The same forechecking pressure that eventually wore down the Florida Panthers in seven games and a more-rested Philadelphia Flyers club in five was prevalent at Madison Square Garden, especially in the second period. When the Devils dug in their heels and forced play, they kept New York pinned deep in their own zone and rode a strong cycling game to several quality scoring chances.
But they couldn't get anything past Henrik Lundqvist or the Rangers skaters who sacrificed their bodies in order to keep the puck away from their net.
"King Henrik" stopped all 21 shots he faced, and his Blue Shirts teammates blocked another 25 Devils shot attempts to shut out New Jersey's offense. On the other end of the ice, the Rangers scored all three goals of the contest in the third period on the way to a 3-0 victory.
The Rangers really took over play in the third stanza, outshooting the Devils by a 10-4 count at crunch time, which included a lopsided 13-1 edge in scoring chances.
But New Jersey had carried play and had the better scoring chances in periods one and two:
- Both Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk had breakaways thwarted by Ryan McDonagh catching them from behind to ensure neither even recorded a shot on goal.
- Bolstered by a great hustling forecheck and pass by rookie Adam Henrique, Parise was able to send three high-quality shots on Lundqvist while the Devils were shorthanded in the middle frame.
- Shortly after Dan Girardi gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead early in the third, Kovalchuk was absolutely robbed by Lundqvist. A pass out front deflected off a skate and bounded to the sniper at the left hash marks, but the New York netminder was able to get a tremendous push across the crease and stay square to Kovalchuk's shot.
While the 1-0 lead was not insurmountable had New Jersey been able to sustain its offensive pressure, the Rangers are a much better defensive club than the Flyers. The Devils won the last four games of the East Semis after Philly had scored the first goal of the game, but this Rangers team has made a habit all year of choking off the best offensive attacks when they stake themselves to a lead. New Jersey will not win this series coming from behind as they did against Philadelphia and they will be unsuccessful if they do not outwork New York and force the issue in the Rangers' end of the ice.
Monday night was a classic example.
The usual aggressive pressuring of the puck carrier while shorthanded went by the wayside on the New York power play midway through the third session, resulting in breakdowns in coverage and a Chris Kreider man-advantage goal that, for all intents and purposes, iced the game.
The Devils played their game for two periods and had themselves poised to go for the victory when heading into a scoreless third, but they seemed to get away from the style of play that has gotten them this far when New York grabbed the lead.
It will be up to head coach Peter DeBoer to keep his squad focused on sticking with the game plan, beginning in what could become a pivotal Game 2 Wednesday night.