Despite rallying back from a 3-0 deficit, the New York Rangers dropped Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final to the New Jersey Devils, 5-3, on Wednesday night. In 19 playoff games, the Rangers have lost consecutively twice and this one ended their 11-game pattern of alternating wins and losses. More importantly, it put them in a 3-2 hole in the series.
For yet another game this series, New York started slowly -- and this time very sloppily -- and immediately sank to a 2-0 hole within the first 4 minutes 13 seconds. Coach John Tortorella called a timeout, the Ranges were able to regroup, but Travis Zajac salted New York's wounds at the 9:49 mark. Brandon Prust would find the net with less than five minutes remaining in the period, as the Rangers ratched up their play from that point forward, scoring twice more (Ryan Callahan 32 seconds into the second and Marian Gaborik 17 seconds into the third).
However, Ryan Carter took the air out of the Rangers' comeback efforts, beating Henrik Lundqvist with 4:24 left in the game (Zach Parise had the empty-netter).
Even in such a dispiriting loss, there remains a lot of good and, of course, bad in this game. So let's take a look at what stood out in Game 5.
What Went Wrong
First 4 Minutes, 13 Seconds: We haven't typically started off this column with the 'bad' first, but this is a game in which the 'bad' led to the 'good' so we'll kick it off this way. In a matter of 4:13, the Rangers went down by two goals. The Devils ran the pace, causing a few defensive lapses for the Rangers, and a quick two-goal setback. The Rangers just couldn't find their footing. New York may only be down 3-2 in the series, but in all five games, they've started out slowly. The past two games, it's caught up with them. The Devils may have scored five minutes later to make it 3-0, but after Tortorella's timeout following the second goal, the Rangers found their legs and dominated.
Henrik Lundqvist: He wasn't tested often, but when he was asked to come up with a big save, he rarely did so. Two goals in 4:13. Granted, the defense didn't help, but Lundqvist has bailed them out before. Then, Zajac's long-range marker at the 9:49 mark after the Rangers had started to gain some traction. That far-post goal was one that has to be corralled, and it left one thinking whether Lundqvist would make it out of the first period. He allowed three goals on six shots. We've been so used to Lundqvist making the stellar saves that even the fourth goal off of a corner feed to the slot that was given up was something he's kicked aside countless times before. King Henrik is the reason the Rangers are even in this series, don't get me wrong. But he needs to better than making 12 saves on 16 shots.
Carl Hagelin: Come back to tie it. You're on the ice at the end of the third period (meaning you're defensively responsible), having already seen shifts with the fourth line and your ice time cut to 13 minutes for the game. Michael Del Zotto takes a hit with the puck in the corner, then Dan Girardi goes for the hit on Stephen Gionta instead of going stick-on-puck. The puck slides out into the slot, but Hagelin doesn't get back in time, and Ryan Carter scores the game-winner. The back-checking effort was weak from a player that I defended in the Game 5 recap. Hagelin has three points in the playoffs. He's known as a speed/hustle player. He didn't do it here at a crucial time.
What Went Right
Tortorella's timeout, plus rally: The Rangers went down by two early, Tortorella called a timeout and the Rangers thoroughly dominated the Devils for the rest of the game, until the final few minutes, after that point. Even in the playoffs, a 3-0 deficit not even midway through the first period is one that will cause many to cave. New York hadn't exactly been a scoring machine, so there's no way it could come back from three down, right? Wrong. The Blueshirts battled back, scoring once in the first and once in each of the next two periods, with multiple chances to get more.
Ryan Callahan: Callahan may have had a suspect goal after Artem Anisimov's pass defelected off of his skate, but his overall play was one of the highlights. He was the most involved he's been all series, wreaking havoc in front of the net, tallying six hits and making a number of great plays on defense. He may only have three goals in the postseason (one an empty-netter), but this was as close to the Callahan as we've seen all season. In fact, the line of Artem Anisimov, Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky deserves a lot of praise as all of those guys played very well. Dubinsky had an impactful return, and that bodes well for Game 6. Anisimov played a series-high 19:16, his battle level was high and he asserted himself offensively.
Overall vibe: Disappointment is the word echoed from Rangers' fans and players. Stealing a game is probably the line used from the Devils side. To come back from three goals down, tie it and lose in the final minutes is never easy. Even in a loss, I believe this was the Rangers' best game. It was a close to a complete one as they've played all series, dictating pace and taking it to the Devils' defense. They were fast, played desperate and created a number of scoring opportunities. They allowed only 16 shots on goal, while getting 28 on Martin Brodeur. If you didn't see the score and just judged on the quality of play, one would've guessed that New York prevailed, easily. It's a game to build from, no matter how much the loss stings.