Blueshirts Breathe Easy, Blank Devils to Lead East Finals 1-0

By New York Rangers’ standards, this one was a laugher.

Of course, battling your hated metropolitan area rival to a scoreless tie through two periods before finally pulling away late in a conference final opener isn’t quite that easy.

But, given the way the top-seeded Rangers had grinded their way through this year’s postseason to that point, New York’s 3-0 whitewash of the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Monday night must have felt like a relative blowout.

After two periods of limited action, with each team basically feeling each other out, rookie center Chris Kreider and defenseman Dan Girardi each posted a goal and an assist in the first 12 minutes of the third period, and center Artem Anisimov, who assisted on the Rangers’ second goal, added an empty-net score with 1:27 remaining to give New York its largest margin of victory in the playoffs this season.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped 21 shots for fifth career postseason shutout and his second of the playoffs this year after winning Game 3 of the first round, 1-0, on April 16th.

Meanwhile, with “Mar-ty!” chants, Ranger fans taunted 40-year-old legend Martin Brodeur, who with 24 career postseason shutouts, made his 183rd consecutive playoff start for New Jersey, the only NHL team for which Brodeur has ever played, after the Devils drafted him in the first round of the 1990 NHL draft.

New York outshot New Jersey by six while holding a 9-4 shot advantage in the last period, and unlike an evenly-played first two periods, the Rangers began to skate faster than the Devils and outhustled their Atlantic Division rivals as the third period began.

That hard work paid immediate dividends when Kreider, who only began playing in the league during Lundqvist’s previous playoff shutout 29 days earlier, set Girardi up with a pass in the Devils’ zone, that Girardi blasted past Brodeur to give the Rangers 1-0 lead just 53 seconds into the third period. The score was only Girardi’s second playoff goal in 47 career postseason games (his previous one also came this year, during the first round).

Girardi later returned the favor for Kreider when he drew a boarding penalty on right winger Steve Benier with 9:36 to go in the game and passed to Anisimov, who then fed Kreider for his third career goal, to extend New York’s lead to 2-0 with eight minutes left.

Kreider’s score was the only power play goal in a mostly clean game that featured only four penalties for each team, the first of which was a New Jersey delay of game call early in the first period.

The game kicked off a rematch of the classic 1994 Eastern finals, which featured a trio of double overtime games, including New York’s highly memorable Game 7 win, which ultimately led to the Rangers’ fourth Stanley Cup victory a round later.

Brodeur, just 22-years-old back then, is the only remaining player in the league since that season.

Now, he looks to lead the Devils to their fourth Stanley Cup win, as New Jersey is making its first appearance in the conference finals since the last time Brodeur and the Devils won the Cup in 2003. New York is playing in its first conference finals for the first time in fifteen years as it seeks its first Stanley Cup victory in eighteen years and only its second since 1940.

The physical Rangers delivered 35 of the game’s 56 hits and blocked 26 of the contest’s 41 shots as they continued to follow a similar formula which has yielded success this postseason, even if that has often come the hard way.

Six of New York’s previous eight postseason wins to reach the Eastern finals were by one goal, with two of those victories coming in overtime.

The Rangers needed to rally from a 3-2 series deficit to beat eighth-seeded Ottawa in seven games before likewise going the distance in a seven-game series with Washington in the Eastern semifinals. Should they go on to win the Stanley Cup, the Rangers would become the first team to win the NHL’s biggest prize after being pushed to a Game 7 in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs.

Thus, while New York’s offense again struggled to score over the first two periods, the Rangers were ironically able to relax a little more than usual down the stretch of their first playoff game with the team that figured to be their toughest opponent yet this postseason.

That doesn’t mean that New York can rest for long on its Game 1 victory though. Still very dangerous, New Jersey will have a chance to even the series in Game 2 on Wednesday night, back at The Garden, at 8 pm ET.

About the Author

Jon Wagner

Jon has been a credentialed writer with New York Sports Day since 2009, primarily covering the New York Knicks and Hofstra men's basketball. He has also occasionally covered other college basketball and New York's pro teams including the Mets, Giants, Jets, Islanders, Rangers and Cosmos (including their three most recent championship seasons).Jon is former Yahoo Sports contributor who previously covered various sports for the Queens Ledger. He's a proud alum of Hofstra University and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting (which he attended on a full scholarship).He remains convinced to this day that John Starks would have won the Knicks a championship in 1994 had Hakeem Olajuwon not blocked Starks' shot in Game 6 of the 1994 NBA Finals.

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