Devils best not enough in latest Hudson clash

They skated. They forechecked. They took shots. They finished checks. They got big saves. These are all traits that made the Devils one of the best teams in the game spanning two decades. Despite all that, it still didn’t matter in their latest defeat- a tough 3-1 loss to the Hudson rival Rangers last night in Newark.

Maybe Jacques Lemaire finally got his team’s attention because they were a different club in the latest installment of the Hudson. Even if the affable vet coach declared it wasn’t a rivalry until his team started winning. Despite outshooting the Rangers by a healthy margin (44-25), they dropped their sixth straight in the traditional carnival atmosphere at The Rock.

There were a lot of positives,” a frustrated Jason Arnott expressed after narrowly missing a potential tying tally with over two minutes left. “We played hard. It just didn’t go our way. We started doing more things that Jacques has been telling us and it paid off. If we play like that, we are going to win hockey games.”

It’s been that kind of year for the Devils, whose anemic offense contributed to getting John MacLean fired. Despite a plethora of chances, they could only muster one goal on Henrik Lundqvist, who kept his teammates afloat finishing with a season high 43 saves. That included 20 stops in a busy second that saw the Devs at one point lead in shots 32-12 before the Rangers picked it up.

It feels better than playing well and losing,” said Lundqvist after his team improved to a league best 13-6-0 on the road. “As the game went on, I felt better and felt I had a chance to get to everything. I knew that in no way it was going to be an easy game. They’re not a bad team, despite their record.

A couple of days removed from dominating the Islanders with a season best 52 shots, the Blueshirts saw the tables turned with a hungrier Devil club getting an early Travis Zajac goal while taking seven of the first eight shots. Zajac got to a loose Mattias Tedenby rebound scoring his second in three games. The No.1 center has had a rough season since losing linemate Zach Parise but has points in four of his last five- playing a strong game yesterday. But before they blinked, Brian Boyle responded with his 14th caroming off Martin Brodeur’s glove to tie it 47 seconds later.

After outshooting the Rangers 16-5 in the first, the rejuvenated Devils continued to pour it on. However, Lundqvist was equal to the task stopping them in their tracks. Eventually, his strong play allowed teammates to settle in. Once they did, it became a really intense game with both netminders called upon to make strong saves. As fate would have it, it was an innocent looking shot that doomed New Jersey. Off a faceoff win by rookie Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky came around the net and dished for a cutting Michal Rozsival, whose one-timer deflected off Devil defenseman Andy Greene and in. It was heading wide but the unfortunate bounce was the latest sequence to beDevil their close rival.

“That’s par for the course for this year,” Brodeur said after the harmless shot went off Greene’s arm for the bitter decider. “Just another bad goal, a bad bounce to bad us.”

The third was a battle from start to finish with each team going after each other like a couple of boxers. Speaking of which, it was prior to Rozsival’s tally that Boyle fought Dainius Zubrus following a scrum. That was the turning point for the Blueshirts, who still drew praise from John Tortorella about how this team finds a way even when things aren’t going well. In the final 20, nobody had to tell them what to do with the penalty kill coming up big three different times. Lundqvist finally got help with Boyle and do everything linemate Brandon Prust making life miserable for Ilya Kovalchuk. Marc Staal was strong, clearing numerous pucks out.

The Rangers had a big opportunity to put it away when Arnott took an extra for unsportsmanlike following a hold. To the Devils’ credit, they did a good job killing it off with much more aggressive play than we’ve seen. On one shift, Henrik Tallinder had more positives than the entire season. Brodeur still had to make a couple of critical stops during the second half and also caught a break when Matt Gilroy’s laser rang off the crossbar. Speaking of Gilroy, he had another strong game- looking particularly dangerous after Tortorella stuck him out for power play shifts.

Still nursing a 2-1 lead, the Rangers protected it well with strong play in the neutral zone. It was on the cycle that Chris Drury got nabbed for holding, giving the Devils one last chance to tie it. It was the Ranger PK which got the job done, albeit with a little help from the post after Lundqvist sprawled out to deny a pointblank chance- leaving Arnott looking to the heavens.

Tortorella used a timeout with over a minute left to stick Boyle, Prust and Ruslan Fedotenko out along with Staal and Dan Girardi. The sound strategy paid off with the Devils unable to get a sniff. Artem Anisimov and Dubinsky were out for the final shift, breaking up plays and forcing the Devs to go offside. Finally, Dubinsky salted it away off an Anisimov draw at center ice, sending his team best 16th into the open net with six seconds to spare.

“We knew that they had their struggles this year, but they’re still capable of turning it on,” said Dubinsky. “We didn’t want it to be against us. We expected them to come out hard. We can’t play our best every night, but with Hank back there, we found a way to steal this one.”

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Brian Boyle, NYR (career high 14th goal, game best 6 SOG, fight)
2nd Star-Martin Brodeur, NJD (23 saves incl.11/12 in 2nd)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (season best 43 saves incl.20/20 in 2nd)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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