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Secondary scoring a primary concern for Devils

by Dan Rosen

Brian Gionta, who was on a line with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo during Game 1, missed the net twice. Brian Gionta highlights
NEWARK, N.J. – For the New Jersey Devils to have a chance to win, it's no secret that their top trio of Zach Parise, Patrik Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner has to be their best and most creative scoring line.

They were Wednesday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, but the Devils learned another hard truth that serves as one of many keys to their success.

If they are going to beat the Rangers in a seven-game series, at least one of the remaining three lines has to provide that ultra-important secondary scoring necessary to win in the playoffs.

"One goal in the playoffs is not going to cut it," Parise said following the 4-1 loss in Game 1 that appears more lopsided than it actually was. "We need goals. We have to do a better job. Bottom line is we need to get more scoring chances. Our line, every line, has to get more scoring chances and we have to bury them when we get them."

Scoring in general has been an issue with the Devils all season, but they're in dire straits heading into Friday’s Game 2 at the Prudential Center, because if they don't get more scoring they quickly will fall into a two-game hole, with the series shifting to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Game 3.

"I think we had our fair chances to bury them, but (Henrik) Lundqvist played well again," Parise said. "We have to throw more at him."

The Devils had some good chances Wednesday, but Brian Gionta missed the net twice, and Sergei Brylin and Dainius Zubrus each hit the crossbar.

"We have to find ways to score," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "We hit some posts. We hit the crossbar. We had two quality scoring chances I can think of that we just flat out missed the net. At that point, you give yourself zero percent chance of scoring."

The lone goal came on a power play, by defenseman Paul Martin, but only after Parise made a fantastic play from his knees after Daniel Girardi checked him to the ice. Parise still poked the puck to Elias, who then set up Martin with a circle-to-circle pass.

The Parise-Elias-Langenbrunner trio accounted for 10 of the Devils’ 27 shots on goal. Factor in four more from Martin, who seemingly always is on the ice with the top line, and more than half of the team’s shots on goal came from those four players.

That means the Devils simply didn't get enough from the remaining three lines.

"We're going to need it," Martin said of secondary scoring. "The last time we played (the Rangers) the (Mike) Rupp line played great and we got some points from them (two). In the playoffs, that's the thing. It doesn't always have to be the guys who put up all the points. We need depth and all the lines chipping in. It's obviously frustrating when we don't score, but we have to rely on someone to step up."

The Rupp line of which Martin spoke includes Zubrus and David Clarkson. Its job in Game 1 was to shut down Jaromir Jagr. John Madden centers a line with Jay Pandolfo and Brian Gionta which was assigned to limit Scott Gomez.

The Rupp line did its job well defensively, limiting the Rangers captain to two shots on goal.

The Madden line didn't fare as well, considering Gomez had three assists, including one on Ryan Callahan's game-winning shorthanded goal.

Nevertheless, with two lines committed to stopping separate opposing threats, Zubrus admitted it's easy to forget about the need to create offense, too.

"You do start thinking more defensively because you're always on the defensive side, but I don't mind playing against guys like that because when you can create some turnovers, especially against the rushes … most of those guys don't want to play much defense," Zubrus said. "If you can cycle a bit and keep pucks in their end, it obviously frustrates them a little bit because they want to get on the attack. There are holes in players like that and you have to try to recognize them and use your hockey sense."

Clarkson agreed, saying that while it's not his job to score goals every night, he has to be more aware of creating chances on the other end and finishing them.

We have to bear down on our chances when we get them and just go to the net. - David Clarkson
"We do have to do that as a line, create more chances," Clarkson said. "At the same time we have to battle down low and I think we've done that lately, but we have to bear down on our chances when we get them and just go to the net."

While scoring has been a problem all season for the Devils, who were 27th in the regular season with 2.42 goals per game, the deficiency particularly is evident against Lundqvist and the Rangers.

In nine games this season the Devils have scored against Lundqvist only 10 times, and just once in the third period. Meanwhile, the Rangers have scored 23 goals against the Devils and 10 in the third period, including three in Game 1.

"We watch tapes on him, but we haven't done a good job on him this year scoring goals," Martin said. "We need to get him moving and as he challenges, but he's a top-notch goaltender. We have to try to find holes, I guess."

If they don't, summer will be here before the Devils know it.

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