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Rangers pay the price for losing puck battles

by Dave Lozo

NEW YORK -- The sight of star forward Marian Gaborik sitting on the bench for the first 11:02 of the third period after his gaffe led to a Devils goal in the second period was emblematic of the problems the New York Rangers had in their own zone Wednesday night.

Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 6 | PTS: 10
SOG: 47 | +/-: 3
Coach John Tortorella wouldn't discuss limiting the ice time of his 41-goal scorer with his team searching for a tying goal, but Gaborik's teammates talked about their inability to make plays along the wall against the ferocious forechecking of the Devils, who captured Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals 3-2 to even the series at 1-1.

"In the corners and along the wall, they were pinching and cycling us pretty good," defenseman Marc Staal said. "In the first period, they were winning more battles than us in the corners and enabled them to get more pressure on us. … That's something that we can fix, and we are going to."

There is no statistic for puck possession, but for the second game in this series, the Devils had an overwhelming number of shot attempts. In the Rangers' 3-0 victory in Game 1, the Devils sent 62 shots at goaltender Henrik Lundqvist; in Game 2, they put 59 pucks toward the net.

The big difference between the first two games was that the Rangers blocked just 16 shots in Game 2 as compared to 26 in Game 1.

"We have to try to get in lanes," captain Ryan Callahan said. "In the defensive zone especially, just try to close them out quicker, try to limit their time with the puck. If we do that, they are not going to have time to shoot."

The Devils' final two goals were the result of quick shots from the point the Rangers were unable to deflect or force wide.

With the Rangers leading 2-1 late in the second period, they were on their heels with the Devils attacking hard. Gaborik had a chance to alleviate the pressure, but he could not clear the zone. The puck found its way to defenseman Bryce Salvador, whose long shot avoided the shin pads of the Rangers and found the stick of Ryan Carter for a deft deflection that evened the score.

"They were winning battles on the walls," Gaborik said. "We have to do a better job there and all over the ice, in the neutral zone and our zone especially."

The winning goal from David Clarkson at 2:31 of the third period was nearly identical. Instead of shooting this time, Salvador slid the puck to the right point to rookie Adam Henrique, who whipped a shot toward net the Clarkson tipped out of mid-air and past Lundqvist for the winner.

"When it's such a high tip, that's a tough play," Lundqvist said. "I saw the puck, but after he touched it, it was just too tough to recover. The next game we have to correct a few things -- the battles and the stick positioning. We have to talk about that and correct it."

For the third straight series, the Rangers opened with a win at MSG only to relinquish home-ice advantage with a loss in Game 2. They were able to overcome the obstacles during the first two rounds with seven-game series victories, so it won't be a daunting to challenge with Game 3 set for Saturday at Prudential Center (1 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

"We've been in this situation before, and we've come through," Callahan said. "We just have to go into Jersey and try to get that next game. We can't get down. We'll get a day off tomorrow and be ready to work on Friday."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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