Just as they had for the previous 10 contests, the New York Rangers continued to alternate wins and losses in the playoffs, falling to the New Jersey Devils in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final 4-1. The series is now knotted at two games apiece and sure to be yet another long one for New York; they've played 18 games to this point in the playoffs.
The Devils came out flying in the first period, scoring twice, and that early fury set the tone, as the Rangers didn't score (Ruslan Fedotenko) until 14:55 of the third period on a goal that made the game 3-1.
There wasn't a lot that went right for the Rangers in Game 4, which is very discouraging, but we'll try to pick out the good and the bad from this loss, the first game New York has allowed four goals in the entire playoffs.
Game 5 is set for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
What Went Right
Carl Hagelin: There was some talk on Twitter that Carl Hagelin should be the one to sit once (and if) Brandon Dubinsky is ready to play for Game 5, but I think this was Hagelin's best game of the series. Granted, he has three assists in 15 games in the playoffs and he only had one shot on goal in this one, but he was around the puck a lot in this game. He was using his speed to chase down pucks all night, creating a few of what were very limited Rangers chances. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he took two penalties in the third period after the Rangers had gotten on the board, which certainly isn't the discipline you're looking for late in a game. But you can generally tell what coach John Tortorella feels about a player's effort through his ice time; Hagelin played a series-high 17:55. The rookie has shown flashes this season, and it's very much a long grind, but I think he's close to finding his game.
Mike Rupp: OK, so his punch to Martin Brodeur after he took a roughing penalty in the third period wasn't something to be proud of, but Rupp also received the second-most minutes he's played in the entire playoffs at 9:20. Don't get me wrong, it's never a great sign when your fourth-line bruiser is one of the highlights of a game, but Rupp was one of the few Rangers to take the puck to the net. He was involved, and he got time in the third period because Tortorella recognized that. His hit on Peter Harrold wasn't as bad as it looked, in my opinion, and to be frank, the physicality was nice to see because down 3-0, the Rangers lacked life. Rupp's job isn't to dance around the arena and snipe goals. His job is to create energy with his hitting (and fighting). This game seemed out of hand already just based on the score, so there wasn't harm in starting up some rough stuff, even if his shot to Brodeur was on the "cheap" side. The Rangers haven't shown nearly enough of an edge in this series, but their big man tried to spark a little something tonight.
Ruslan Fedotenko: I'm really grasping at straws here, but Fedotenko gets the nod after he scored his first goal of the playoffs in the third period, ending Brodeur's shutout bid. He also played a postseason-high 16:27, which isn't necessarily a good thing purely because it means the team's best players weren't getting the job done.
What Went Wrong
Michael Del Zotto: One could go in all different directions for the 'bad' in this game, but for brevity's sake we'll have to stick with just three. It was confirmed after the game that Del Zotto had a death in the family (his grandmother) over the weekend, and the Rangers have to hope that was a reason his play was reminiscent of when he was sent to the AHL last season. Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Del Zotto played only 11:39, played one shift in the second period and got back on the ice for a few shifts later in the third. He looked all out of sorts in this one, fanning on a hit on Zach Parise (when he probably should've avoided attempting it), which led to a two-on-one goal and he also had a pass on the power play that he decided to flick back-handed laterally instead of dumping it in the zone, and that led to a high-quality odd-man rush chance. He looked totally lost on the ice, but Tortorella is confident that he will "bounce back" in the next one.
Slow Start: The Rangers were bound to get burned by starting a step slow, and it happened in this game. In fact, the Devils pretty much steamrolled them early on, similar to Game 3, only this time Henrik Lundqvist couldn't bail them out. This is extremely disconcerting. These are playoff games and New York is having trouble matching the intensity level of its opponent. This time, the Devils scored twice in the first period and that set the tone for the rest of the game, a game in which the Rangers really were never in from that point forward.
Overall vibe from the first four games: Yes, the series is tied. Should the Rangers feel fortunate that it is? I'd have to say yes. I don't think the Rangers have dictacted the pace enough in any game of this series. They've been opportunistic, yes. They've relied on some good play on defense (a good part of Game 4 not withstanding). And they've leaned on Lundqvist to give them a chance. But altogether, the Devils have been the big bully and the Rangers have been chasing them around way too much. Tortorella made the point in-game and in his post-game press conference: the group needs to have the puck more. It sounds simple and cliche, but they can't generate nearly enough offense -- most of it's one-and-done -- because they are getting out-possessioned and clearly aren't winning enough puck battles or forcing enough turnovers to get those chances. It's now a best-of-three and the Rangers need to find a way to improve -- and fast. It probably starts with more desperation, something they've displayed a bit of in the third periods in this series, but has been missing way too often in general.