NEW YORK -- Should they have hope, or should they be crushed?
That's the question -- or questions -- facing the New York Rangers after their 5-3 loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.
After failing again to get the start that they were hoping for, a start that doomed them in the end, the Rangers played exactly the way they wanted to play against the Devils for the better part of 50 minutes.
They were the aggressors. They applied a heavy and hard forecheck. They got the puck in deep. They were all over the New Jersey Devils. And, they executed enough to crawl back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game at 3-3 in the first minute of the third period.
But they lost, and Friday night at Prudential Center they will be facing elimination down 3-2 in the series.
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Devils on verge of Final with 5-3 winBy Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
The Rangers overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie the score early in the third period, but New Jersey's Ryan Carter scored the go-ahead goal with 4:24 left in regulation as the Devils beat New York 5-3 to take a 3-2 series lead and move within one win of the Stanley Cup Final. READ MORE ›
"I thought we probably played our best game of the series tonight," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
His players felt the same. Devils captain Zach Parise felt the same.
"I think that is the best they've played, no question," Parise said. "They played a very good game. They played really well along the walls. They didn't give us time and space in our zone."
It was everything the Rangers had talked about doing and maybe even a little bit more. But it wasn't enough because once again the Rangers could not stop the Devils from getting an early lead that quickly ballooned.
But, the Rangers had a different feeling than they did when it was 2-0 New Jersey midway through the first period in Game 4 at Prudential Center. They were getting dominated then, but Wednesday night they thought they were just a bit unlucky.
Gionta scored on a rebound and Elias on a deflection.
"It was a tough first period to explain -- a couple of weird breaks and they end up in the back of the net," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "I thought our intensity and legs were there, just some bad breaks. Then our game started coming, we started playing well and we got back into the game."
Tortorella called it "puck luck" for the Devils.
"I thought we were ready to play, we were all ready to go in the dressing room here," Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said.
And they did, but not before Travis Zajac scored on a heavy wrister to make it 3-0 at the 9:49 mark of the first period.
The deficit was now bigger, but the Rangers kept coming, kept pressuring, kept doing to the Devils what the Devils had been doing to them in this series.
"We know we can do those things. That's what we've done all year," Rangers center Brian Boyle said. "We have confidence as a group. We don't need to say, 'Oh, we did some good things,' a moral victory to give ourselves confidence. We know we can do some things with the puck. We can forecheck and create offense that way. As the game wore on we did a better job of that."
It would be easy to say the Rangers' comeback was a result of the Devils trying to sit on a 3-0 lead, but that wasn't the case. The Rangers forced turnovers and were aggressive in getting their sticks into the passing lanes.
"For a lot of the game, we didn't forecheck as well as we wanted to. But I think we have to give them credit, too," Parise said. "I think they played a very good game. They played a hard game. They played very well. They did a good job on getting it deep and forechecking us. We let their 'D' gap up on us and we let them turn it over and come back right down our throats."
The Rangers outshot New Jersey 9-2 over the last 15 minutes of the first period and got a goal from Brandon Prust at the 15:41 mark. Ryan Callahan scored 32 seconds into the second period, and the Rangers continued to rally after it, outshooting the Devils 11-5 in the middle 20 minutes. They seemed to have triple the amount of scoring opportunities than New Jersey in the second period.
Marian Gaborik scored 17 seconds into the third period to tie it at 3-3. Suddenly, the Rangers were back with momentum. They didn't feel like they were done.
"Maybe the 3-0 (deficit) wasn't what we wanted, but right away we were trying to get on the body, trying to do all the right things," Girardi said. "The goal by Prusty really got us going, and the second and third I thought were our best periods of the series, sustaining pressure and not letting them set up, and really just staying in their face, making it hard for them to defend."
That continued as the third period wore on, but the Devils found their legs again.
"I think we helped them a bit," Tortorella said. "I thought we did a really good job of making plays and controlling some of the play tonight, and then I just felt we started batting around a little bit and allowed them to gain some forechecking. I didn't think we were in real trouble, but they score a goal. They make a big play."
The Rangers made a lot of them in Game 5, far more than they made in any other game in the series.
"It doesn't really matter that we came back," center Brian Boyle said. "We didn't finish it off."
Should the Rangers have hope, or should they be crushed? Even they don't know right now, but at least there is always Game 6 on Friday night.
"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in how we'll react to this," Tortorella said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl