The New Jersey Devils are one win away from making their fifth Stanley Cup Finals appearance in franchise history. While their top players have been consistently contributing, it was their fourth line that got things going in Game 5 and then finished the job. Right Wing Stephen Gionta scored the first goal of the game at the 2:43 mark of the 1st period. He also made a beautiful pass to set up Center Ryan Carter for a redirect in the slot with 4:24 remaining in the 3rd period to put New Jersey ahead for good. Zach Parise added an empty-netter, while Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac also had goals to give the Devils a 5-3 win and 3-2 series lead.
Both the Devils and Rangers players said in the postgame that they felt like New York outplayed New Jersey last night. This is true. For 45 of the 60 minutes, the Rangers were able to keep the puck in the Devils end for long stretches, forechecked hard, and had the Devils on their heels. Their efforts resulted in three goals. The problem is that the 15 minutes where the Devils were the better team is where the Devils got their five goals. New Jersey had a 3-0 lead before 10 minutes were gone in the game. Brandon Prust, who had returned from his one game suspension for a Game 3 elbow to the head of Devils D Anton Volchenkov, scored the first goal for the Rangers with 4:19 remaining in the 1st period to stop the bleeding. Ryan Callahan was credited for a goal that went in off his leg 32 seconds in to the 2nd period to inch closer. 17 seconds in to the 3rd period, a Marian Gaborik forecheck forced Martin Brodeur to misplay the puck, and it resulted in a 3-3 tie. The Rangers efforts stopped their. It was almost as if the Rangers were content to get the game tied and play for overtime. With over 19 minutes remaining, that’s not a good strategy.
It’s tough to find silver linings in the Rangers loss last night. Yes, they came back from an 0-3 deficit and showed no quit. But the Blueshirts got off to another bad start and then wasted a great effort to get back in the game. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t give up 7 goals in a two game span often, so there should be some confidence that he’ll buckle down and play lights out in Game 6. But the positives end there. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur looked very shaky last night and played his worst game of the playoffs since Game 3 of the first round series with the Panthers. Brodeur won’t play another game like that and the Rangers squandered an opportunity to take advantage of the rare bad night at the office from the best goalie of all time.
On the way home from the game last night, I had the postgame radio coverage on. I understand that the knee-jerk reaction is to start making comparisons to the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals because there are some paralles.Games 3 through 7 fall on the same dates as they did in 1994. Games 3, 4 and 5 had the same teams winning. Martin Brodeur was the Devils goalie for both series. The Rangers had a very good goalie in both series. And the Devils built a 3-2 lead. But there’s been this sentiment of “Who is going to step up and be the Mark Messier and make the guarantee for Game 6?” Are you kidding me? Mark Messier is a top 10 player of all time. His name was on the Stanley Cup 5 times when he made that guarantee. When the Rangers made the trade for him going in to the 1991-92 season, he knew he was being brought to NYC to win a cup and end a curse. Messier had the pedigree and cajones to make that guarantee and back it up. There are no Mark Messier’s on the 2011-12 Rangers. There are also no Brian Leetchs, Adam Graves, Glenn Andersons or Jeff Beukebooms on this roster. I’m not implying that the Rangers can’t win Game 6 or even come back to win the series. But this Rangers team has an entirely different make up of the 1994 squad. There’s enough pressure on a team when they’re down 3-2 in a series without having to place the weight of past successes on them.