Game 5, but he was a big part of three of the Devils’ goals in the game. He picked up an assist on Elias’ goal, started the forecheck that led to Carter’s goal and picked up another assist on Parise’s tally. Elias, meanwhile, scored his first goal of the series in Game 5.