NEWARK, N.J. -- One bounce can change the fortunes of a hockey team. On Tuesday night, it turned a sure victory for the New York Rangers into one of their more frustrating losses of the season.
Devils defenseman Andy Greene launched a slap shot from center ice with goaltender Martin Brodeur on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute. The puck rimmed around the glass and ricocheted to the slot, where it came to rest on the stick of a wide-open David Clarkson, who buried the tying goal for the Devils with 47.6 seconds remaining.
After a wild five-minute overtime, Ilya Kovalchuk scored the only goal in a shootout to send the Rangers to a 4-3 loss in front of a sell-out crowd at Prudential Center. A goal from Michael Del Zotto put the Rangers ahead 3-2 with 3:59, but one bounce marred a solid overall performance in New York's first game out of the All-Star break.
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"It was a bad bounce," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We were in total control. I thought we were doing really well with our situational play after we got the lead back 3-2. We got a bad bounce.
"I liked our game. Second period, I thought we lost a bit of our forechecking. All in all, I thought everybody contributed. I thought we played a pretty good game. We were a few seconds away and a bad bounce away from winning another hockey game."
The shootout loss kept the Rangers one point ahead of the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the East. Considering the circumstances -- first game after a week of mostly stagnation, backup Martin Biron spelling starter Henrik Lundqvist for a night, only being denied a second point due to an unfortunate carom -- the Rangers could find a lot of silver linings in this loss.
In the immediate aftermath, however, it was hard for the players to do so.
"I don't know. I don't think it's easier to swallow," said defenseman Dan Girardi, who was on the ice for Clarkson's goal. "Any loss is tough. It's a tough break. I thought we handled ourselves well after that and just laughed it off. It's a bad bounce, but we have to go try to win in overtime. We just came up a little short."
The tying goal was born out of a play that happens all the time during the course of a hockey game.
With the puck near the left boards at center ice, Greene fired a slap shot about halfway up the glass. As the puck was making a right turn and whistling around the net, it hit a glass support and bounced into the slot. Clarkson settled it and fired it through the legs of a stunned Biron, who had played a fine game up until that point.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh was also on the ice at the time of the goal, but Girardi said there's no way to defend a bounce like that.
"I don't think you'd change anything because Mac has to go get the puck on the boards and I'm skating back trying to get back to the front," a flabbergasted Girardi said. "That's just … we do that every time. The 'D' do that every time. We can't just skate to the middle of the ice and then the rim goes by you. Those bounces happen and it's just unfortunate it happened in the last minute."
"There's nothing you can do," Tortorella agreed. "It's not like we had a breakdown or anything like that. It's a rim, it goes off the stanchion. We don't want to accept it, but again, you hope one will go your way somewhere later in the year. We can't do anything about that."
Biron, who took just his third loss in 12 starts this season, said there's no solace to be taken in a loss as unlucky as this one.
"It's probably as frustrating as ever," Biron countered, "because you feel like you had a good game and you were about to limit their chances down the stretch. I mean, they got a bounce. If it's something you create or you make mistakes, but this is frustrating. It's a bad bounce, it happens at times."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo