“He asked me when he came off the ice if I’d ever seen that,” the New York Rangers backup goalie said after practice Tuesday. “He said, ‘I don’t even know why I did that. I just came up with it.’ He just invented it at the moment. That’s how Sean’s mind works.”
While Avery continued his media boycott following his latest off-the-wall method of playing hockey, the rest of the Rangers gave their opinions of the hand- and stick-waving strategy he employed to distract the New Jersey Devils goalie.
Avery stood in front of Brodeur with his back to the action Sunday during New York’s 5-on-3 power play. The advantage resulted in a goal by Avery, but the Rangers lost 4-3 in overtime and had their series lead cut to 2-1.
Some teammates said the tactic was smart, others were less impressed.
“It’s not in the spirit of the game,” Valiquette said. “It worked and it’s effective, but it’s a gentleman’s game, much like golf. I wouldn’t have been happy if it had happened to me. I probably would have reacted a little differently. Sean would have been picking his teeth up off the ice if it was me.”
That is a common theme around Avery. He does plenty to anger and frustrate opponents in games, and teammates during practice. He can’t be ignored.
“He’s a really good player and he means a lot to this team,” starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “It’s a smart thing to do because it’s really tough to see when you have someone move exactly the way you’re moving.”
Avery has a series-leading three goals, scoring in each game. New York went 33-14-10 with him in the lineup this season and 9-13-3 when he was sidelined with injuries.
“He really doesn’t shut up, ever,” Valiquette said. “He practices on me, I think, so he’s warmed up for Brodeur. It is really annoying. I can see how it affects Marty. Him scoring, that’s like pouring salt in the wound. In practice, I get a lot more mad and frustrated when he scores than anybody else.”
Rangers coach Tom Renney gave a terse response when asked about Avery and the NHL’s quick decision to amend the unsportsmanlike conduct rule, making such activity in front of a goalie a penalty.
It wasn’t taught or condoned by the Rangers.
“We’re completely over that and we’re moving on to the New Jersey Devils,” Renney said.” I think Sean and everybody else knows how I operate.”
As Brodeur juked and jived to try to see around Avery, Rangers teammate Chris Drury skated over to talk to Avery during play. He feared the two-man advantage New York earned during the 1-1 game would be cut in half.
Instead, Avery scored to give the Rangers the lead.
“I heard the ref behind me warning him. I didn’t know if Sean heard it,” Drury said. “He sounded like he was going to give him a penalty. He was saying, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Get your stick down.’ I didn’t want it to all of a sudden be a 4-on-3.”
Nor do they want this series to become 2-2.
The Rangers won twice in New Jersey and it wasn’t until Game 3 that New York trailed.
“We did a great job when we were down 2-0 to play a great game and give ourselves a chance to get back in the series,” Brodeur said. “We have to have the same attitude going forward.”
The visiting team has scored first in every game and won. After Wednesday, the series shifts back across the river. It will either be tied, or the Devils will face elimination.
“It would be a lot nicer if we were up 3-0, but the reality is we’re still up only 2-1,” Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. “It’s going to be the key game of the series. We’ve got to bring everything, but they’re going to do the same thing to us.”
New York has won nine of 11 games between the teams this season, and five have been decided after regulation.
Besides Avery’s antics, the Rangers harped on the importance of staying out of the penalty box. Of New Jersey’s six goals in the series, three have been scored during power plays.
“Anything can change momentum,” Devils forward John Madden said. “You have to find ways to win games. In some games it might be the penalty killing that’s doing it for you, in other games it might be your power play is scoring or your goalie is playing well. That’s what it takes to win in this league, especially in a series.”
The Devils connected twice in eight advantages on Sunday and scored more than two regulation goals on Lundqvist for the first time in 17 games since New Jersey’s first-round sweep of New York in 2006.
“For us to get back in the series and for them not to let go of control of the series, there’s a lot at stake,” Brodeur said. “That fear of having our backs against the wall has to be there. We did win one game, we did score four goals, the power play did well. But this is the playoffs, you can’t ride it too high, you can’t ride it too low.”