NEWARK, N.J. -- For the better part of the first 40 minutes in Game 3 Saturday, the Rangers couldn't figure out how to do what they talked about doing, what they know they need to do in order to beat the Devils.
To get to the Stanley Cup Final, they are going to have get the puck in deep, win the battles along the wall to keep it down low, and create chances by making plays from behind the goal line.
They call it simplifying their game, but executing that style against the aggressive forechecking Devils is not easy, especially when Martin Brodeur will jump at any chance to play the puck and swiftly get it out of the zone to start another attack.
However, finally -- and that is a word that needs to be stressed considering seven of the first eight periods of the Eastern Conference Finals had been played and pretty much dominated by the Devils -- the Rangers were able to attack and get the zone time they needed as soon as the third period started Saturday.
It should come as no surprise then that they created two excellent scoring chances, drew a penalty, and scored a power-play goal that got them going in a 3-0 victory that put them up 2-1 in the series.
"That's what we want to do, get the puck deep, be first to the puck, win some battles," Rangers forward Carl Hagelin told NHL.com. "You could see we created chances from the slot and if you have a shot from the slot it's always a good chance. That's what we want to do, get on pucks and make them play 'D.'"
The Rangers did not do it at all in the first period and they were lucky to head to the dressing room with the game still scoreless. They were somewhat better in the second, but still not good enough to stop New Jersey from getting 15 shots on goal that were fortunately all stopped by Henrik Lundqvist.
"We spent too much time in our end zone," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "That's due a little bit to them and due to us also, as far as some of the struggles we've had."
There was, however, a noticeable change in the Rangers aggressiveness to start the third.
In the three minutes and 18 seconds before defenseman Dan Girardi scored what turned into the game-winner, the Rangers won four faceoffs, including two in the offensive zone after the Devils iced the puck. Hagelin set up Brad Richards for a shot from the slot that hit the crossbar. Marian Gaborik was also inches away from beating Brodeur through his five-hole.
The Rangers kept possession and pressure enough that Gaborik eventually drew a hooking penalty on Bryce Salvador near the right-wing corner 2:11 into the period. And, after Richards' second straight faceoff win, Girardi blasted a one-timer past Brodeur from the inner edge of the right circle to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead at 3:19.
It was 2-0 just like that because the Rangers were finally playing the way they intended to play after leaving it on Lundqvist's capable shoulders to keep them in the game through two periods.
"We had some jump there in the third and got a couple of good scoring chances," Richards said. "I thought we scored on one of them, I couldn't see it hit the bar but I thought it was in. We were a little upset we didn't score, but we drew a penalty and ended up getting something so that was good."
The Rangers, though, felt they were starting to attack after Tortorella called a timeout 1:51 into the second period; after Lundqvist had to rob Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway and stop a Dainius Zubrus blast from between the circles and the subsequent rebound attempt by Adam Henrique from the slot.
Tortorella said they were "lethargic" and thought his team was "going to get scored on because we were too lackadaisical." So, he used his timeout and the Rangers came out with some better jump and started to send more traffic and bodies to the net.
A pair of minor penalties (tripping on Mike Rupp at 10:35; interference on John Mitchell at 14:04) curbed any momentum the Rangers were trying to create. At least they were able to kill those off with relative ease and nearly connected on a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush when Mitchell was in the box.
"I thought we had a couple momentum surges there (in the second)," McDonagh said. "We were making strides there, but you can build momentum off a penalty kill, too, if you can close it out. We were able to do a good job in that area."
The penalty kill allowed the Rangers to enter the third period still locked in a scoreless tie, still confident that they were getting close to breaking it.
"We didn't panic," Lundqvist said. "We kept our composure, kept playing the same way, and as a goalie, you know sooner or later it's going to turn. It's going to turn in our favor. We're going to get a chance. We're going to get a break. And that's the feeling I had. In the third we came out big, made some really big plays and scored some really good goals."
They did because they were finally the aggressor, finally able to apply necessary pressure to take the Devils game and shove it right back in their face.
If the Rangers are going to win two more games to get to the Stanley Cup Final, they're going to have to find a way to play more minutes just like that.
No, it's not easy to do against these Devils, who are not the shot-blockers that the Capitals were because they are aggressive enough that they don't have to be. However, the Rangers showed in the first couple of shifts of the third period Saturday that it can be done.
At least they had Lundqvist around to give them a chance to figure it out.
"That's why we're a team," Richards said. "He's part of it and we hope to help him out next game."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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