In their Game 1 shutout, the New York Rangers didn't just defeat the New Jersey Devils — they frustrated them. They blocked shots, they clogged passing lanes, Henrik Lundqvist gobbling up pucks. Things had to change for New Jersey.
"We didn't score a goal last game, so on offense, shuffling guys around has been something we've done all year," said Coach Peter DeBoer before Game 2.
DeBoer shuffled his lines, changed the team's offensive tactics and the Devils evened the Eastern Conference Final with a 3-2 win at Madison Square Garden.
New Jersey reunited Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Zach Parise as a top line. He put together a second line of Petr Sykora with Patrik Elias and Dainius Zubrus, and a third line of Alexei Ponikarovsky, Adam Henrique and David Clarkson.
The results: The Devils pushed 59 pucks toward the Rangers goal, and 27 of them on goal. Their adjusted or blocked shots dropped by 10 from Game 1, as these line combinations cycled in the Rangers' zone and created chances closer to the net than in the previous game. Their shots from the point were faster and better placed.
"We have a deep lineup in here. The coach can pretty much do what he wants game to game," said Clarkson. "It sparked us a bit."
The Devils' defensemen had 14 shots blocked in Game 1; in Game 2, the number dropped to seven. Another DeBoer decision that paid off: Peter Harrold was inserted for Adam Larsson and played a strong game, with three chances and nothing blocked.
"He brings a little different dimension than Larsson. A little more poise with the puck," said DeBoer.
Kovalchuk scored a power-play goal in the first period, a nasty snipe that beat Lundqvist high glove side. After the Rangers took the lead on goals by Marc Staal — a fluky tally that Martin Brodeur put in himself — and Chris Kreider, grinding fourth-liner Ryan Carter made a great deflection on a Bryce Salvador point shot at 18:09 of the second period. In the third, David Clarkson — who had a dominant game — scored the game-winner on this deflection on an Adam Henrique shot:
The Devils' forecheck was impressive; their play around Brodeur was also exceptional, keeping pucks out of trouble and not allowing the Rangers to set up. When New York got its chances, Brodeur was there, in a 23-save performance.
It wasn't a perfect game for the Devils, who took four minor penalties gave up a power-play goal to the Rangers. But just like in Game 2 of the series against the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey found its stride in the second contest against the Rangers — and just like in the previous round, they evened the series.
The Rangers, meanwhile, dropped their third straight Game 2.
"I talked last game about our execution. Yeah, they did a good job blocking shots. They're a good shot-blocking team," said DeBoer. "But part of it is on us to execute, and tonight it was much better."