Even before he knew the opponent, New York Rangers
captain Jaromir Jagr
predicted his team would “for sure” be the underdog in its second-round series.
Right or wrong, anyone who believes that could be sorely mistaken.
“We have three lines that can score and four lines that can play with anybody,” the Rangers’ captain said. “I don’t think many teams have that. As long as we stay healthy and everyone plays to their potential, we can beat anybody.”
The Rangers were healthy and playing very much to their potential in their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils
. It showed as the Rangers won in five games and outscored their cross-river rivals 20-12 in the process.
Jagr was at his best, producing a team-high six assists and eight points. Former Devil star Scott Gomez
burned his old team with three goals and four assists. Gomez’s linemate, Sean Avery
, was his usual pesky self -- but also had three goals and two assists to further anger the Devils and their faithful fans.
All four Rangers rookies scored at least one goal, including game-winners from right wing Ryan Callahan
in Game 1 and defenseman Marc Staal
in Game 4. Staal’s was particularly satisfying since John Madden
’s overtime winner in Game 3 caromed into the net off Staal’s skate.
Center Brandon Dubinsky
led the rookies with three goals and three assists. Dubinsky, who hardly played like a rookie, was again masterful in centering Jagr and veteran left wing Martin Straka
, who had a goal and five assists.
Goalie Henrik Lundqvist
, arguably the team’s most important player right now, played well in posting a 2.35 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. He gave up 12 goals on 144 shots and said after Game 5 that he has learned he’s much better when he doesn’t feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Never once did he act that way in the series. Lundqvist was cool and collected while outplaying Martin Brodeur
“Sometimes you think everything is up to you, but then you realize it’s not,” Lundqvist said. “It’s a team game and you just have to be ready when they get chances. You put too much pressure on yourself if you think, ‘Oh my God, I have to step up.’ You think it, but you have to keep reminding yourself it’s a team game.”
Lundqvist, though, had plenty of pressure coming at him in the third period of Game 5 when the Devils were buzzing around his net while trailing 4-3 -- after scoring twice late in the second period to make it a one-goal game. Lundqvist remained calm and stopped all 11 Devils’ shots, including a penalty shot awarded to Madden after Dan Girardi
tripped him from behind on a breakaway with 7:08 remaining.
Lundqvist’s performance in that third period was so good Rangers coach Tom Renney believes it can propel the Swedish goalie into the second round with plenty of confidence.
“By his own admission, I think he’d like to have raised the level, the standard even that much more, and he did that in the third period,” Renney said. “He’s huge to us. We’re playing now due in large part to his game. That was a third period that great goaltenders give you to make your run that much longer. We hope he feels real good about it.”
He does, but by no means do the Rangers think they played the perfect series.
Gomez said he believes the Rangers spent too much time in the penalty box -- the Devils had 24 power plays in the series and scored on five of them -- and perhaps sat back a little bit at times, relying too much on Lundqvist to bail them out.
“But in saying that, the first round is one of the toughest to get out of,” Gomez added. “We’ll enjoy this, but it keeps getting harder. This is not the reason we came here, just to win one series. It gets 10 times harder now.”
A major positive to note is the Rangers won all three games they played away from Madison Square Garden. However, Lundqvist was quick to note the Prudential Center was almost like a home away from home due to all the Ranger fans in attendance. That won’t happen in the second round.
“We won three games on the road, but we really didn’t feel like we were on the road,” he said. “We had half the crowd on our side. It was a great feeling to play (at the Prudential Center). It was fun to go out there.”
The Rangers will likely only hear a smattering of applause and ample boos when they take the ice on the road in the next round; but that’s to be expected.
After all, nothing should come easy in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We’re moving forward,” Renney said. “Guys should feel good about that, but very quickly the next series takes on a life of its own.”