In a must win game, the New Jersey Devils offense woke up.
Held without a goal in their Game 1, New Jersey scored three goals en route to a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden.
The surge in offense was an obvious welcome site for New Jersey. But the game teetered on the brink in the second period, when the Rangers scored twice and outplayed the Devils. A win is a win, and New Jersey's tied the series 1-1 with Game 3 coming Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center.
In every win, there is always good, but even a little bad. Here now is what went right and what went wrong in the Devils' Game 2 win:
What Went Right
This postseason has become Martin Brodeur's emphatic statement to the league that, even at 40, he's still one of the best goalies in the league. The Devils goalie stopped 23 of 25 shots, making several highlight-reel saves in the process. The first goal is all his fault, as he came out too far from the post and had a puck ricochet off the boards and into the back of the net. But he stood tall when the Devils needed, and made some incredible saves. Before the series, I wrote that Brodeur would once again have to prove himself. His recent play has shut me up, and is silencing plenty of critics along the way.
Clarkson was up to his usual tricks, playing physical hockey and leading the third line. He went hard to the net, drew the ire of some Rangers defenders and threw his body around. He saved his best for the third period, redirecting an Adam Henrique point shot for his third goal of the postseason. Out of Clarkson's five career postseason goals, four are game-winners, including tonight's tally. He hasn't been a huge force in the playoffs, but Clarkson put together one of his typical games tonight. He provides energy every shift, and tonight he was rewarded for doing the grunt work.
The New Offensive Gameplan
Before tonight's game, the Devils said they weren't worried about the Rangers shot blocking. Give credit to Peter DeBoer and company, who made adjustments that allowed New Jersey to break out tonight. The team moved the puck quicker in the Rangers end, loosening up the defense in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Instead of settling for one-timers, the team settled for shots from all angles. DeBoer also got his players to get to the front of the net, and it resulted in two deflection goals.
This can't be a one game change. On top of an effective forecheck, the Devils need to make quick decisions in the Rangers defensive end. If they can continue that, they'll get some of those better scoring opportunities.
The New Lines
Sometimes, a good system needs a little tinkering. That's exactly what DeBoer did during today's morning skate, changing three of the team's four lines. He also sat Adam Larsson in favor of Peter Harrold, who was a healthy scratch for five straight games. The new combinations worked, and each line looked dangerous on the ice.
What Went Wrong
The Penalty Kill
The Devils penalty kill once again failed them tonight. While the first Rangers powerplay tally came from a broken play, the second was a great shot through a terrific screen. New Jersey got too cute in their own zone. On the first powerplay goal, Bryce Salvador had at least two seconds to clear the puck. He instead held it below the goal line, leading to a turnover that kept the puck in the Devils end. Andy Greene had a similar situation, failing to clear the puck after a moment of indecision before the Rangers second powerplay goal.
The penalty kill needs to be good in this series. Giving a low-scoring team like the Rangers free opportunities will sink New Jersey.
New Jersey took some awful penalties tonight. Travis Zajac's interference penalty led to the second powerplay goal, and Steve Bernier had no business taking an interference call in the third period. New Jersey needs to play smarter hockey, and it starts with discipline. They showed it in the Philadelphia series, and will need to find that discipline again from here on out.
(Most of the) Second Period
The Devils looked great in the first period, forechecking the Rangers into submission and playing smart hockey. There were a few hiccups along the way, but it looked like a mirror image to the team's Game 2 performance against the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. That all evaporated in the second period, as the Devils allowed the Rangers to dictate play for most of the middle frame. Inconsistent play will sink a team in the playoffs, and the Devils were lucky to escape the second period with a 2-2 tie. They need to put together a consistent, 60-minute effort night in and night out to compete with New York. There won't be too many more games where they can take a period off and come back to win.
MSG's Penalty Box Door
Great moment during the second period, when the door to the visitor's penalty box at Madison Square Garden wouldn't open. It took almost five minutes to fix the door, but give credit to the MSG staff. There were at least five people in there, working to get the problem fixed. Maybe that's why they're renovating the place.