- Last Updated: 9:18 AM, May 15, 2012
- Posted: 3:15 AM, May 15, 2012
The drama at Madison Square Garden built about as slowly as the Rangers’ game in last night’s opener of the Battle of the Hudson.
Good thing for the Rangers that Henrik Lundqvist was ready from the get-go of the Eastern Conference Final, ready to do his best work when his teammates needed it the most through two scoreless periods of hockey, the second of which the Devils dominated.
“As a goalie you have to step up for your team when they’re struggling, it’s not just about doing it when you feel good,” Lundqvist said after a 21-save, 3-0 empty-net abetted victory over Martin Brodeur. “And it’s fun to step up in those situations, because I know that the team has bailed me out, too.”
The King has allowed two goals or fewer in 11 of his 15 starts this tournament, recording two shutouts and five one-goal-against games. His outstanding work through the guts of the match last night allowed his teammates to gain their equilibrium following a second-period stretch in which the Rangers were turned back time and again by the Devils’ forecheck.
There was a huge save on a Dainius Zubrus backhand in front at 2:05 after an egregious giveaway up the middle by Dan Girardi, who would respond with a Broadway Hat caliber performance that included the first goal at 0:53 of the third.
And then there were three stops on Zach Parise from the left porch at 14:43, 14:45 and 14:46 of the second while the Devils were killing a penalty.
Plus the stop coming across from left to right of Ilya Kovalchuk’s one-timer from the left circle at 2:31 of the third, when the game had not yet teetered to the Rangers’ side.
“We love having Hank back there, but we don’t want to get to the point where the structure breaks down like it did and put him in that situation,” Brian Boyle told The Post.
“We know we’re playing a good team that’s going to press us and can take advantage of our mistakes, so for Hank to be there like he was when we broke down, it just gives us all the confidence that we can turn it around.”
And that’s exactly what the Rangers did, Girardi blowing one past Brodeur from 50 feet away at the right point with Derek Stepan setting a mighty screen, Chris Kreider then beating Brodeur on a one-time wrist shot on the inner edge of the left circle at 12:00 and Anisimov then putting one into an empty net at 18:33.
The Rangers had grinded another one their way, persevered and put their stamp on yet another third period. This marked the eighth game in which they’d entered the third tied, the fifth one they’d won through a tournament in which there’s been so little time and space in which to breathe.
“We’ve been in these games all playoffs, with some of the experiences we’ve gone through,” said coach John Tortorella. “I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our conditioning and, more importantly, in our mental makeup as far as handling situations.”
The Rangers finally handled the Devils’ forecheck after playing seven games against a Washington team content to lay back and allow the Rangers to fire away. The Capitals blocked an average of 22 shots per through 14 games; the Devils came into last night averaging 11 before blocking 15 against a Rangers team that blocked 26.
“I didn’t know what to expect, really,” said Lundqvist. “It’s a different type of series.”
Up 2-0, Kreider took a penalty at 13:07. Up 3-0, Mike Rupp took another at 19:22.
“You don’t say it out loud, but you’re thinking you don’t want to cost Hank a shutout with that,” said Boyle. “Hank deserved it and he got it.”
And now the Rangers have one in this series, need three more to advance to the Cup finals and then another four in order to ride up the Canyon of Heroes.
“Tired? If we’re tired at this time of year there’s something the matter,” Tortorella said. “We still have a month of hockey to play.”