All season long, Henrik Lundqvist has been money as the New York Rangers’ goaltender, and at key points during the first 2 ½ rounds of the playoffs he’s been the same. But Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils was not one of those times. Lundqvist was positively awful as the Devils won 5-3 and took a 3-2 lead in games.
It didn’t take long for New Jersey to come out and light the lamp. They have three goals in the first ten minutes of the third period. Stephen Gionta, hardly one of this team’s offensive threats, scored on a backhand, center Patrick Elias put one home on a tip-in and then Travis Zajac took a feed from Zach Parise. With six shots on goal in the first period, the Devils scored three times, a percentage that the Celtics and 76ers would have positive killed for in their NBA playoff game an hour and a half away in Philly.
New York came all the way back, pulling to 3-1 before the first intermission and then relying on quick strikes each of the next two periods. Ryan Callahan scored less than a minute into the second period and Marian Gaborik tied the game seconds into the third period with an unassisted wrist shot. It was a key goal by Gaborik and had it not been the only shot the Rangers’ best offensive player took all night, it’d have been even more impressive.
Gionta stepped up with an assist at 4:24 to go, feeding Jeff Carter and then the Devils put home an empty-net goal to clinch it. Prior to the empty net play, New Jersey got only 16 shots and scored four goals. The Ranger defense not only limited the shots, but they didn’t let key offensive threats Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk take a disproportionate amount. Parise was right after the game in saying he felt like his team played one of its worst games in the postseason. Yet an inexplicable meltdown by Lundqvist put New Jersey within one game of the Finals.
There’s no hockey tonight, as Los Angeles is home resting and waiting to travel to face one these two teams when the Finals start Wednesday night. Rangers-Devils resume hostilities for a potential clinching Game 6 in the Meadowlands on Friday night. If New York wins, reserve Sunday night in MSG for Game 7.