For the third straight playoff series, the New York Rangers couldn't carry the momentum of a Game 1 win into Game 2.
Even after seizing a 2-1 lead in the second period, New York flopped against the New Jersey Devils en route to a 3-2 loss in the second game of the Eastern Conference final.
The Rangers have become the tradmark team when it comes to comfort in close games, but ultimately they were undone by a team whose game had a little more spark and a little more polish than theirs at Madison Square Garden.
Even after the discouraging loss, New York and New Jersey are tied 1-1 in the series. Nobody expected it to be easy for either team, and the series has now shifted to a best-of-five one, with the next game at Prudential Center on Saturday at 1 p.m.
As with every game -- even a loss -- there are good and bad aspects to discuss. Let's try to be honest and realistic in analyzing what went right and what went wrong in the Rangers' Game 2 loss.
What Went Right
Power Play: For once, the power play wasn't a total lost cause. It has been heavily criticized during the season and the playoffs, and rightfully so. For the second game in a row, New York scored on the man advantage. In fact, they scored twice from Marc Staal and Chris Kreider. Staal's shot shanked off the end boards and right back behind Martin Brodeur, as the puck banked in off of his leg. Kreider notched the second one on a deflection, one that gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead as he screened Brodeur during an Anton Stralman shot. Even though they didn't capitalize on a big power play down 3-2 in the third, it has at least shown life, and their confidence in this situation has to be growing. The emergence is something that bodes very well for them in a series that will continue to be hard-fought and physical.
Chris Kreider: There's a reason why the organization wanted Kreider to come straight out of Boston College and enter the lineup, even if it burned a year off of his rookie contract. The kid has four goals in the playoffs -- the playoffs, at age 21-- his latest coming as he screened Brodeur for a deflection goal. Kreider was benched for about 2 1/2 games in the second-round series, playing fourth-line minutes, which is ludicrous because he's clearly already a top-six talent at forward. I understand penalizing him for a game, but the rookie is proving his worth on the second line, tallying 18:14 in the loss, getting three shots on goal and doling out three hits. Mistakes are magnified in the playoffs, and they're sure to come with a young player, but the upside is so high that Kreider needs to be playing despite that risk.
Second Period (Until The End ...): The Rangers ran all over the Devils in the second period, probably getting a clear "message" from Tortorella after they played a "slow" first period in falling behind 1-0. It was extremely encouraging -- after such a dispiriting first period, they came out with a lot of life in the second, controlled the play and weren't slowed by the Devils' forecheck. The best part was that New York struck quickly, 2:23 into the period, to knot the game up, and they continued to apply pressure, failing to convert on a few chances, but going ahead 2-1 10 minutes later. It was an energetic period if the Rangers ever needed one, outshooting the Devils 12-9 but their momentum heading into the third was sapped after giving up a goal with 1:51 left in the second to a fourth-line player.
What Went Wrong:
Slow Start: The Rangers are the No. 1 seed in these playoffs, beginning every series with two games at home. Each series they've won the first game and spoke about how big it would be to grab a 2-0 lead heading into the opponent's building. After such a dominating third period in Game 1 against the Devils what do the Rangers do? They get outplayed in the first -- and for long stretches in the game -- the second straight tilt they didn't come out with the requisite energy in. It's almost inexcusable and will likely cost them the series if they continue this trend. Game 1, the period ended 0-0. Game 2, they were less fortunate, going down 1-0, while giving up a power play goal. Nobody said the playoffs would be easy, but this was a clear statement game in the series, even this early, and the Rangers' slow start was a sign of bad things to come throughout the game, namely an compete level that was lacking and sharpness that was missing. It was yet another Game 2 in which they did not match the other teams' desperation.
Failing To Hold Onto Lead: New York's slow start is inexcusable, but in realizing that the Rangers came out with a very inspired second period, scoring twice and grabbing the 2-1. This after such a disappointing start, remember. The Blueshirts had the momentum heading into the third period ... until Ryan Carter scored at 18:09 to tie the game. You simply cannot blow leads in the playoffs, especially one this late in the game. This was a back-breaking one as it stole all the second-period thunder and the Devils parlayed that late surge into the winner at 2:31 of the third period. Carter, by the way, is a fourth-liner who played 8:15 in the game. You can't be giving up big goals, or any for that matter, to guys of that stature.
Marian Gaborik: The winger was benched for 13 minutes -- from Carter's goal into the third period, not playing until 11:03 of the final frame. He was a primary reason why Carter was able to score the game-changing goal. His clearing attempt with a 2-1 lead along the boards was futile. His effort to get back in the play was lacking. And then, when Bryce Salvador, who intercepted Gaborik's "attempt" fired the shot that Carter deflected, Gaborik did not put forth the effort to try to get in the way of the shot like the rest of his teammates would have. All of that was enough for Tortorella, even in a close game. Gaborik wasn't even on the ice when Henrik Lundqvist was pulled late in the game. It's a questionable roster decision by Tortorella with the Rangers scratching for a goal in the third period, but he pulls no favorites. You play defense and do the little things right, or you sit. Expect the sniper to come out with an edge in Game 3.