It had been such a familiar script in the first four games of the Eastern Conference Final between the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers. When it was all said and done, the Devils find themselves within one win of their first Stanley Cup Final since 2003, following a gutsy 5-3 win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Game 5 brought about a number of scenarios that was unlike any we've seen in the series thus far:
- A huge New Jersey lead. Although the Devils wore down the Rangers in their previous two victories, they jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 9:49 of the first period.
- Soft goals yielded by the usual pair of stellar goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur. The Devils scored on three of their first five shots on goal, including one Lundqvist would probably like to have back by Travis Zajac that made it 3-0. Brodeur had one of his own -- he let a Brandon Prust backhander sneak through him when he committed first and dove on a late first period chance, then allowed a tally to Marian Gaborik from the left wing corner that banked in off the netminder just 17 seconds into the third period to knot the score at 3-3.
- A New York forecheck that kept New Jersey pinned in their own zone for long stretches, something the Devils have made a habit of doing to their Atlantic Division rivals in the first four contests of the series. The Rangers' hard work and smart play led to a comeback from 0-3 to a 3-3 tie early in the third frame. It was the first time in 101 contests -- 82 regular season, 19 playoffs -- that New York was able to come back from an 0-3 deficit.
- After garnering the 3-0 lead, NJ put just 12 more shots on the New York goal the rest of the way.
- Along the way, NY dominated the statistics sheet -- the Rangers outshot New Jersey by a 28-17 count, outhit the Devils, 40-26, and were 37-62 in the faceoff circle (a solid 59.6 percent). When you put up numbers like that, you're going to win a lot of games. But not on this night, as the early-game gaffes cost New York the contest.
Something that did remain a constant was the Devils' ability to get traffic in front of Lundqvist, and the eventual payoff for the hard work rendered.
In the end, it was NJ who once again pulled out the contest, this time late in the third, when Peter DeBoer put together a make-shift line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Ilya Kovalchuk, and the trio came up with a big shift on the game-winning goal. Kovalchuk's forecheck deep in the right wing corner knocked the puck free from defenseman Michael Del Zotto to Gionta behind the goal line, who then sent a pass across the goal crease to Carter, who buried the shot past Lundqvist with only 4:24 remaining in regulation. Zach Parise tacked on an empty-netter with Lundqvist on the bench for an extra attacker with 31.2 seconds remaining in regulation to put the game out of reach at 5-3.
The fact remains that the Rangers have not won a game in this series other than those in which Lundqvist earned a shutout -- 3-0 counts in both Games 1 and 3.
And while the way they got there looked much different than the rest of the series, the end result was the same -- a New Jersey victory.
The Devils head back to the Prudential Center for Friday night's Game 6 with the chance to close out the East's top-seeded club from New York. Can the Rangers force a third consecutive Game 7? Do they have enough left in the tank?
One thing is for sure, and it was mentioned during Parise's post-game interview: "We've got to be better in Game 6."
The Devils' captain is correct.
If they are better and successful in winning their fourth game of the set, N.J. will be shaking hands and moving on to play the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings, who are awaiting their opponent from the coast to the right.
Stick with our StoryStream for full coverage of Devils vs. Rangers Game 5. For more on the Devils, check in with In Lou We Trust, and for more on the Rangers, check in with Blueshirt Banter. For complete coverage of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, stay tuned to SB Nation's dedicated NHL hub.