Devils win a weird one to pull even with the Rangers in Eastern Conference final

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – The door was stuck. Unbelievable. Despite the stuff that always happens in the din and dim of Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena for profane fans and bad lighting, this was weird.

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David Clarkson's third-period deflection was the difference as the Devils rallied in Game 2. (AP)

Travis Zajac was stewing over an interference penalty in the second period Wednesday night, watching a maintenance guy try to kick in the door to the penalty box, waiting through a lengthy delay.

Things were already going bad for the New Jersey Devils. A puck had caromed off one of their guys, off the end boards, off goaltender Martin Brodeur and into the net, tying the game. Ilya Kovalchuk had deflected a puck into the glove of New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, put a hand to his head in disbelief, then ripped a shot off the side of the net.

Now this. Some of the Devils tried to lighten the mood. As Zajac temporarily sat in the New York penalty box, Dainius Zubrus joked with the officials not to swallow their whistles to avoid putting a Ranger in there with him.

"Not often you get moments like that," Zubrus said. "There's enough tension as it is."

And then it got even more tense for the Devils. The Rangers scored on the power play. They took the lead. They could shut it down with their shot-blocking defense and elite goaltending, right?

Wrong.

"It's a tough place to play," said Brodeur after the Devils came back and won, 3-2, tying the Eastern Conference final, 1-1. "There's so many bad bounces. The ice is not good, the boards are awful and the glass makes crazy bounces everywhere. In the second period, I think two or three just went right in front of my net. So mentally it's a tough game to play, because you really have to look at the puck all game long.

"But I feel pretty good whenever I win."

[Related: Adjustments make difference for Devils in Game 2]

The Devils had a lot to feel good about. After a 3-0 loss in Game 1, they avoided falling into a 2-0 hole in the series. For all that went against them, for all that went wrong, for all the talk about the Rangers' style, they did so many good things that added up to winning – and could add up to more winning in the games to come.

Coach Peter DeBoer shuffled his lines. The Devils forechecked as well as they did in their five-game victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round, wearing down the Rangers' defense. When there were breakdowns, they took advantage. When there were lanes, they got off shots. They put people in front and deflected pucks. They got goals from an A-lister, Kovalchuk, a fourth-liner, Ryan Carter, and their Mr. Clutch, David Clarkson, who has three goals in these playoffs, all game-winners.

"Hopefully he's going to get seven more," Kovalchuk cracked.

In short, this is what they have to do. On the power play in the first period, with the Rangers caught on one side of the ice, Kovalchuk took a quick pass and rifled the puck into the top right corner before a defender could slide in his way. Late in the second, Carter reached across his body on his backhand and deflected a puck, and early in the third, Clarkson reached out with his stick about chest-high and deflected another puck.

No one could block those. Lundqvist had no chance.

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Martin Brodeur gave up a strange goal, but was otherwise stellar in leading New Jersey to victory. (Getty)

"We've got to find a way to get it by them," Clarkson said. "Tonight we did that. We had two tipped goals. It's pretty tough for him to get a piece of that when we're creating that traffic. We've got to continue to keep doing that, keeping winning battles down low, keep cycling the puck and doing those things."

Now, the Devils have to stop going to the penalty box – if they can get in it – and they have to stop being so ponderously porous on the penalty kill. They allowed only 27 power-play goals in 82 regular-season games, six fewer than anyone else. They have allowed 15 in 14 playoff games. Both goals they allowed Wednesday night came after interference penalties in the offensive zone. Even if the first one was fluky, that’s not a good trend.

The Devils easily could have fallen behind in the first period, too. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh wrapped around and slid the puck underneath Brodeur, but it went across the crease and off the far post. Marian Gaborik had a great chance shortly afterward; Brodeur stacked his pads.

But the Rangers have their own issues. Gaborik failed to get the puck out of the New York zone, leading to the second New Jersey goal, and coach John Tortorella benched him. Maybe Gaborik deserved to be benched for what he did, but when he's their most dangerous goal-scorer and they're down by a goal in the third period? He didn't take his first shift in the third until 8:45 remained and played only 3:07 in the final frame.

Not that Tortorella would talk about it. "No" was all the caustic, condescending coach would say when asked if he would talk about his decision. It was another short, silly news conference. Apparently he feels everyone is accountable but him.

Worse, the Rangers blew a big opportunity. They could have taken their first two-game lead in these playoffs. They could have put themselves in position to shorten the series, which could reduce their stress and give themselves some rest after two seven-game marathons.

The maintenance guy had trouble kicking in the door at MSG. But the Devils didn't, and now they're headed home for Game 3 on Saturday.

"Grinding it out and putting our head down regardless of what happens – bounce here, bounce there – we have to be strong mentally," Brodeur said. "That's what makes you win on the road …

"For us to go in and be able to pull the one game out of this building, we have to be really proud of ourselves, and we just have to take this momentum into our building now and make our building a tough place for them."

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