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Every time the Devils and Rangers get together, it’s always compelling. The Battle Of Hudson is one of the fiercest rivalries in the league bar none. Especially now that both teams are good. In as odd a game as you’ll ever see between Newark and Broadway, the Blueshirts swarmed their way to a well earned 2-0 shutout last night at The Garden.
For a late February game which oddly enough came on a quiet Deadline Day with only 15 trades made and not one involving Rick Nash, it had all the makings of a playoff match. The intensity was through the roof from the drop of the puck. Every battle won. Every check finished. Every shot contested. Well, even if most had no prayer of getting through to either Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist. In what became the lowest combined shot total for a regular season game in three years, the Devils and Rangers combined for a meager 28. This isn’t a misprint. The shot totals for each period:
1st NJD-4 NYR-4
2nd NJD-10 NYR-10
3rd NJD-13 NYR-15
Combined Total: 28
It’s rare that the number of shots overshadows the actual score. This was throwback hockey played pre-lockout. Tight checking. No space. Forced turnovers. And of course, nastiness that included a pair of fights. Throw in the chaos of David Clarkson and it had a bit of everything to keep eyes glued to the NBC Sports Network Monday night feature.
Rangers-Devils is as good as it gets when it’s hotly contested such as yesterday. Sure. It would’ve been nice if there were more shots but it was like a war of attrition. Ultimately, the difference proved to be rookie Carl Hagelin’s 11th which snuck past Brodeur short side late in the first. If memory serves, that was only the Rangers’ third shot. Like Clarkson’s power play goal in the Devs’ 1-0 shutout here last time, it turned out to be all they needed with Lundqvist needing just 13 saves for his league-leading eighth shutout (43rd career). Perhaps it was appropriate that he’d tie Tony Esposito for the most consecutive seasons (7) of 30 wins to begin a career.
“It means that things have been going well, but it also means that I played for a club that’s given me an opportunity to play a lot,” the NHL leader in goals-against-average said while crediting his teammates. “I have a pretty good team in front of me, as well. I’m happy I reached it again. You always want to improve each year. So far this year it’s been a good ride.”
Lundqvist still made a few clutch stops, including a nice stack to deny Clarkson in tight. His best came late in regulation when a cat-like glove denied Ilya Kovalchuk’s Russian missile from tying it. He had a lot of help from Ryan McDonagh, who was awarded the game’s second star for his shutdown defense on Kovalchuk and Devil captain Zach Parise. Going against the Devils’ two stars flanked by Calder hopeful Adam Henrique, McDonagh’s skating and physicality along with partner Dan Girardi’s usual warrior effort nullified one of the game’s best lines. Outside of a Parise shot that deflected off a sliding Girardi and drew iron, plus Kovalchuk’s great chance with over two minutes left, the cohesive trio were kept to the perimeter. They combined for four of New Jersey’s 13 shots. No Devil had more than two, shared by Kovalchuk and Steve Bernier.
It was that kind of yeoman effort from the Rangers’ best, who each logged over 22 minutes and combined for six hits and five blocked shots. The MSG hosts blocked 18 while their Hudson rivals had just a couple due to the pressure they applied. The Devils pinched every chance but couldn’t find a way to beat Lundqvist. There were a few blown opportunities, including Henrique firing too high off a crazy bounce. Patrik Elias nearly set up former A Line buddy Petr Sykora only to see Lundqvist slide across. There also was another close call created by Clarkson but the rebound never made it.
For once, John Tortorella used everyone, including Anton Stralman (17:13) and Stu Bickel (14:41). Stralman had a few shaky moments but recovered along with help from Marc Staal and Mike Del Zotto depending on who Tort rotated. Even Mike Rupp saw 12 shifts against his former team, delivering five hits. According to the stats, the Rangers outhit the Devils 37-24. But they definitely missed a few for the guests, including Kovalchuk launching himself into Girardi. A play that we’d see again later.
Hagelin’s tally came thanks to a smart pinch by Girardi, who pushed the puck down to Ryan Callahan behind the net with Cally quickly feeding the impressive Swede for the lead. Hagelin got free of Mark Fayne, who went for a fishing expedition, leaving the former Wolverine to cash in on a lazy Brodeur, who didn’t cover the near side.
