Many thought last years Eastern Conference Finals victory for New Jersey over the Rangers was a greater one than winning the Stanley Cup. Neither team has forgotten what went down last May.
The two rivals met for the first time since then on Tuesday night in Newark and, like last year, the Devils came out on top.
Many factors that led to the Rangers postseason exit last year continued to be a problem for them again last night, credit to the Devils. For starters, the third line (fourth line last year) of Stephen Gionta-Ryan Carter-Steve Bernier continued to physically assert itself against a more talented Rangers team, Martin Brodeur outplayed Henrik Lundqvist again, and the Devils penalty kill shined like it did all last year.
Oh, and who could forget Adam Henrique?
The Devils playoff hero from last year got the scoring started five minutes into the game, beating Lundqvist up high off a feed from Patrik Elias in the corner, one of his three assists on the night. Henrique, who played in just his fourth game since returning from a wrist injury in the offseason, has provided a nice scoring boost for New Jersey with 2 goals and 3 total points. He has also restored some balance to the Devils lineup, which was a concern for many leading into this season.
Minutes after killing the second Rangers power play of the first period, where we saw Brodeur make an unbelievable save on a wide open Marc Staal, New Jersey struck again, and it would come from none other than the red hot David Clarkson. With just 52 seconds remaining, Clarkson found a bouncing puck lost in the feet of Rick Nash in the slot and buried it low past Lundqvist.
The second period was relatively quiet, aside from some more spectacular saves from Brodeur to keep the Devils lead at 2, but when the Devils got a quick power play to start the third period, they expanded their lead once again. Patrik Elias found defenseman Andy Greene wide open at the point and fired it on net, leading to a rebound right to the stick of (guess who!) David Clarkson, who lifted it over Lundqvist for his second of the night, giving New Jersey a commanding 3-0 lead.
Clarkson, who scored 30 goals last season, is off to a ridiculously hot start this year. He has 7 goals to lead New Jersey and is a huge reason why they are playing so well. His production coming into this season was a big question mark because many thought there was no way he could repeat last years success. From how he’s been playing so far though, I think it’s safe to say he’ll produce just fine.
The Rangers finally got on the board at the 13:30 mark of the third period thanks to Chris Kreider, spoiling Brodeurs’ shutout bid. It would not be enough however to spark a comeback against this defensively-sound New Jersey team. Brodeur capped off the 3-1 win with a late save against Carl Hagelin, robbing him with the glove on a point-blank shot in the slot off a rush.
The Rangers had plenty of chances throughout the game to get back in it and even pull ahead of New Jersey, but the Devils penalty kill and Hall of Fame goaltender were too much for the talented Rangers squad. New York had four power play opportunities, none of which would be successful against a penalty kill that ranked 1st overall last year and one of the best of all time.
Something very unusual to see from the Devils is the amount of penalties they have taken this year, including last night. New Jersey has been one of the most penalized teams in the league thus far, which has led to two of their overtime losses against Montreal and the Islanders. In the past two games however, they have held their opponents to 0-11 with the extra man.
In an offseason where we saw the Rangers upgrade with the addition of Rick Nash and the Devils staying put, even with the loss of Zach Parise, New Jersey has been the team that has impressed more so thus far. There is no doubt that the Rangers will find their game at some point, but it’s clear right now that the Devils have already found theirs.
The Devils (5-1-3, 13 points) will next face the Tampa Bay Lightning (6-3, 12 points) at home on Thursday, February 7th.
About the Author
Written by Mike Mastrandrea
Mike Mastrandrea is currently a Junior at Indiana University studying Sports Communication and Marketing. He was raised in New Jersey and is a dedicated New Jersey Devils, New York Jets, New York Mets, and Indiana Hoosiers fan. Mike's other interests include movies, hanging out with friends, and Chel.