NHL Playoffs: New Jersey Wins The East

The New Jersey Devils didn’t make it easy on themselves and they undoubtedly gave some of their fans heart failure these past two games, but with a 3-2 overtime win on Friday night, they clinched the Eastern Conference title, beating the New York Rangers in six games.

Just as was the case in Game 5, New Jersey got off to a fast start and then gave it back. The Devils scored twice in the first period. Stephen Gionta, who seemingly came out of nowhere starting in the fifth game, fed Ryan Carter for the game’s first goal. Then Ilya Kovalchuk—who certainly did *not* come out of nowhere delivered a slapshot three minutes later and it was 2-zip. But the Jersey defense was not its usual lockdown self. Playing with an intensity appropriate to a team fighting for its life, the Rangers challenged NJ goalie Martin Brodeur with 14 shots—matching the Devils’ total—but Brodeur turned all 14 back.

The New Jersey offense slowed in the second period, but New York kept peppering away, getting 13 more shots. Their top player, Marian Gaborik didn’t score or have an assist, but his involvement, with four shots for the game, usually leads to good things. The Rangers broke through halfway through the period and then tied it on a Ryan Callahan rebound shot with seven minutes left before the second intermission. Both teams tightened up defensively in the third period, but it only took a minute and change into the overtime before New Jersey’s Adam Henrique scored the goal that clinched the East.

Mainstream media reports are full of references to 1994, when the Rangers were in the Meadowlands for a must-win Game 6, Mark Messier guaranteed a win and then backed it up with a third period hat trick. I’ll just refer you to TheSportsNotebook’s recap of that spring in the Big Apple, when the city won the Cup and got to within one shot of an NBA title with the Knicks. And later today we’ll be posting a similar tribute to New Jersey, who did the same in 2003.

New Jersey now moves on to meet Los Angeles in the Finals, beginning on Wednesday in the Meadowlands. Between now and Wednesday morning, we’ll have both a series preview and a historical look at some of the great Cup Finals.