It took two periods for the action to start, but the New York Rangers broke through first in the third period of Game 1 in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, scoring early in the third to break a scoreless tie, in the middle of the period to give themselves a strong cushion and at the end of the period into an empty net to wrap up a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey did a lot of what they need to do to win. Their key people, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck got on the puck and combined for eight shots. On the defensive side, they were able to force New York’s defenseman to be inordinately involved in the offense. It was Dan Girardi, a Ranger defenseman, who scored the first goal of the game and then got an assist on the second. While New Jersey couldn’t keep Marian Gaborik from getting four shots, they did effectively rub out Ryan Callahan. But New Jersey’s best players couldn’t score against Henrik Lundqvist, while New York’s back-line offensive players were able to get it done against Martin Brodeur. The veteran Devil goalie still stopped 25 of 27 shots—not a bad game, but as Brodeur knows better than anyone it takes great games to win in the postseason and New York limited New Jersey overall to 21 shots, and their own goalie, Henrik Lundqvist was locked in.
The Rangers-Devils resume hostilities at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Tonight, it’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals when Phoenix tries to bounce back from losing Game 1 at home to Los Angeles. The Coyotes did more than lose the opener—they were completely outplayed by the Kings. Phoenix has been able to win games in the playoffs behind goalie Mike Smith so long as they could get a little more than half the number of shots of their opponents. Playing an equally good goalie in Jonathan Quick, that’s not going to fly in this round. I’m looking for Phoenix’s frontline players—Antonine Vermette, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan—to give us a reason to think they can win this series tonight.