Tight games continue to be the rule this spring

Thursday, 05.17.2012 / 12:06 AM | John Kreiser  - NHL.com Columnist
The hardest thing to get in this spring's playoffs is a big lead.

New Jersey's 3-2 victory against the Rangers in New York on Wednesday night got the Devils even in the Eastern Conference Finals heading into Game 3 in Newark on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). It also marked the 44th time in 73 games this spring that the winning margin was a single goal -- and in eight other games, the two-goal margin of victory included an empty-netter.

There have already been more one-goal games this spring than there were in all of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 playoffs. Last spring's playoffs had 48 games decided by one goal, a total that's a pretty good bet to be exceeded as well. The most one-goal games in the past 10 years came in 2007, when there were 51.

What we haven't seen much of this spring are blowouts -- games decided by three or more goals. There have been just 12, including Los Angeles' 4-0 win at Phoenix on Tuesday. There were 20 such games last spring, one year after there were 33. The only year in the last 10 that saw fewer than 20 was 2003, when there were 17 -- a total we might not see this spring.

Of the four teams remaining, the Rangers have had 12 of their 16 games decided by one goal -- they're 6-6. Phoenix has played eight one-goal games, winning six. New Jersey is 5-2 in seven one-goal games. The only remaining team that has largely avoided close games is Los Angeles -- the Kings are 2-0 in one-goal games, but 6-1 when the margin is two goals and 2-0 in blowouts.

The 3-2 blues -- The Rangers have won all three of their series openers this spring, but each time they've come up short in their bid to take a two-game lead. New York has dropped all three games by the same 3-2 score, despite playing all three games at home.

The good news for the Rangers and their fans: New York has won Game 3 on the road in both of its first two series.

The "Ouch" award -- There is no such thing, of course -- but if there were, Wednesday's winner would be Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who tied for the team lead in hits and led all players on both sides with eight of the Rangers' 16 blocked shots.

For the entire playoffs, McDonagh has 50 blocks -- two short of his defense partner, Dan Girardi, for the lead among all players.

O from the "D" -- The Rangers don't have any defenseman who finished in the top 15 in scoring during the regular season. But they're getting more offense from the blue line than any other team during the playoffs.

Marc Staal had one of New York's two goals on Wednesday night, giving the Rangers' defense corps 10 for the playoffs. That's twice as many as the next most-productive teams -- Phoenix and Washington both have five.

Staal and Anton Stralman are the only defensemen with three goals during this year's playoffs, while Girardi (10) is the only blueliner in the League who's in double figures in points -- he's one point ahead of teammate Michael Del Zotto.

Big price for slow starts -- When games are tight, the importance of the first goal is magnified -- and the Rangers again paid the price for allowing the opening goal in Game 2.

Wednesday's game marked the sixth time this spring the Rangers have surrendered the opening goal -- and the fifth one that they've lost. In the 10 games in which they've scored first, the Rangers are 8-2.

The Devils now have scored first in seven of their 14 games this spring, winning five. They are 4-3 when the opponent scores first.
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