NEWARK, N.J. -- For the fourth time in four games during the Eastern Conference Final, the New York Rangers were overwhelmed by the New Jersey Devils during the first period.
For the second time in the series, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist wasn't there to bail out his teammates after a slow start.
RANGERS VS. DEVILS
Parise, Brodeur help Devils tie series
Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer Zach Parise notched two goals and an assist and Martin Brodeur made 28 saves, as the Devils handled the Rangers, 4-1, to even the Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece. READ MORE ›
Bryce Salvador and Travis Zajac scored during the first 12 minutes of Game 4 and the Devils rolled to a 4-1 victory Monday night to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2. The shots on goal after the first 20 minutes were 12-7, but four shots during a Rangers' power play over the final 1:40 of the period masked the dominance displayed by the Devils.
In Games 1 and 3, Lundqvist played magnificently over the first two periods to allow his team time to break through in the third period. In Game 2, the Devils got to Lundqvist for two goals over the first two periods before scoring the winner early in the third period. In Game 4, the onslaught resulted in two quick goals from which the Rangers never recovered.
"He's kept us in it early when we haven't been ready at the start," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said of Lundqvist. "We were able to regroup and get back in it, but tonight they hurt us with two (goals). I thought we were getting back in the game and playing well, then it was too little, too late."
"It was a chance to move up two games in a series and really take a stranglehold and we don't take advantage of that," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "Like I said earlier, it's our start. We have to be ready right from the beginning of the game, from our execution level to our work ethic. (Lundqvist) has been there for us in the first period to keep us in some games. It's not acceptable. We have to have better firsts."
The Rangers didn't register their first shot in Game 4 until there was 9:38 remaining in the first period, when Carl Hagelin fired a shot off goaltender Martin Brodeur and the post. Brad Richards had the Rangers' second shot about a minute later, but Zajac responded 20 seconds later with the Devils' second goal of the game.
For coach John Tortorella, his team's inability to get a footing in the early going has everything to do with not being able to possess the puck.
"I think the most important thing is we just have to have the puck more," Tortorella said. "We have to hold on to some pucks. We had opportunities. We had the yips with it. We just gave it back to them, and they just progressed with their forecheck and momentum comes their way."
One player who was noticeably shaky was defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who had every right to be. The 21-year-old found out after Game 3 on Saturday afternoon that his grandmother died, making Game 4 the first game he played since finding out the news.
Michael Del Zotto
Defense - NYR
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 10
SOG: 35 | +/-: 0
Del Zotto did not participate in the Rangers' morning skate and was understandably unavailable to speak following Game 4. He played just 11:39 in the game, far below his average of ice time in the postseason, and had just one shift in the second period.
With defenseman Stu Bickel in the lineup as a forward for the suspended Brandon Prust, it allowed Tortorella to let Del Zotto sit on the bench for most of the final two periods.
"It was a struggle for him," Tortorella said. "He hasn't had many games like that this year. And we figure -- I have an extra 'D' dressed. We figured we'd take a little pressure off him, just let him watch it, and Michael has gone through a great process. He's a big part of our club. He'll bounce back."
It didn't show on the scoreboard, but the Rangers started to win territorial battles during the second period. They held an 11-9 edge in shots during the second period, but Brodeur was there to stop all 11 shots.
Devils captain Zach Parise made it 3-0 early in the third period and added an empty-netter to salt the victory. The Rangers just couldn't overcome the early hole in which they dug themselves, but Tortorella believes that won't be the case in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, when the Rangers will look to answer a loss with a win for the sixth straight time in the postseason.
"I'm very optimistic. I still think some guys are close to getting their games," Tortorella said. "I don't think all of us are there. But as I've said all year long with this club, when you get in these situations, and we've been trading (wins and losses) all playoff season, they always find a way to find a good game. So I'm truly confident we'll answer it the proper way when we play our next one."