They had every opportunity to win Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. But the New York Rangers' penalty kill, reinvigorated shot-blocking defense, goalie Henrik Lundqvist and opportunistic offense frustrated and, ultimately, defeated the Devils on their home ice on Saturday afternoon — 3-0 to take a 2-1 series lead, on Lundqvist's 36-save shutout.
The game had an unmistakable, eerie symmetry to the Rangers' Game 1 win.
The Rangers broke through at 3:19 of the third period, with Bryce Salvador in the penalty box for hooking Marian Gaborik. Brad Richards beat Patrik Elias cleanly on the faceoff to Dan Girardi, who fired the puck past Brodeur for the power play goal.
He scored at 53 seconds of the third period of Game 1, to break a tie.
Then it was Chris Kreider, deflecting a Ryan McDonagh point shot just 1:57 later past Brodeur for the 2-0 lead.
He scored at 12:00 of the third period in Game 1. Again, to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.
From there, it was Lundqvist's show: Making several good stops in the third, a few during the Devils' two power plays. Ryan Callahan closed it out with an empty net goal.
The Devils had the better of play in the first period, attempting 23 shots to the Rangers' six attempts, with both teams failing to convert a power play. But the Rangers blocked nine shots in the period — they had six in the first period of Game 2. Lundqvist's best save came on a 2-on-1 with 10 seconds left, shrugging off a Parise shot.
Lundqvist was sharp to start the second: A sprawling glove save on Kovalchuk on a breakaway, a solid stop on a Dainius Zubrus blast and then two more saves on rebound attempts by Adam Henrique, all within the first two minutes. Then another save on an open look by Parise.
Moments later, it was Brodeur's turn: A wide open net for Ryan Callahan turned into diving glove save, as the Rangers captain double-clutched on the shot. He robbed Callahan again five minutes later on the doorstep.
The second period ended with the Devils having attempted 23 shots to the Rangers' 14. Again, an advantage. Again, nothing to show for it.
To open the third, Brad Richards had two great chances: A shot high that went off the crossbar, and then a set up to Gaborik that Brodeur saved. Then the floodgates opened for the Rangers.
In the end, the Devils also had five power play opportunities they could not capitalize on. Another advantage with nothing to show for it.
But the 3-0 final wasn't indicative of the battle it was.
Amidst the battling chants and the whistling declarations of who "sucks," a vuvuzela could be heard blaring inside Prudential Center. It's that horn that's sounds like a field of yaks singing the music from "Inception," so prominent during the soccer World Cup in 2010. It was an appropriate soundtrack to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, which felt like a soccer match.
This is not an insult. To see two teams engage in a battle for quality chances and shooting space — the Rangers repelling chances, the Devils controlling territory — was an intense joy for hockey fans, although maybe not for the casuals tuning into NBC and seeing goose eggs laid for the first 40 minutes.
And like soccer, this series is about the final score. It's about decades of rivalry, geographic bragging rights, friends attending games wearing the costumes of warring factions. And so it continues in Game 4, with the Devils facing a must-win on home ice.
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