New Jersey Devils fans are used to seeing Martin Brodeur steal a game in a series. Today, Henrik Lundqvist turned the tables.
The New York Rangers goalie stopped 36 shots en route to his second shutout of the series, blanking New Jersey 3-0. It was his second shutout in the past three games, and gave New York a 2-1 series edge.
Game 4 will be Monday night at the Prudential Center. New Jersey will once again need to fight back from a series deficit, and find some way to solve Lundqvist. Here is what went right, and wrong, in the Game 3 loss:
What Went Right
The best Devil on the ice tonight was once again the goalie. Martin Brodeur was outstanding, matching Lundqvist save for save through two periods. Then the wheels came off, as the Rangers beat Brodeur twice in a two minute span to take the lead. Brodeur, however, had no chance on either goal. Dan Girardi made him go left before shooting right, beating him stick side. Then he had no shot on the Chris Kreider goal, as the rookie had a perfect screen in front and deflected the puck past Brodeur. When it was all said and done, the Devils goalie finished with 19 saves on 21 shots, and was a tough luck loser.
He didn't score today, but Ilya Kovalchuk was easily the team's best forward. He led the team with six shots on net, and was one amazing Lundqvist save away from scoring on a breakaway to start the second period. He had some great opportunities on the powerplay as well. But when there's a goalie like Lundqvist in net, he's sometimes going to steal away those opportunities. That's what he did today. If there was another goalie in net, Kovalchuk could have recorded a multi-goal game.
Volchenkov is the team's best shot blocker, and he showed it again today, blocking four shots. But that isn't why he finds himself under the "what went right" heading. After taking a high elbow from Brandon Prust (more on that later), he didn't miss a shift and finished out the game. He's one of the main cogs in the Devils defense, and seeing he was no worse for the wear after the elbow was good news for New Jersey.
The team's speed and forecheck
For most of the game, this gave the Devils a huge advantage over the New York. They couldn't keep up with New Jersey, and the Devils played their game. They pinned the Rangers deep, and used the forecheck to maintain possession. New Jersey also found a way to use their speed, forcing some odd-man rushes and the Kovalchuk breakaway. If New Jersey can continue to dominate those areas, Lundqvist will need to steal another game to keep the Devils off the scoresheet.
What Went Wrong
The first five minutes of the third period
Today's loss was almost a carbon copy of the way Game 1 went. New Jersey dominated through two periods, and Lundqvist stood strong. The Rangers came out of the gates in the third period with more jump, and the Devils failed to match. There are always ebbs and flows in a game, and sometimes the other team will gain momentum. To come out of an intermission flat is inexcusable. New Jersey can't expect to take off five minutes and win a game. That's not how playoff hockey work. When they stick to their system, they have the better opportunities. New Jersey, frustrated by Lundqvist, failed to come out with energy to start the period. That left them on the wrong end of a 2-0 deficit.
The Rangers forward should be talking with the league about his hit in the second period. He was in the Devils zone on the forecheck, pestering Volchenkov, when the Devils defenseman tried to spin away. Prust went to hit Volchenkov, raising his right elbow and hitting the defenseman in the back of the head. No penalty was called, and Volchenkov finished the period, but he didn't think the hit was accidental.
"It was pretty dirty, actually," Volchenkov told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "It was an elbow in the head. We'll see what it's going to amount to."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer had stronger words.
"Head hunting plain and simple," he told Gulitti.
Prust should have been thrown out. Instead, the referees failed to call a penalty. Just because Volchenkov played doesn't mean Prust will avoid suspension. Remember that Claude Giroux was suspended for hitting Dainius Zubrus in the head, despite the fact the Devils forward came back for the third period.
New Jersey went 0-for-5 on the power play, failing to score a man advantage goal for the second time this series. The Rangers are handing the Devils opportunities, but they're failing to cash in. The special teams needs to improve, and not when the team is down. It looked awful today.
The penalty kill matched the ineffective power play. New Jersey killed off just one of two Rangers power play attempts. Girardi's power play tally proved to be the game-winner. The Devils have allowed at least one power play goal in each game. After improving against Philadelphia, New Jersey has taken a major step back. Special teams will usually dictate a playoff series, and right now it's fully in the favor of the Rangers.
The Devils offense
Sometimes, the opposing goalie has one of those nights. Give credit to Lundqvist, who was amazing. New Jersey had plenty of chances, and they need to bury them. Travis Zajac epitomized that in the third period, finding a loose puck in the slot. Lundqvist was moving to his right, and Zajac had the entire top of the net to shoot. His shot sailed over the net, hitting the netting above the glass and eliminating the scoring chance. This Devils scorers need to bury those opportunities. They did in Game 2, and will need that success again in Game 4.