NEWARK, N.J. -- The sequence started with an energy shift by the Devils' third line roughly four and a half minutes into Game 4. It didn't stop until New Jersey had a commanding 2-0 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the first.
"We were just on the puck," Devils center Travis Zajac said after the Devils' 4-1 win Monday at Prudential Center evened the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading into Game 5 Wednesday. "We worked as a five-man unit up the ice and we made it tough for them to get it out of the zone. We had lines rolling, had the forecheck going, guys hunting pucks down."
From the moment Jacob Josefson, Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson stepped on the ice for their second shift of the game until Zajac smashed a one-timer into the net behind Henrik Lundqvist at the 11:59 mark, the Devils never stopped pressuring the Rangers with an energetic forecheck that created momentum that they finally were able to capitalize on.
In that span of seven and a half minutes, the Devils outscored the Rangers 2-0 and outshot them 7-2. They also won seven of 11 faceoffs, including four in a row before Zajac scored at the 11:59 mark. They had eight shot attempts, while the Rangers had only four.
Bryce Salvador gave New Jersey a 1-0 lead with a low wrist shot from the left point that went through Lundqvist's legs 8:10 into the game. Less than four minutes later, Zach Parise used a speed burst to get around a frozen Michael Del Zotto, creating a 2-on-1 that Zajac finished with authority.
The majority of the 17,625 inside Prudential Center were screaming and derisively chanting "Hen-rik, Hen-rik, Hen-rik." The Devils were buzzing and the Rangers were, well, they were just a mess.
There was still 48:01 to play, but Game 4 was essentially over with the Devils securing a tie in the series heading into Game 5 Wednesday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"They're a team that thrives on turnovers and for us we have to make it tough on them, we have to play in their end, make their minutes hard," Zajac said. "We did that and we were able to come away with the lead. That's important for us to winning the series."
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Parise, Brodeur help Devils tie seriesMike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
Zach Parise notched two goals and an assist and Martin Brodeur made 28 saves, as the Devils handled the Rangers, 4-1, to even the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece.
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If the way the Devils came out as the stronger, more aggressive, more assertive team in the first period of Game 4 looked familiar, well that's only because they did the same thing in Games 1, 2 and 3. The difference was this time they were able to squeeze two of their 12 shots past Lundqvist whereas in the previous first periods in this series the Rangers' goalie stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced.
The Devils couldn't connect on six shots on goal in the first period of Game 1, and they wound up losing 3-0 because the opportunistic Rangers beat them with three goals in the third. They scored on one of their eight first-period shots in Game 2 en route to a 3-2 victory.
However, Game 3 was a carbon copy of Game 1, except this time New Jersey had 11 shots on goal in the first period. Lundqvist was perfect, finished with 36 saves and the Rangers scored three times in the third for a 3-0 win.
"We put some pressure on early, and it looked like it was going to be more of the same from the (game) before," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "We had some quality chances early, couldn't get one by him. But obviously the first one was a big one. Kind of lifted a weight off us, and I thought we played a little bit looser and a little bit freer from then on."
Grabbing a two-goal lead eight minutes into the game against any team at any time is big, but doing it against the Rangers this spring makes a team feel like it reached the mountaintop before it even breaks a sweat.
The Rangers have yielded two or more goals in 11 playoff games; they are 3-8 in those games. Not coincidentally, in those eight losses the Rangers have been outscored 9-4 in the first period.
"It's our start," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "We have to be ready right from the beginning of the game, from our execution level to our work ethic. That's going to carry over. (Lundqvist) has been there for us in the first period to keep us in some games; it's not acceptable. We have to have better firsts."
It's hard to do when the Devils are on them all the time, getting the puck deep like the Josefson line did on its second shift and keeping it there like all the lines did until it was 2-0. The Devils rolled all four of their lines and all three of their defense pairs in that seven-and-a-half-minute stretch between the shift by Josefson, Clarkson and Ponikarovsky and Zajac scoring his goal.
"It's been a big key to our game throughout the whole playoffs, we're able to role four lines and the coach trusts all four lines to be out there at any point in the game," Henrique said. "Those guys (Josefson, Clarkson, Ponikarovsky) had a big shift. We just seemed to build off it and go from there."
The Rangers couldn't do anything about it. Whenever they had the puck they didn't move it well and couldn't connect a pass to get it out of the zone. There were times when they were sloppy with it, too.
"The most important thing is we just have to have the puck more," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We had opportunities. We had the yips with it. We just gave it back to them, and they just progressed with their forecheck and the momentum comes their way."
The Devils couldn't execute with the early momentum in the first three games, but instead of trying something new they stuck with the game plan and it finally paid off with a pair of monster goals.
It's a 2-2 series heading back to Madison Square Garden. That was pretty much a sure thing with 8:01 to play in the first period Monday.
"It was the same thing we did in Game 3; the difference was we executed and found a way to get the puck in the net," Salvador said. "It makes everything that much easier when you score with your momentum. We knew they were going to have a push and they did in the third, but it's easier to combat when you have the lead."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl