|Posted by Landon Ewaniuk on May 24, 2012 at 12:40 PM|
Facing a potentially catastrophic collapse at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils instead turned Game 5 into an inspirational victory and a 3-2 lead in the series.
With a victory over the New York Rangers Friday at Prudential Center, the Devils would advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings.
"It's a good feeling," goalie Martin Brodeur said of the Devils now leading the series. "We worked really hard to get in that position. … a lot of unsung heroes and guys producing at different times. Players are playing well. We've just got to keep going. Nothing is done yet.
"I think giving up a three-goal lead and coming back and winning a game late shows a lot," Brodeur said. "I thought we stayed composed even though we had a few bad breaks. Even the second goal, I'm still debating if he kicked it in or not, but we just kept on going. We didn't play our best game, but we got a win."
Game 5 was a roller-coaster ride as New Jersey stunned a packed Madison Square Garden into silence with two fast goals and a 3-1 lead after one period.
But the Rangers chipped away, scoring early in the second to claw within a goal and then tied the game just 17 seconds into the third period when the great Martin Brodeur committed an unpardonable gaffe to allow Marian Gaborik to tie the game.
The Devils rose back to the top of the coaster, however, as the fourth-liners contributed again, this time with Ryan Carter netting the game-winning goal, with Zach Parise tacking on an insurance goal into the empty net.
"It's a hard one to lose the way we lost after crawling back into it … we probably played our best game of the series," Rangers coach John Tortorella said.
For the Rangers to make the Final, they need to win two straight and a third-straight, seven-game series.
"We have to. There is no other way around it," Henrik Lundqvist told reporters. "We have to bring all the good things we did and keep doing them in the next game. We played really well in the second and third period."
And the Devils are well aware that their game was far from solid. The Devils were out-shot 28-17 for the game and mustered just six shots in the third period.
"It wasn't the prettiest," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "I think it was probably the longest stretch, maybe all playoffs, that we haven't been sharp. We didn't forecheck properly. I think they played well. I think they had a lot to do with that too. It wasn't our best game, but we snuck out of here with a win. That's all that matters."
"I think our approach, even going into the third, was you take a 1-0 lead going into the third period," Parise said. "Unfortunately, that didn't last very long. Then you tell yourself, 0-0 game. You can't do anything about who scored the first three, who scored the next three. We just kept moving forward. Our mentality was 0-0 game, let's try to get that first one."
The Rangers' comeback gives them confidence heading into Game 6.
"We were coming, but it really doesn't matter that we came back," Brian Boyle. "We didn't finish it off. There's no moral victory."
"Whatever happened, happened," Ruslan Fedotenko said. "We got behind right away, but we showed good strength in coming back and playing a good second and third period. I feel like we need to build on that and then focus on the one game (in New Jersey)."
It never hurts to get a fast start in a big game and for the second-straight outing New Jersey did just that with Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias beating Lundqvist in the first 4:13 of the game to give the Devils a shocking 2-0 lead.
Gionta, who spent virtually all of the regular season in the minor leagues, was in the right place at the right time once again in these playoffs when he grabbed the rebound of a Mark Fayne shot in front of Lundqvist, got the puck under control and scored his third goal of the postseason.
Just 90 second later, an Adam Henrique shot through a crowd caromed off Elias to put New Jersey up by a pair. The Rangers called a timeout, but it failed to stem the tide. Travis Zajac made it 3-0 at 9:49, taking advantage of a Bryce Salvador hit that sparked a New Jersey rush. That rush culminated with a wide-open Zajac beating Lundqvist from the right circle and the series had reached a critical moment.
“Obviously it wasn’t the start we wanted the way they popped three on us quick," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "Toward the end of the first, after we got that first goal, I thought we started to come back.”
Stunned back into reality, the Rangers did get back into the game, playing better defense in front of Lundqvist and getting on the scoreboard at 15:41 when Brandon Prust, back in the lineup after being suspended by the league for Game 4, scored on a breakaway to make it 3-1 after 20 minutes.
Before the Devils could blink in the second period the Rangers had closed within a goal, scoring 32 seconds in to make it 3-2 on a deflection by Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov set up the goal and the pace for the remainder of the period that saw the Rangers put the Devils on their heels. The Rangers out-shot the Devils 11-5 in the second.
The Devils appeared on the verge of another historic collapse at the outset of the third when Brodeur misplayed the puck in front of the goal line and then had to scramble back into the net when he was unable to clamp his glove on the puck before Marian Gaborik pushed it into the net to tie the game just 17 seconds into the period.
“I was trying to play it and it just kind of skipped over my stick and got in the outside of the trapezoid,” Brodeur told Rich Chere of the Star-Ledger. “It was a mistake. I’m pretty happy the boys bounced back and made it this a win for us. It would’ve been tough. People would have blamed that mishandle.
“With that great ice here I just couldn’t handle it," Brodeur continued. "I tried to get back and he shot at me. I was spinning around. Not a fun couple seconds, that’s for sure. “I thought I had the puck there on the post. Gaborik kind of pushed my leg in. I could’ve gotten a little quick whistle there, but I didn’t get it.”
But like Gionta in the first period, it was Carter, another fourth-liner who rose to the occasion at the most critical moment. Ilya Kovalchuk keyed the scoring sequence when he beat Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto for the puck in the right corner and Gionta passed in front to Carter who got off a quick shot that beat Lundqvist for what proved to be the game-winner.
"A great play by Kovy to separate their (defensemen) from the puck," Carter told reporters. "Gio scooped the puck up, took a look and made a fantastic pass to me. All I had to was redirect it."
With Lundqvist pulled and the Rangers on the attack, the Devils salted the game away at 19:28 with an empty-net goal that gave the Devils a 5-3 that had to feel an awful lot closer than they could have hoped for after the dominant first period.
"It feels good to be in position going home and being one game away, that's about it," Elias said. "We stole this one. Marty's been solid and been great for us and I think that was one of their best games they played in this series and I think we need to be better next game. We cannot steal those games too many times, but we did tonight and we'll take it. We'll move on but we have to get better."
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