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No margin for error in loss to Devils

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist makes one of his 27 saves against the Devils on Friday night at the Prudential Center. The only goal he allowed was scored on a breakaway by Ilya Kovalchuk.

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By Jim Cerny,

Facing the hottest team in the league, the Rangers played a strong road game Friday night, but one critical mistake was the difference in the contest as the Blueshirts dropped a 1-0 decision to the Devils at the Prudential Center.

Johan Hedberg needed to make only 16 saves to earn his second shutout of the season and 16th of his career as the Devils won their sixth straight and improved to a scorching 14-1-2 over their last 17 games. The Rangers, who produced a season-low shot total, had their two-game winning streak snapped.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turned in an outstanding 27-save effort. “We came close, but I felt like they were the better team tonight. They’re probably the hottest team in the league right now, but we were right there in the end.”

After 28 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Rangers blinked first -- making the game’s initial crucial mistake, and New Jersey’s high-flying Ilya Kovalchuk made them pay by scoring the only goal of the contest at 8:18 of the second period.

Rangers’ defenseman Marc Staal tried to keep the puck in at the right point of the Devils’ blueline, but it got caught up in his skate and then darted behind him. In a flash, Kovalchuk sped past the flat-footed Staal and took off on a clear breakaway against Lundqvist. Without hesitation Kovalchuk rifled a wicked snap shot past Lundqvist for his 21st goal of the season -- and sixth in the last six games.

“(The puck) was coming to my stick and left skate, and I was going to go down to stop it, but it came off the ice and took a weird bounce,” said Staal, who led the Rangers in ice-time, playing nearly 28 minutes on Friday. “I just couldn’t get my skate on it, and then he goes down on a breakaway. It’s a bad bounce, and we just couldn’t get one of our own.”

New Jersey goaltender Johan Hedberg makes a stop in front of Rangers rookie Mats Zuccarello on Friday. The Blueshirts posted only 16 shots at Hedberg, three fewer than their previous season-low of 19.
The goal marked the seventh consecutive game -- and 11th time in the past 12 -- in which the Rangers had allowed the opposition to score first.

“It was a lucky bounce, and it just got to the wrong player,” said Lundqvist. “He just beat me, I’ll give him that. It’s tough when he comes in with that much speed, like 100 miles per hour.”

On top of his game all night long, Kovalchuk nearly doubled the Devils’ lead late in the second period when, after turning a pair of Rangers inside out with a slick move off the right circle, he wired a wrist shot off the iron behind Lundqvist and the score remained 1-0.

Held in check much of the first two periods by New Jersey’s stifling neutral-zone trap, the Rangers came close to tying the score in the final minute of the middle stanza. However Hedberg, who was sharp when called upon in making only ten saves through 40 minutes, denied Mats Zuccarello during a goal-mouth scramble.

“We were a step slow all night long in their zone, in the neutral zone, and defending in our end zone,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “It was especially so in the first two periods. The third period I thought we were a little bit better.”

During the final period of play, the Rangers spent large chunks of time in the offensive zone, but we still able to generate only six shots on goal. They had their best flurry of chances during a power-play midway through the third with Kovalchuk off for high-sticking Wojtek Wolski, although to no avail.

“I don’t even know if we got an odd-man rush all game, that’s how well they played defensively,” said Staal. “That’s how they play. They sit back and wait. I thought we did a better job in the third period, but it was just too late.”

Sean Avery and Zuccarello led the Rangers with three shots apiece as the Blueshirts suffered their fourth shutout defeat of the season. The Rangers remain in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 66 points.

“It’s one goal, and I think Hank played unbelievably tonight and gave us the opportunity to win the game, or at least tie it up,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “You’re frustrated with the one goal and how it was created, but at the same time we should have been able to get one to at least tie it up.”

The Rangers’ very challenging weekend -- which began with Thursday’s 4-3 home-ice win over the Los Angeles Kings -- concludes with a matinee against the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. From there the Rangers take to the road for games in Carolina on Tuesday and Washington on Friday.
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