BATTLE OF THE HUDSON
NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
RANGERS LEAD SERIES 2-1
I - NYR 3; NJD 0
II - NJD 3; NYR 2
III - NYR 3; NJD 0
IV - Monday Night
NEW YORK RANGERS: Coach Torts Makes The Big Move. Henrik Lundqvist Makes The Big Saves. The Rangers' Defense Continues To Score The Big Goals.
John Tortorella threw the media a bone Saturday afternoon. Either that, or someone above his head told him to cool out. Or, was that just "post-big-win" John Tortorella speaking after Game Three? In any case, will the Media mock the gesture, or will they play it straight? The Sunday Papers await.
But while I'm at it, who in the Media is going to make a big deal that Stu Bickel was a healthy scratch after playing a horrendous Game Two? I told you Coach was going to make him disappear. I didn't need Coach to say anything in order to know that. How many even noticed? Like I said in Coach Torts Versus The Media, he treats all his players on an individual basis according to a team concept. Different methods work for different players. Coach Torts yelled at Stepan while on the ice, he yelled at Hagelin while on the bench, he nailed Gaborik to the bench, and scratched Bickel. If you guys just report what you see, you'll better understand the methods to his madness without having to badger Coach Torts about it. If players are not contributing to the team, within the spirit of team, or the Tortorella way, Coach said it very simply, they won't find the ice.
The Devils dominated the first half of Game Three..., again. Just like they had for roughly four of the previous six periods of hockey before Saturday. In the second period, after Henrik made one of his more miraculous saves against Ilya Kovalchuk during a furious second period surge by the Devils, Coach Torts had finally seen enough. He called a time out, assembled his team together at the bench, and ripped them a new one. In the ensuing minutes, the Devils continued to dominate play. But by the time they reached the midway point of the second period, the Rangers' iceberg-like grind started to lurch forward again.
Over the first two periods, the Devils out-shot the Rangers twenty-six shots on goal to fourteen. The Rangers put New Jersey on the power play three times over that span as well. And for the most part, the first thirty-five minutes of the game were spent in the Rangers' defensive zone. But the Devils kept getting turned back by Henrik Lundqvist time and again.
What ever Coach Torts said to his team during the second intermission, apparently worked. The Rangers came out in the third period with purpose again. It's the same two periods to one ratio they've been playing to so far. Only, unlike the Devils, the Rangers have been cashing in on less opportunities.
At 3:19 into the final session, Dan Girardi scored on the second of the only two power play opportunities the Rangers would get all game. Brad Richards picked up the primary assist by winning the face-off. The Rangers lost the face-off battle by the way. But one minute and fifty-seven seconds later, Chris Kreider deflected a Ryan McDonagh shot past Martin Brodeur to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead with 14:03 to go. Ryan Callahan picked up an assist on the play.
With just over two minutes left in regulation, Peter Deboer pulled Martin Brodeur for the extra attacker. Ruslan Fedotenko and Brian Boyle assisted, as Ryan Callahan foiled Coach DeBoer's strategy at the 17:47 mark by scoring into an empty net.
Henrik Lundqvist continues to be, not only the Blueshirts', but the NHL's MVP. He needed to make thirty-six saves in order to record his third shut-out of these playoffs and his second over the Devils this series. Marty Brodeur only faced twenty-one shots, and let two pucks get by.
Don't forget, in spite of a renaissance season for Martin Brodeur, he's still susceptible to the occasional stinker. In Round One against Florida, Martin Brodeur was pulled by Coach DeBoer a game after shutting out Florida. Against Philadelphia, the Devils routinely scored four goals a night, against A) - a goof-ball of a goalie, and B) - a very undisciplined Flyers team, who couldn't bring Jersey down to their level of un-sportsmanship. And for all Marty's complaints about the MSG ice, and the boards, only the Rangers have truly been the victims, if not just unlucky, with regards to a bouncy puck. Improved ice surface, such as in The Rock, just serves to benefit the Rangers then.., No?
And to those who demanded Henrik Lundqvist be ultra-great in the previous round, and save the Rangers from elimination, or risk having the crown removed from The King's head, your liege has just recorded his second shut-out in the Eastern Conference Finals; not the second round. There will be no lifting of his crown. Not by your decree.
It is very unlikely the Devils will ever score four goals in a game this series. It's even less likely the Rangers do it. Yet, the Blueshirts continue to live off the scoring of their defensemen. In Game Three, Dan Girardi (3) scored yet again in these playoffs. Thus, the Blueshirts still manage to remain a game ahead of their competition through pure will and inch closer to the NHL Finals with the slow methodical power of an iceberg. No one actually gets to see icebergs move. But when you look back at the path they carved through a valley, you marvel at the power.
Back in the second period, Brandon Prust planted an elbow to the back of Anton Volchenkov's head. The Devils' defenseman went down for a moment, but continued playing without incident or indication he may have suffered a concussion. It was a play that will no doubt be reviewed by Brendan Shannahan. There's less doubt Brandon Prust has a suspension coming his way as well. After the game, Coach DeBoer called the play - "Head Hunting!" on Prust's part. Coach DeBoer didn't mince any words. I wouldn't go that far in defense of Prust. But what Coach Deboer said is hard to argue.
Head Hunting aside, the Battle of the Hudson is also rapidly turning into an escalation of words. And it is mostly coming from the Devils. Martin Brodeur has been most vocal, sharing his disdain for the Rangers, the MSG crowd, and New York City itself. After Game Two, he spoke derisively about the Garden's ice, the boards, the glass, and everything under the famed, spoked MSG roof. And now Coach DeBoer just kicked things up a notch with his claims of head-hunting. So now the Rangers, and John Tortorella in particular, has a two front Media battle on his hands.
In the case of Coach DeBoer and the Media, "the enemy of my enemy, is my friend." When Coach Torts last directed a comment Peter DeBoer's way, the Rangers' Coach told him to shut up. Coach Torts may have satisfied the Media Saturday, but how will the Media react when he clams up again? And what if the Devils keep trying to get under the Blueshirt's skin through the Media? We are only going on Game Four. Most certainly, there will be so much more added to this drama. And why shouldn't it start tomorrow? Zach Parise ran off without speaking to the Media after a loss on home ice. Is Torts not answering questions still worse? Drama indeed - as it is, Game Three ended with tempers flaring. The carry-over from Brandon Prust's hit, into Game Four will be something to monitor.
On yet another front, the battle of adjustments continues. After the Rangers served in Game One, Coach DeBoer made adjustments to increase the Devils' speed and open opportunities with a stronger forcheck than New York's. That, and David Clarkson happened to the Blueshirts. He factored heavily in New Jersery's Game Two win. But with no impact from David Clarkson, the Devils have dropped two now. David had one shot on goal all game. Coach Torts' biggest Game Three adjustment came when he called time-out. Now it's DeBoer's turn again. Or, do the Rangers take two in Newark?
This series is still going the distance. The Devils will readjust. The final adjustment comes in Game Seven.