Heading into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final, you would never know that the New Jersey Devils had dominated play through most of the three games. Despite the marked edge in play, New Jersey had been consistently frustrated. The New York Rangers held a 2-1 series lead and, behind the play of a stingy defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, seemed poised to take a stranglehold lead on their Atlantic Division arch rivals Monday night.
The Devils had other ideas.
While they couldn't take advantage of a lopsided amount of territorial play in two 3-0 shutout losses, New Jersey made sure early in Game 4 that would not happen again.
Goals by defenseman Bryce Salvador -- his third in 16 playoff games after recording none in 82 regular season contests -- and Travis Zajac -- his sixth of the playoffs, which ties him for the team lead with Ilya Kovalchuk after managing just two in 15 games during the season after returning from an Achilles injury -- within a 3:49 span midway through the first staked the Devils to a 2-0 lead.
It would be all the offense N.J. would require to secure the triumph on the way to a 4-1 win as the Devils evened the series at two games apiece.
Zach Parise -- possibly sparked by coach Peter DeBoer's line juggling that reunited the captain with Zajac and Dainius Zubrus -- was excellent, posting two goals of his own and adding a beautiful assist on Zajac's one-timer.
New Jersey continued another trend in Monday's victory, and that is keeping New York off the scoreboard for the early portion of games over the course of the series.
The Rangers have not managed a first-period tally in any of the first four games, and have been shut out through two periods by Martin Brodeur in three of the four contests.
It's something that bears attention over the last three games, as John Tortorella obviously will have to make adjustments to generate some kind of offense for his Blue Shirts. With his club blanked in two of the first three tilts, DeBoer needed to make changes and did so quite effectively.
In what many times amounts to a game of chess, it's now Tortorella's turn to make his move.
Animosity Growing Between Arch Rivals
As expected, it's getting more heated as the series heads to the latter stages.
After a sequence in which Mike Rupp gave Brodeur a shot in the Devils' crease, coaches DeBoer and Tortorella got into a screaming match between the benches.
The sight was reminiscent of another set of Atlantic Division bench bosses leading clubs that have a hatred for one another when Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and assistant Tony Granato jawed with Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette late in the regular season. It just goes to show the competitive nature of the best division in the NHL.
The series shifts back to Madison Square Garden for Game 5, and the mission is clear for both teams -- win two of the remaining three games. While the Rangers could go the route of winning two on home ice -- the reward for having the conference's best record -- New Jersey must win at least one more in New York.
If the Devils can continue to control play, dominate puck possession and keep the Rangers pinned deep in their zone for long stretches, anything is possible.