If a Game 2 victory Wednesday night had somehow helped the New Jersey Devils to forget the frustration of last Monday's defeat at the hands of Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, Saturday's Game 3 loss had so many striking similarities that it definitely reminded them.
Sandwiched around the Game 2 victory, the Devils suffered a pair of 3-0 losses that shared almost identical scripts:
- New Jersey had the better of the play in Game 1 but were stymied by the goaltending of Lundqvist, who did his part in keeping the contest scoreless after two periods. "King Henrik" stopped 17 of 17 shots Monday en route to a 21-save shutout, then turned aside all 36 Devils offerings Saturday.
- Defenseman Dan Girardi, he of the five total goals during the course of 82 regular season games, provided the game-winning goal in both tilts early in the third period. Monday it was just 53 seconds into the final frame, but he waited a bit longer into period three Saturday -- 3:19 to be exact -- perhaps hoping to allow the drama to build longer than Game 1.
- Rookie Chris Kreider, he of the 15 games of NHL experience (all coming during these playoffs), then supplied the second nail in the NJ coffin. In Game 1 he waited until the 12:00 mark, but he deviated from Girardi's lead and instead scored much earlier in the stanza (5:16).
- New York iced each of the games with an empty-netter with Martin Brodeur pulled for an extra attacker. That's where the similarities kind of veer off in different directions, as Monday it was Artem Anisimov providing the honors, and captain Ryan Callahan Saturday off a Brian Boyle pass from center ice.
- While New Jersey wasted opportunities on the power play Saturday, going 0-5, another like component to Games 1 and 3 is that New York tallied once on the PP in each contest; in four chances Monday (Girardi) and just two Saturday (Kreider).
- Zach Parise led all Devils skaters with five shots on goal Monday and was collared with a -2 rating, while Saturday it was Ilya Kovalchuk's turn to finish with a -2, and the sniper fired six shots that Lundqvist stopped. Included in that total was a ridiculous diving stop that Lundqvist got with his arm to thwart Kovalchuk on an early breakaway when New Jersey was controlling play, possibly keeping the tide from turning in the Devils' favor.
- After out-hitting NJ by a 35-21 margin Monday, the Rangers again won the physical battle in the first game of the series in Newark, this time by a 24-15 count.
- New Jersey won the battle in the faceoff circle in both games; 36-25 in Game 1 and 34-28 Saturday.
While the anger of losing by a second 3-0 count in the series has to leave a bitter taste in their collective mouths, NJ did do some things better in Game 3 than they had in the series opener:
- After the Rangers blocked 26 Devil shots in the first game -- while Lundqvist was required to stop just 21, four of which came in the third -- the Jersey shooters did a much better job of getting the puck to the net in Game 3. NJ fired 36 pucks in which the New York goaltender had to make saves, while NY skaters blocked just 19.
- The Devils spent much more time in the Rangers' end Saturday than they did in Game 1. All four lines worked the forecheck well, as well as cycling the puck.
From a New Jersey perspective, it's a really good thing they were able to take Game 2 at Madison Square Garden. Wrestling home ice away from their arch rivals from New York was a big accomplishment, but that has gone by the wayside in one fell swoop.
With a crucial Game 4 coming up Monday night -- one in which the Devils need to hold serve in order not to head back to The City That Never Sleeps down three games to one -- maybe it's for the best that the Rangers reminded the Devils so early in the set just how sour a taste these types of losses can leave behind.
The effort is there and the chances are coming, it's just the execution in finishing off those opportunities that needs to be heightened. Having beaten Lundqvist for just three goals in the three Eastern Conference Final games, the team has to find ways to not only get more pucks to the Rangers' net, but also how to solve the Blue Shirts' goalkeeper.
The Devils' very postseason lives could very well depend upon it.