Improving on their Game 1 performance just wasn't enough for the Rangers Monday night, as the Blueshirts fell 4-1 in New Jersey to give the Devils a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
After allowing the Devils 13 power plays in Game 1, the Rangers were much more disciplined in Game 2, giving New Jersey just six chances to skate with the man-advantage. But without Jaromir Jagr, who missed the game with a shoulder injury, the Blueshirts didn't have the game-breaker they needed to keep the Devils on their heels.
New Jersey produced an unlikely offensive hero of its own in defensive specialist John Madden, who notched a hat trick that included a pair of shorthanded goals. Madden, who scored only 16 goals in the regular season, didn't have a multi-goal game in 2005-06, but he stepped up as the primary offensive weapon just two days after the Devils got six points from Patrick Elias in their 6-1 series-opening win.
The series now shifts back to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Wednesday night. The Blueshirts will look to repeat a feat they last achieved in 1996, when they overcame a 2-0 playoff deficit to oust Montreal in six games.
"We're down 2-0, but I've been in a few series where we were down 2-0 and came on to win the next two games at home. We're capable of doing it, especially at home," said Rangers center Steve Rucchin. "... There's no question our home fans are going to give us a huge lift. We're looking forward to going back and making this series a best-of-3."
Jagr's health could determine the Rangers' future in the series. He was unable to play through his injury on Monday but is expected to be back for Game 3. There were several moments on Monday when his scoring prowess would have made all the difference for the Rangers, who had trouble finishing their best offensive opportunities.
Madden closed out his hat trick --and the scoring -- at 12:46 of the third period, sparking a flood of hats and other promotional items to be thrown on the ice by the Devils fans. The debris required several minutes to clean.
Madden's third goal came after he broke in 2-on-1 with Grant Marshall, who centered the puck to Madden in the slot. Madden unleashed a 32-foot slap shot that beat Rangers goaltender Kevin Weekes through the pads for a 4-1 lead.
When the Devils weren't scoring Monday, they were getting sensational netminding from Martin Brodeur, who made 25 saves and has allowed just two Rangers goals in the series' first 120 minutes. Brodeur was clearly the difference on a night when the Rangers outshot New Jersey 26-25.
The Rangers broke through Brodeur for their lone goal at 5:41 of the third when Ryan Hollweg and Blair Betts teamed up for their first tally as linemates.
Hollweg created the play, bringing the puck over the blue line on the right side. Moving around the back of the net, he found Betts at the base of the left circle, and Betts rifled home his first NHL playoff goal to cut New Jersey's lead at the time to 3-1.
Those first three Devils goals were all the result of New Jersey's sharp special-teams play. The Devils tallied two shorthanded goals and had one on the power play to take advantage of the Jagr-less Rangers in the first two periods before getting their first true even-strength goal of the series when Madden scored in the third period.
"The specialty teams let us down here and cost us the game once again," said Rucchin. "The good news is we can play five-on-five. This is definitely something for us to build on going home. It's going to be a great atmosphere for us, and we feel pretty confident going into the next game."
Madden scored both shorthanded goals for the Devils, with his second breaking the Rangers' late second-period momentum. The goal came after the Rangers were unable to capitalize on a two-man advantage.
The Rangers outskated the Devils for much of the second period and had controlled play in the New Jersey zone at several points, but New Jersey's defense did not break, and even when it did, Brodeur was there to bail it out.
In what was likely the save of the young series, Brodeur stopped Jed Ortmeyer's second-period breakaway with a brilliant glove stop at the 14:55 mark. Ortmeyer had the puck by himself, picking it up at the New Jersey blue line as he came out of the penalty box after serving an elbowing penalty.
The Rangers had showed their best spark of the series during the penalty kill, managing some shorthanded opportunities that culminated with the Ortmeyer breakaway.
Despite Brodeur's big save, the Blueshirts continued building on their momentum, drawing a double-minor penalty against New Jersey's Grant Marshall at 16:22. Marshall was initially charged with holding the stick and then given another two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
While Marshall was out, the Devils gave the Rangers a golden, 5-on-3 opportunity, with Madden being called for hooking at 17:47. Seeing a two-minute, two-man advantage on the board, Rangers head coach Tom Renney called a timeout, as he did often during critical moments in the regular season.
The Rangers immediately came out with pressure on Brodeur, and nearly scored when Petr Sykora hit the left post at 18:10. That was the Blueshirts' last real chance with the two-man advantage, as the Devils did a masterful job killing the penalties to Madden and Marshall.
Opportunity tuned to adversity for the Rangers as soon as Madden's penalty expired. With the Devils still shorthanded and Madden coming out of the box, Jay Pandofo found his teammate with a clearing pass.
Madden went in with a partial breakaway against Rangers goaltender Weekes, who made the initial stop. As the puck skittered under him and toward the goal line, Rangers defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh inadvertently knocked it into the net while trying to provide help for Weekes.
Madden's goal came with only six seconds left in the middle period, putting New Jersey up 3-0.
In both of the first two periods, the Rangers got their share of calls and had five power plays to the Devils' four. The even got the game's first power play, when Marshall was called for interference with the Rangers applying pressure at 5:03 of the first period. During that delayed penalty call, the Rangers nearly scored when Tom Poti fired a shot from the right that was stopped by a sliding Brodeur.
Brodeur had 14 saves through two periods, while Weekes had 12.
It didn't take long for the Rangers to get another shot at the man-advantage in the first period, as Cam Janssen was called for interference against Jed Ortmeyer in the defensive zone. This time, however, it was the Devils' shorthanded unit that had the last laugh.
New Jersey got on the board first for the second straight game when Madden scored while killing the Janssen penalty. Defenseman Brian Rafalski assisted on the goal after he broke in 2-on-1 with Madden. Rafalski fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Madden, who was streaking down the left side of the ice toward Weekes. The puck eluded the Rangers' Poti and found Madden's stick for the goal at 7:47.
The Rangers were called for their first penalty at 13:25, when Chad Wiseman went off for boarding at 13:25, and it didn't take long for New Jersey to score their sixth power play goal of the series.
Brian Gionta got the goal at 14:13, redirecting a pass from Paul Martin past Weekes on the stick side. Martin had faked a shot from just inside the blueline above the left faceoff circle, but instead sent the puck to Gionta, who was just outside the crease to Weekes' left.
New Jersey got another chance to test its power play with 2:22 remaining in the period when right winger Colton Orr was called for interference, but the Rangers managed to kill the penalty and went into the first intermission trailing by two goals.
Renney opted to start Weekes in net for Game 2, replacing Henrik Lundqvist
, who gave up six goals in Game 1 on Saturday. Weekes came into tonight's game with a solid postseason track record against the Devils, having beaten New Jersey twice in Games 6 and 7 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In the sixth game at New Jersey, Weekes shut out the Devils 1-0 to clinch the playoff series for Carolina.
With Jagr sidelined by a shoulder injury, Renney moved Sykora up to the first line, where he joined Straka and Nylander.
Another change in the lineup saw defenseman Jason Strudwick replace Darius Kasparaitis, who has been hampered by a groin injury. Strudwick was paired with Kasparaitis' regular defense partner, Fedor Tyutin.
Also in the lineup on Monday were right wing Orr, who replaced Jagr and skated on the fourth line, and center Wiseman, who replaced injured Jason Ward after being recalled from Hartford on Sunday. Both Orr and Wiseman made their playoff debuts.