Despite the final score, the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals was just as tight as any other game the New York Rangers played in these play-offs. What made this game different from others was the quickness with which the Rangers were able to learn from their mistakes and rebound.
After a slow first period, where both teams just sniffed each other out, the New Jersey Devils came out strong in the second period, putting pressure on the Rangers and forcing mistakes by some of the Broadway’s finest. Stellar performances by both goaltenders kept the game tied at zero at the forty minute mark. At that point, the best plays by the Rangers were acts of damage control, and their penalty-kill unit posed a bigger offensive threat than their power play unit.
And then the second intermission happened, and fifty three seconds into the third period, Dan Girardi turned his game around with a slap shot off Chris Kreider’s pass. Eleven minutes later, Girardi started another drive, which ended with Kreider using a feed by Artem Anisimov to double the Rangers lead. The final score was tallied by the third-line trio into the empty net – Ruslan Fedotenko to Brian Boyle to Anisimov.
In play-off games, the momentum shifts pretty quickly, and, as we have seen over and over again, one goal will decide a game. That’s why Dan Girardi’s transformation between second and third periods was so important to this game. That’s also why Girardi got to wear the Broadway hat after this win. “It wasn’t our best two periods,” said Girardi after the game. “We had to just go hard, play our style of game, and work hard on the forecheck and it worked out for us.” In the post-game press conference, Henrik Lundqvist smiled about having to make one of his best saves of the evening on Dan Girardi, and expressed his trust in the defenseman. “…He’s so confident,” said Lundqvist on Girardi. “He’s strong with the puck both ways. And one missed play is not going to affect him at all. I thought he played really strong the whole night and helped out in front blocking shots. I always know what to expect from him, and it’s a great feeling as a goalie.”
Chris Kreider has, according to John Tortorella, “played well.” Tallying a goal and an assist in this game, Kreider has been quite a force in the Rangers offense. “He’s got a lethal shot and if he gets a second to get it off, scary things can happen,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “We just told him to keep moving his feet and keep moving his legs and get in on the forecheck. Him and Hags (Carl Hagelin) are key guys for us and it’s great for him to score that goal.” He has only played 13 games with the New York Rangers, but he has fit right in with his work ethic and his drive. “The last thing I want to do is settle in,” said Kreider. “I don’t want to get complacent, especially at this level. If I get complacent, the next thing you know I’m minus 2 and giving Ovechkin a one-timer in the slot. I have got to stay extremely focused obviously.”
The Rangers needed the momentum to shift quite a few times throughout the last two games, and they looked to Brian Boyle to be the momentum master, especially when it came to killing penalties. In the first game of the Eastern Conference finals, he put in 3:48 shorthanded, second only to Dan Girardi. “I feel like I’d been fighting the puck a little bit lately, so I need to be plugged in and do a good job to have an effect on the game,” said Brian Boyle on his play in the penalty-kill unit. “I take pride in that. It’s a good opportunity for me to be on the ice and have an impact, with (Brandon) Prust there and Cally (Ryan Callahan). Those two guys, they’re fun to kill with, they help out a lot. And our D had been huge on the PK.” Boyle’s line with his locker room neighbors Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Anisimov combined for the empty net goal at 18:33. “It was a great play by Feds (Ruslan Fedotenko),” said Boyle about the goal. “That’s his veteran presence. He makes the play to me, and Artie (Artem Anisimov) puts it in. Sometimes those are tougher than they look… I knew he (Artem Anisimov) would have a sure goal if I got it over to him.”
It takes sixteen play-off wins to get the Stanley Cup. With a Monday night win over the Devils, the Rangers are now more than halfway through. “We start the series with a 1-0 lead. It’s very important. Now we move on right away to Game 2, and we want for the first time to get a 2-0 lead,” said Brad Richards, looking forward to Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The countdown continues with seven wins to go.