Just like the majority of their 14 previous playoff games, the Rangers had this one set up to be another low-scoring affair, where one goal would make the difference. Only, in this one, the Rangers scored three times in the third period to break the 40 minute, 53 second tie. Dan Girardi began the scoring with his second of the playoffs off of a feed from Chris Kreider, who netted the second on the power play off of a back-handed pass from Artem Anisimov. Anisimov gave the Rangers even more of a cushion, scoring on the empty net at the 18:33 mark of the final frame.
Of course none of this is made possible without another sterling effort from Henrik Lundqvist, who notched his second shutout of the postseason -- and fifth of his career. Lundqvist made 21 saves, which doesn't seem like a lot, but for the first two periods he made a number of brilliant ones. New York hunkered down in the third, limiting the Devils to only four shots on net.
Game 2 will be played at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. New York has not enjoyed a two-game lead in the postseason thus far.
Despite the commanding result, let's break it down and take a look at what went right and wrong in their first East final game since 1997.
What Went Right
Shot Blocking: The Rangers essentially have six goalies on the ice, and that was clearly evident in Monday's win, as they blocked 26 shots. Girardi and Marc Staal had five blocks apiece, while Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman had three apiece. Sure, the Devils had plenty of shots aimed toward the net. But the Rangers clearly frustrated them, getting in the way of shooting lanes all night. It doesn't seem like the Devils prepared very well for what the Rangers could do in that regard. It made a huge difference tonight, especially in the second period when New Jersey really had the Rangers hemmed in their zone. New York withstood the relentless pressure, though, and regrouped into the third period, one of their better ones in the playoffs.
Henrik Lundqvist: I'd be remiss to not mention him. For spurts in the first and a good portion of the second period, the Devils were on the cusp of breaking through. Lundqvist had help from his shotblockers, but he made numerous key saves to keep the Rangers in the game -- and give them hope heading into the third period. When Lundqvist is seeing the puck like he was tonight, positionally sound and taking the right angles to pucks, he's unbeatable.
Ryan McDonagh: The blueliner won't show up on the statsheet for contributing to any of the Rangers' goals, but he sure has the biggest hands in preventing them. Twice he blocked easy breakaway opportunities. In the first period, McDonagh thwarted Zach Parise's attempt after Girardi totally whiffed on a check. Parise didn't get anything on the shot after McDonagh reached him -- and impressively didn't take a penalty. Also in the first, Ilya Kovalchuk had a breakaway with no Ranger in site, before McDonagh caught up to him and forced him to backhand a weak shot. The defenseman also created a power play and he blocked three shots. The Devils obviously were scoreless, and he's a big reason for that.
Dan Girardi: It's easy to go with the wunderkind, Chris Kreider, who had a goal and an assist in the game, creating one goal and firing a beautiful shot for the other one. Girardi gets the nod here because he had a pretty abysmal first half of the game defensively, missing a check that lead to a breakaway and nearly causing a few more goals with some uncharacteristic indecisiveness. He was pick-pocketed one time next to Lundqvist, with the Devils nearly jamming the puck in past the keeper. He gets this honor, though, because of his offense, as he redeemed himself with an excellent third period, firing the first goal in right after he jumped on the ice from a line change and assisting on Kreider's.
What Went Wrong
Lack Of Offensive Zone Time In The Second: The Rangers were lucky to survive the second period. The shots show the Devils only had an 11-10 advantage, but the Rangers were hemmed in their zone for a good margin in this period. They simply had no answer for the Devils' forecheck, as defender after defender made a bone-headed pass or read. The defense was apprehensive in this period, and practically none of their exit passes out of the zone worked. They were lucky they blocked so many shots and Lundqvist was there to bail them out. To their credit, the third period was a superb one.
Power Play (Until The Third): The Rangers' struggles on the power play nearly cost them in this game. In a tight contest through two periods, the Rangers had three power play chances, but ended up with nothing to show for it. That's a chance to really sink a team and shift the control of the game in their favor. Especially in the second period, the weakest of all of them, New York had two power play chances but came up empty and almost gave up a few goals because the Devils' penalty kill (and forecheck) is so relentless and gives the opposition no time to gather themselves in the defensive zone. Even Kreider's goal, which was on the power play, was scored on a broken play and not really anything set up in the offensive zone. Still, they'll take them however they can get them.