NEWARK, N.J. --
You get the feeling New York Rangers
center Scott Gomez
relishes the opportunity to perform in a hostile environment.
No matter the situation, the veteran of eight NHL seasons always has performed his duty with a style and grace expected of a former first-round draft choice. In 97 playoff games as a member of the New Jersey Devils
, Gomez registered 44 assists and 65 points while helping win two Stanley Cup championships.
Today, the jersey has changed, but that relentless urge to succeed has not. When Gomez signed a seven-year contract with the Atlantic Division-rival Rangers July 1, Devils fans were despondent.
But Gomez had his reasons for leaving, citing a need for new challenges. Yet, he understands his debt to the Devils and acknowledges that the organization is responsible for making him the player he is today.
From Day 1, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
knew the loss of Gomez would be a difficult void to fill.
"When we beat New York (in the conference quarterfinals) in 2006, Scott was the guy frustrating Jaromir Jagr
," Brodeur recalled. "But now Scott is Jagr's teammate in New York."
To the dismay of Devils fans, Gomez now is giving his former teammates headaches.
In Wednesday's opening game of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the teams, Gomez had one of his best games as a Ranger with three assists to help New York register a 4-1 victory against New Jersey before 17,625 at the Prudential Center.
"He's that type of player who can make a difference," said Devils forward Patrik Elias
, a teammate of Gomez's for seven seasons. "We've talked about it. We cannot let him skate freely like that."
It didn't matter that most in attendance showered Gomez with a chorus of boos each time he touched the puck, or even that his second-period penalty led to a game-tying goal by Devils defenseman Paul Martin
. What did matter was how Gomez remained focused and determined.
"The game is too fast-paced to think about (the booing) but, really, I don't know if the fans were actually booing or starting to say `Gomer,' " quipped Gomez. "Jersey fans have always gotten a bad rap, but it's a special group. They're passionate, especially at this time of the year, and I probably committed the ultimate sin, but the fans are going to let the opposing team have it and I just happened to be the guy getting booed.
My mom was out there somewhere, so at least I know she was cheering. I think I was more worried about my mom getting booed."
Rangers coach Tom Renney doesn't take Gomez's play for granted.
"Scotty is such an enthusiastic player, and very passionate,” said Renney. “He wants to do well every single shift and that's contagious. His play works its way throughout our entire bench. The thing is he didn't make a big deal out of returning to New Jersey or getting booed each time he touched the puck, though he certainly could have. But he chose not to, which allowed his teammates to concentrate on being the New York Rangers
. That makes all of us appreciate the fact Gomer is a Ranger, as well."
Gomez, who averaged less than 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season, was on the ice for 20:03 spread through 23 shifts. He won 60 percent of his faceoffs, and finished a plus-3, only the second time he's had that good a plus-minus rating as a Ranger.
"Gomer is unbelievable," said Rangers forward Ryan Callahan
. "He's one of the leaders on this team and I think he showed that against New Jersey. His ability to rise to the occasion just shows how much of a competitor he is."
It was Callahan's shorthanded goal, off assists from Gomez and defenseman Daniel Girardi at 7:23 of the third, that gave the Rangers a 2-1 cushion.
Despite Gomez's disappointment in putting his club in a vulnerable position with a hooking penalty at 13:11 of the second period, the two-time NHL All-Star simply rolled up his sleeves and went back to work.
"Any time you get a penalty leading to an opponent's goal, you are going to feel bad," Gomez said. "But you just have to let that go and move on and I think that's the value of having playoff experience. Things are going to happen, and I didn't think I needed to get back out there and make up for it. I just stuck to the game plan and remained calm."
That's the demeanor Renney has witnessed all season.
"These are men who know how to play the game and know that I have faith in them to jump right back out there and do what they do best," Renney said. "That's the same with our young guys, who learn from veterans like Scotty. As coach, I have the faith in these players and that's important."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.