Special teams can make all the difference in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and for the Rangers, Saturday afternoon's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals was a tough reminder of that fact.
New Jersey scored five times on the power play and once at even strength -- just one second after another Rangers penalty expired -- to beat the Blueshirts 6-1 in the series opener at Continental Airlines Arena.
The Devils' Patrik Elias set a personal career-high for points in a playoff game with two goals and four assists, and New Jersey dominated the final 30 minutes for a runaway victory. In the third period alone, the Devils were 3-for-5 with the man-advantage.
In uncharacteristic fashion, the Blueshirts gave New Jersey a total of 13 power-play opportunities compared to only six of their own. It was more man-advantages than the Rangers had allowed in any game of the 2005-06 season, breaking the previous high of 12.
"They obviously had plenty of power play opportunities and we have to give them a lot of credit for doing a great job on their power plays," said Rangers center Dominic Moore. "But we obviously gave them too many opportunities."
Tied 1-1 through the first period, the game swung into the Devils' favor in the second, as New Jersey cashed in one power play before using another as a springboard to its second goal.
Three more power play goals followed in the third.
"That was one of the worst games we've played all year long in terms of penalty-killing," said defenseman Darius Kasparaitis. "As a team five-on-five we played pretty good hockey. We did that all year long. Our problem today was the penalties. We know that as long as we're playing five-on-five we're a good team."
Not surprisingly, the game's turning point came on a power play at 7:48 of the second period, when Scott Gomez broke a 1-1 tie to put New Jersey in front for good.
Gomez's game-winning goal finished off a pretty passing play with linemates Brian Gionta and Elias. Taking a pass from Elias in the left corner, Gionta found Gomez at the base of the right faceoff circle with a slick pass through the crease. Gomez scored less than one minute after the Rangers' Blair Betts off for hooking at 6:50.
The Rangers, who gave the Devils four power plays in each of the first two periods and five in the third, nearly tied it up at the 14:17 mark of the second, when Martin Straka and Moore broke in on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur made a sliding stop on Moore, but Straka had already drawn a penalty to Brad Lukowich for holding.
That offset the Devils' power play, but the Rangers soon put themselves in a shorthanded situation again, when Tom Poti was called for high-sticking at 15:09.
One second after Poti's penalty ended, the Devils struck to grab a two-goal lead at the 17:10 mark. Defenseman Ken Klee fired a slap shot from the right point that took a hop off a Rangers defenseman's stick and somehow found its way into the net, fluttering like a knuckleball past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
's glove side.
Penalties hurt the Rangers throughout the middle period. After killing off a Sandis Ozolinsh penalty that had carried over from the first period, the Rangers got in penalty trouble early in the period , when Michal Rozsival was called for boarding for his hit on Jay Pandolfo at 1:49. But the Devils negated their own power play when Brian Rafalski was called for holding while Betts and Marcel Hossa applied shorthanded pressure in the New Jersey zone at 3:30.
Leading by two goals to open the third period, New Jersey ran away with the game down the stretch.
Brian Rafalski made it 4-1 just 53 seconds into the third, capitalizing on another Rangers penalty -- this one to Jaromir Jagr for hooking at 0:32. Rafalski set up for a long blast from just inside the blue line on the right side of the ice before making a quick exchange with Patrik Elias. He then one-timed Elias' return pass for a long blast through traffic that got past Lundqvist. It was the second straight Devils goal scored from long range.
Jamie Langenbrunner added another power-play tally from directly in front of Lundqvist at 8:45, putting the Devils up 5-1. Langenbrunner knocked in a short feed from Elias, who had hauled in Brian Gionta's centering pass.
Elias closed out the scoring with a goal from the faceoff circle at 15:34. The goal came as the Rangers were killing a double-minor to Ryan Hollweg.
Brodeur, who ranks fourth on the NHL's all-time playoff wins list, stifled the Rangers throughout the game, finishing with 29 saves. Both teams had 30 shots on goal.
The Rangers' only highlight came in the opening period, when they gave the Devils a taste of their own medicine by capitalizing on a New Jersey penalty.
After falling behind 1-0 on an early goal by Elias, the Rangers stormed back to send the game into its first intermission tied 1-1.
Petr Prucha scored the Blueshirts' first playoff goal in nine years midway through the opening perio, and the Rangers took control of the momentum for the rest of that period, outshooting the Devils 12-10.
Through two periods, Lundqvist had made 16 saves in only his second start since missing the first half of April with a strained hip flexor muscle.
Prucha's goal, scored with Brad Lukowich in the penalty box for hooking at 9:01, showed the strength of the Blueshirts' No. 1 power-play unit of Michael Nylander, Jagr, Prucha, Rozsival and Ozolinsh, who needed only 59 seconds to get the puck past Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
The goal came on a familiar play, as Jagr moved out of the left corner and sent a perfect centering pass to Prucha, who knocked it under Brodeur's glove for his first NHL playoff goal at the 10:00 mark.
New Jersey was also quick to capitalize on its first power play opportunity after Moore went off for holding at 3:28.
Just 27 seconds after Moore was sent to the penalty box, Gomez fed a pass from behind the net to Lundqvist's left to Elias in the right circle. Elias' shot beat Lundqvist hit to the glove side, catching the top right corner of the net. Jamie Langenbrunner also assisted on the play.
The game featured the return of Steve Rucchin from a foot injury that kept him out of seven regular–season games. Head coach Tom Renney was able to reunite him on the second line with his longtime linemate Petr Sykora and left wing Hossa.
The Rangers also skated a top line of Straka, Nylander and Jagr for the second straight game after the trio was reunited near the end of the regular season.