With elimination staring them in the face on Friday night, it took the New Jersey Devils
less than five minutes to score and gain the early edge.
It took the New York Rangers only 18 seconds to erase that advantage and begin a surge that would carry them into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and send their cross-river rivals packing.
Scott Gomez capped a three-goal opening period for the Blueshirts with his third of the series against his former team, and Chris Drury added what held up as the winner early in the second of what ended up as a 5-3 Rangers victory at Prudential Center. New York took the Eastern Conference quarterfinal in five games, winning all three played at The Rock.
“When you get that chance to close it out, you gotta jump on it because it’s the playoffs, you never know what could happen,” said Gomez, who finished the series with seven points. “We got some guys here that will get some rest, and we’ll move on.”
The Rangers’ opponent in the second round has yet to be determined, with two series in the East still ongoing, but the team figures to be confident after outscoring New Jersey 19-10 in the five games and getting solid play up and down the lineup.
“It was such a team effort, it’s tough to point anyone out,” said forward Sean Avery, who scored in each of the first three games and made himself a nuisance for Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur even when he wasn’t scoring. “This is step one of a four-step journey, and we’ve got to get back to the drawing board this week.”
Brodeur didn’t allow a goal after Drury scored 5:35 into the second, and the Devils chipped away at a 4-1 deficit to close to within one by period’s end. But Henrik Lundqvist denied John Madden on a penalty shot in the third and Brandon Dubinsky put the puck into an empty net with 59.1 seconds remaining to end New Jersey’s comeback hopes.
“In those situations, we used to thrive,” Devils forward Patrik Elias said “To be in a close game and go into the third period, down to the wire, we always found a way to win. And unfortunately, in this series, we were on the other end.”
Despite the Rangers’ aggregate scoring edge in the series, Friday’s game was the first one that wasn’t tied at some point during the third. Where they took control was the third period, outscoring the Devils 9-2 and receiving Lundqvist’s best goaltending. He made 11 of his 23 saves in Game 5 in the final 20 minutes, with the Devils pressing for the tying goal.
“He was excellent on the penalty shot and that’s what makes him special — in the key situation, to come up big,” Rangers captain Jaromir Jagr said. “Everybody can play when there is no pressure, but that was a pressure moment on him and he did it.”
After rallying from three one-goal deficits in Game 4 only to lose 5-3, the Devils grabbed the early lead Friday when Brian Gionta beat Lundqvist at 4:40 of the first. In the previous four games, the team that scored first won every time.
But the Rangers wasted little time in wiping out the Devils’ lead and building one of their own. Before Gionta’s score could even be announced, Michal Rozsival took Jaromir Jagr’s feed from behind the net and beat Brodeur at 4:58. Jagr then put the Rangers in front 1:40 later with a power-play goal, and Gomez made it 3-1 with 1:59 left in the period with a quick wrist shot through a pile of bodies after Brodeur stopped Avery’s wraparound attempt.
“The turning point of the game was the shift right after we scored,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We had the momentum for 20 seconds or something like that ... bang bang, and you're down 3-1.”
Drury extended the lead by taking Nigel Dawes’ long feed from the left-wing boards and snapping a shot past Brodeur from the right circle. At that point, the Rangers appeared ready to cruise.
The Devils’ fortunes started to change midway through the period when defenseman Bryce Salvador fired the puck in from outside the Rangers’ blue line. His shot hit Dubinsky, who was raising his arm to shield his face from the puck, then took a hop and hit the post before deflecting into the net off Lundqvist at 9:26.
The fluke goal energized the Devils, who began buzzing in the Rangers’ zone. Penalties to Dubinsky and Marc Staal gave the Devils a long 5-on-3 advantage, and Elias made it 4-3 at 13:50 by smacking a loose puck off the Rangers’ Fedor Tyutin and into the net.
“It was a close call,” Lundqvist said. “We had 4-1 and we felt great, and they got two quick goals there and they’re back in it.”
Madden had a chance to bring the Devils all the way back after he was tripped up by Dan Girardi on a breakaway with 7:08 remaining in the third, but Lundqvist got his pads on Madden’s backhanded attempt at the right post.
“I missed it,” Madden said. “I missed the opportunity between his legs. He stopped it. There isn’t much to say.”
Except that the Rangers wound up winning 11 of the 13 regular-season and playoff games they played against the Devils. New York has won four of the five postseason series between the teams, and made up for the lone defeat, a sweep by New Jersey two years ago.
“It is poetic justice to a degree,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.