The second was more chippy thanks to Clarkson, who lost his mind with some undisciplined penalties that only hurt his team. While the teams opened it up with 12 shots (6 each) and better quality chances, the Devil antagonist earned 19 penalty minutes, including a misconduct for shenanigans following a whistle. Continuing to mouth off after vet tandem Stephen Walkom and Brad Watson warned him, they finally had seen enough. In a bizarre sequence, Pete DeBoer refused to put his line out for the next faceoff, nearly resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed.
“No idea,” Clarkson replied afterwards. “[Brandon] Dubinsky went after [Kovalchuk], and I went out and said something.”
The Rangers were incensed at a Dainius Zubrus elbow to Hagelin, which earned two minutes. Callahan came to his teammate’s aid and there was pushing and shoving. Part of why the game deteriorated was because of the bullish antics of Eric Boulton. Following Hagelin’s goal, DeBoer put the goon out for the faceoff and he shoved Marian Gaborik, drawing Tortorella’s ire. He immediately sent Rupp out but was rebuffed. Such a move by Boulton has no place in hockey. He later goaded Brandon Prust into a scrap. Prust has been playing banged up. Despite not wanting to go, he took one for the team. Once back, Clarkson continued his mindlessness by getting suckered into an unsportsmanlike by Rupp. Astonishingly, Clarkson wasn’t done. With nothing better to do, he took a flying run at Dubinsky. Fortunately, an attempted elbow missed with Clarkson off again for charging. Dubinsky had seen enough, defending himself in an entertaining scrap which the Devil won.
“I knew it was coming,” an incensed Dubinsky said. “It was just a matter of time before somebody was going to fight him. He seems to always turn away the tougher guys—not taking anything away from myself—and go after other guys. It’s just the way he is.”
There were only three power plays. The Rangers’ best chances came in the second thanks to strong work from a grittier Gaborik, who forced Brodeur to scramble. Despite little room, our leading scorer had four shots and a takeaway where he stripped Kovalchuk and nearly cashed in. The Blueshirts also nearly scored a second if not for a sprawling Anton Volchenkov, who prevented a gimme by laying out and wisely freezing the puck with his skates. Tremendous play.
Once the second was over, the teams got back to hockey. There was a game to be decided with two points up for grabs. For the Devils who came in hot with a seven-game road win streak, they were trying to avoid a three-game skid after two disappointing home losses over the weekend. Particularly a 4-3 defeat Sunday to Tampa Bay. They tried their best against our stingy D, which may as well have been the kinda dull hockey the Devils once were known for. There weren’t many clean plays. Henrique was guilty of over passing right into the teeth. Newest Devil Marek Zidlicky also passed up a couple of shots and struggled to keep pucks in.
If the first was hard enough, the Devils only managed three on Lundqvist, who was equal to the task. The Rangers were a shade better with five that Brodeur turned aside, including one big one to give his team a chance. DeBoer pulled him with 75 seconds left. Aside from Kovalchuk’s bomb that Lundqvist handled, they were unable to generate anything. Instead, Hagelin forced Zidlicky at the point and then drew a delayed call. He still slid the puck across to Callahan which sealed it at 18:54. It was his career best 25th.
3rd Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (13 save shutout, league best 8th-43rd career)
2nd Star-Carl Hagelin, NYR (game-winner-11th at 16:59 of 1st, assist, +2 in 16:50)
1st Star-Ryan McDonagh, NYR (25 shifts-22:29, 3 hits, 2 blocks, stifled Kovalchuk)
Notes: The teams combined for 44 penalty minutes. Devils-28 (19 Clarkson, 7 Boulton, Zubrus 2) Rangers-16 (Prust 7, Dubinsky 5, Hagelin 2, Rupp 2). … New Jersey had 32 shots that never reached Lundqvist (18 BS, 14 missed). By contrast, New York had 14, including 12 misses. … After failing to pick up another faceoff guy, Rangers edged the Devils 26-22 led by Brad Richards (8-of-16) and Brian Boyle (7-14). Henrique paced the Devs going 6-of-11 while Zubrus lost 8-of-14. … Rangers (40-15-6, 86 Pts) visit Hurricanes Thursday while Devils (35-23-4, 74) continue a four-game road trip with the next stop at Boston March 1 before returning to The Rock to host the Blueshirts 3/6.