The New Jersey Devils stole Game 5.
New Jersey blew a three goal lead, but Ryan Carter scored the game-winning goal late in the third period as the Devils defeated the New York Rangers, 5-3, in what could be the defining game of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Devils didn't deserve a win in the game. After opening the first 10 minutes of the game with goals from Stephen Gionta, Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac, New York took over. They scored the next three goals over two-plus periods, eliminating the Devils forecheck and dominating play. At one point during the second period, the Rangers were outshooting the Devils by a 2-to-1 margin.
It took a defensive breakdown by the Rangers to score the game-winning goal. Carter, coming off the bench, snuck into the offensive zone as Ilya Kovalchuk started the forecheck. Gionta, down low with Kovalchuk, took the loose puck and fired it through the legs of Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who moments before lifted his stick out of the passing lane. Gionta's pass found Carter at the front of the net, and he one-timed it by Henrik Lundqvist for his third goal of the postseason.
New Jersey can punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals in Game 6. That game will be Friday night at the Prudential Center.
There was a lot to like from the Devils win, but plenty to dislike as well. They got lucky, and stole a game at Madison Square Garden. Here's what went right, and what went wrong, for New Jersey in Game 5:
What Went Right
The Fourth Line
Here was the stat line for the Devils fourth line tonight:
- Stephen Gionta: 9:49 ice time, 1g, 1a, 1 shot
- Ryan Carter: 7:44 ice time, 1g, 2 shots
- Steve Bernier: 9:07 ice time, 1a
That's incredible production from a line that went quite after the first round win over the Florida Panthers. The fourth line accounted for almost half of the Devils goals, including the game-winner, and kept them going when the other three lines failed. They were the most consistent group, and Devils coach Peter DeBoer rewarded them with important minutes late in the game. Gionta was even double-shifted during the final period.
The Devils depth has been a strength all season long, and it showed tonight. No team expects the fourth line to carry them, especially in the playoffs. But that's exactly what these three did tonight, and it shows the advantage in depth New Jersey has over the Rangers.
By no means was this game a pretty one for the Devils netminder. Brodeur finished with 25 saves on 28 shots, an .893 save percentage. It was the first time he allowed three goals since May 3, the Devils third game of its second round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. The game-tying goal came from an odd-angle shot that got tangled up in his skates. He did, however, make the big saves when he needed to. He stoned Chris Kreider in the slot during the third period, keeping the game tied. He also made a glove save on a point shot, then dove to his right to cover the open net and take an opportunity away from Ryan Callahan. That save also came with the game tied.
On a night when Lundqvist wasn't much better, the game came down to what goalie could make key saves at key moments. Brodeur did that, and while the fans in MSG had plenty to cheer about, he got the last laugh.
Henrique made his impact felt tonight, recording an assist on the Elias goal and making several nice plays in all three zones. On the Elias goal, the rookie shot the puck from the point, forcing Lundqvist to leave a rebound. The puck eventually worked its way off Artem Anisimov and into the back of the net, giving the Devils a two-goal cushion in the first period. He also made a nice defensive play in the second period, racing back after a turnover to tip a centering pass into the netting. He's had his growing pains, including a brief demotion to the fourth line tonight. Overall, he's continued to produce, and is a solid anchor on the team's second line.
The first ten minutes of the game....
New Jersey played well during those first 10 minutes, coming out with an aggressive forecheck. They took advantage of a shaky Lundqvist, and netted three goals. Then, they sat back for the almost two periods, allowing New York to take it to them. Which leads me to my next point...
...The last five minutes of the game
The Devils started playing better at the halfway point of the final period, but this is where they turned things around. The aggressive forecheck returned, and when they took the lead, they continued to attack. New York didn't get another great opportunity to score, and Zach Parise iced the win with an empty-net tally.
What Went Wrong
The middle of the game
New Jersey fell into the same trap as they did earlier in the playoffs, when they jumped out to a 3-0 lead on the Panthers. Instead of maintaining their aggressive play, they sat back and let New York dictate the pace. A few mental errors along the way, and it's a 3-3 game just 17 seconds into the third period. No team can afford to play that way in the playoffs. Somehow New Jersey managed to hold out for the win, but it was a lucky victory. The Rangers had all of the opportunities for most of the game, and for the first time in the series thoroughly dominated the Devils.
The MSG Glass
No goalie should venture out of his crease at MSG. Pucks take all kinds of funny hops off the glass, and it gave both teams great scoring opportunities in this game.
Brodeur's Trapezoid Gaffe
If these playoffs have proved one thing, it's that the trapezoid was installed to thwart Brodeur's puck-handling. It sure gave a huge assist to the Rangers tonight. At the start of the period, Brodeur moved to the right side of his crease to play a loose puck. It rolled just too far, crossing over the "no-play" line right before Brodeur could touch it. As he scrambled back into the open crease, Marian Gaborik fired the puck into Brodeur's skates. It led to the game-tying goal, and put one on the blooper reel for Brodeur.
This was a tough one to judge. Ryan Callahan scored New York's second goal of the game, coming toward the net and deflecting the puck in with his skate. On the replay, it shows Callahan picking up his skate, putting it back on the ice and turning it as the puck comes into the crease. He wasn't making an attempt to stop, and could have been flagged for kicking in the puck. Devils fans will remember earlier this season, when Parise had a potential game-tying goal waved off for a "distinct kicking motion" that was much less than that. In the playoffs, those are always tough calls. But it sure looked like it could have met the requirements for a no goal. For a better look, check out the replay.